Celebrating a PB in a virtual race

Operation Inspiration

It seems a cliche to say we live in unprecedented times, but it’s also true. Much of the world is now on some form of lockdown, with a variety of rules and restrictions.

There are many things more important than running and it’s right that our activities are restricted. It’s moving to see society agree to sacrifice things we love for the greater good. But it’s also understandable for many of us to miss racing, it’s a big part of our lives. For city dwellers as well – I really miss the hills and the trails and the fells.

With all races cancelled it can feel like training lacks purpose and definition. Step up the IRunFar #OperationInspiration virtual race. It’s a great way to exercise and be part of something bigger while sticking to the rules in each country. What’s better than that is that all proceeds go to the WHO COVID-19 Response Fund. That was over $48,000 last time I looked!

…all proceeds go to the WHO COVID-19 Response Fund. That was over $48,000 last time I looked!

The rules are simple. Do an hour (or more) of activity in whatever way you’re allowed. People have been treadmilling, turbo training, running laps of their gardens and much more.

We’re blessed in the UK that we’re still allowed to exercise outside once a day, as long as we stay local and keep to rules around social distancing. So I decided to use some of those winter miles and see what I had in the tank.

I set myself three options when I left the house. A gold distance, if I was having a great day. A silver distance, which is my usual long training run, and a bronze distance for if I was still struggling after being ill (and quarantined) last week. The main rule was that social distance was always more important than a time target – even if it meant slowing or stopping to let people pass at a safe distance.

It was a beautiful day for running and I headed out along the river. There were few people out and everyone you pass is friendly at the moment. It’s as if the act of putting physical distance between us encourages people to smile and appreciate life and say a cheery hello.

It’s as if the act of putting physical distance between us encourages people to smile and appreciate life and say a cheery hello.

After an hour I was feeling pretty good and my pace was solid so I pushed on past the first potential turn around point. Who needs a bronze finish when you’re feeling strong?

The paths and bridleways along the Tyne offer some lovely views. At ten miles in I turned toward home, crossing the footbridge from Ovingham to Prudhoe and joining Hardian’s way.

Hagg Bank Bridge last summer during the Tynedale 10k!Hagg Bank Bridge last summer during the Tynedale 10k

In seemingly no time I was passing over my favourite of all the local bridges, the old rail crossing at Hagg Bank. It’s a beautiful structure in a tranquil place.

Everything continued at steady pace, popping gloves on to open and shut the gates at Newburn. As I approached the bridge that leads home I was still going steady and feeling strong. Decision time. The twenty miler, my silver option, was off. The full marathon was on.

As I approached the bridge that leads home I was still going steady and feeling strong. Decision time. The twenty miler, my silver option, was off. The full marathon was on.

Things continued to feel great all the way into the city, where I turned at 36km and crossed the Swing Bridge to head back towards the house. As ever, though, it’s the hope that kills you: After being on target for three hours, the last 6km saw the seemingly inevitable slow down.

I’ve been aiming for a sub 3:30 for ages. My times at shorter distances suggest I should be running closer to 3 hours but it remains elusive. I struggled up the hill to the famous Scotswood Road and headed away toward Blaydon. There was still a PB to aim for.

By this point I was at about ten minute mile pace, having sustained a comfortable 8 minute pace the rest of the way. New target, sub 3:35. I tried to push but nothing was quite working. It felt good to keep running though – every marathon so far has seen me walk for short spells after hitting the wall.

With 300 metres left I could see I’d need to up my pace to come in on time. There’s always something in the tank for a quick finish though, and I started to sing like a tuneless Freddie Mercury impersonator to take my mind off the pain.

There’s always something in the tank for a quick finish though, and I started to sing like a tuneless Freddie Mercury impersonator to take my mind off the pain.

42.2k. I jabbed the button to stop the watch and stood gasping in a bus stop. 3:34:26. A new PB by four and a half minutes. For a solo effort, social distancing and without the adrenaline of a marathon crowd, I’m pleased with that.

Grateful to IRunFar for putting on a virtual race challenge. It gave a way to contribute to something good and use some of the winter training miles in a meaningful way. Depending on your time zone you might still have time to join in. It’d be great to top the $50k and keep going some.

The 3:30 may wait, but it’s a joy to do something like this in a lockdown. Stay well, friends. And keep active in whatever way is safe and allowed where you are. Looking forward to seeing you on the trails when all of this is over.

Marathon Distance x Social Distance.

Gear: Mizuno Waveknit R2 shoes, Salomon S-Lab Sense Set 8 trail vest, Suunto 9 Baro, Maurten gels.