My Pandemic Summer

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At this time of year, kids are heading back to school, and inevitably, they are asked to perhaps present to the class what they did over the summer. I haven’t done that in a LONG time, but this past weekend, I got to wondering what I would say about this past summer, one that was VERY different from all the previous ones. The thing is, I came to the conclusion that my summer was, in fact, awesome! Different, yes, but still full of adventures, challenges, new experiences, and general fun. And that is in spite of really only taking a few actual vacation days all summer. So, with that, I’d like to share a few stories with you in what I hope is interpreted more as a #motivationmonday kind of post than a #humblebrag, because in all honesty, that’s what I’m aiming to do. I’d like to motivate YOU to be the best you in whatever way you can :-).

A much less fit 1999 ActiveSteve

Let’s get one thing out of the way up front. I do NOT have any natural gifts or innate talents. The person I am, and the things I do these days are the result of literally years and years of dedication, commitment, and perseverance. We pretty much all start in the same place in our pursuits. We decide we like something, and want to try it out. One of two things generally happens. You try it, and either stick to it and improve your abilities, or you get frustrated and quit. The third option is a mix of the two, which I’ll call ‘fits and starts’. That is, you do it a bit, drop it, pick it back up, but don’t understand why you aren’t becoming amazing at it.

Anyway, enough prelude. In my case, what I’m referring to is athletic pursuits, and more specifically, my current trail running passion. I always laugh a little inside when people refer to me as a ‘speedy runner’ or a ‘rock star’ at running. The truth is, I’ve been picking away at running for literally 18 years, and it was not an easy road! For me, it started in 2002, when I first saw Eco Challenge on TV, liked the idea of Adventure Racing, and tried a race. In a word, I sucked. I DNF’d (did not finish) my first ever race. I realized then and there I’d have to actually train in order to improve. So, the first and easiest place to work on my skills was running. So I found myself in the summer of 2002 buying my first running shoes and have since then done more than I ever could have dreamed on two feet. And here’s the thing; so can you! Even if you were just starting out. I started out with very short runs, and road only. Along they way I was lifted up by others through their mentoring and encouragement. It truly ‘takes a village’.

Shortly after my first AR, and first DNF in 2002 (yes, that’s a fanny pack)

Amazingly, the more time you put into something, the more you improve. Earlier, I said I had no natural talent or abilities. Maybe I’m stretching the truth a tiny bit. My talent COULD be in the fact that I can motivate myself, and have the ability to stick with things through sheer stubbornness and willpower. However, even that didn’t come naturally. As many ‘shorter’ folks may have experienced in their younger years, I used to get picked on a lot at school. I was easy to bully. As a result, I always felt like I had something to prove, so I’d work hard at things to feel ‘good enough’.

My parents were another huge reason I became the way I am. My father, while not an athletic type, was never one to sit around bored. He built our house with his own hands. Literally, over the course of many years. He also tutored people who couldn’t read. He tinkered. He was (and still is) very involved in community groups. So I was influenced by someone who kept busy. As for my mother, she was also incredibly giving as a teacher, but, sadly we lost her to cancer when I was still in school, so one of the greatest gifts I got through that experience was to recognize that we only live once, and should do so with a passion. And so that is what I did for most of the next decade, but not always in a ‘healthy’ way. But boy did I have fun! Before I was into the outdoors, I was more about the… well… sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. To be clear, nothing too crazy, but I didn’t always make the healthy choices when it came to lifestyle! However, it clearly helped give me my sense of adventure and lust for life.

Before running, there were other interests…

Ok, get to the point, right? What does any of that have to do with the summer of 2020? Well, for starters, I turned 45 years old. BUT, I’m 35 pounds lighter than the first picture you saw of me in this post. I’m also in arguably the best shape of my life! It has been an entire life journey to get here, but I feel amazing, and am so grateful for all relationships I’ve built in all phases of my life. We’ve all grown and changed together, and I’m still close with many folks from every ‘hobby’ I’ve had. I’m pretty sure I’ve now reached my final… ‘me’, but I’m still growing as an athlete and as a person.

So when the pandemic hit this year, and all races were cancelled, I decided to try some new personal challenges and push myself to new limits this summer. After all, I had literally nothing to lose. First up was signing up for this weird event called the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee. The challenge? Cover a distance of just over 1,000km between May 1st and August 31st. Me and 20,000 other fools. That seemed totally reasonable, since I run a fair bit anyway. In the end, I completed the 1,000k in 77 days. However, the race organizer basically goaded me to try and run ANOTHER 1,000k before the end of August. So, Forrest Gumping it, I decided to just keep running. Morning, noon, and night. To my surprise, I managed to run the entire distance back in only 38 days (yes, that’s while working 9 hours a day)! Talk about negative split. That was an eye opener for me. I was reminded of wise words once uttered by Ken Chlouber at another race I did in the past:

You’re better than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can.

Ken Chlouber, founder of the Leadville Race Series
Success in Tennessee

However, I didn’t stop with that event. On a lark, I also signed up for two other ‘virtual’ events, first was the Virtual UTMB, the fabled race in Chamonix, France that I will be racing in the next couple years. This is a 170km race, and also features 10,000m of climbing. The virtual race mimicked this with a formula based on your logged distance and your actual elevation gain (to allow for people who DON’T live in the Alps to compete). Somehow, I managed to complete that challenge in 8 days, and also (at the time I finished) was ranked 16th in the WORLD. Wow. I was happy with that one too.

To wrap up the challenges, I then signed up for the Virtual Trans Rockies Race, a 6-day 120 mile event that I’d raced in 2015 in Colorado. It sounded like fun, and fit in well with my trend of running. For this challenge, you had a total of 15 days. When I started, I really had no plans of rushing it. However, the miles piled up, and I realized that I could actually wrap it up in 5 days. So I did, which slotted me as the 6th finisher I think. However, they kept tracking the distance, so I kept pushing, and at the end of the event, I’d covered about 425km and nearly 10,000m of elevation gain in the 15 day window. I will admit, about 24km were ‘hikes’ and not runs, but I have never covered as much ground in 15 days. In one 7 day stretch, I RAN over 220km! I likely won’t repeat that feat, but it was quite encouraging to see the level of fitness I have been able to gain just by being CONSISTENT and getting out there, even when I didn’t feel like it (which was often for the 7am runs!).

Not bad for a 15 day effort 🙂

Finally, throughout all this, I was also taking part in a super-fun local, grass-roots, totally free challenge called the Oxygen Derby, put on by Natural Fitness Lab, which for all of July consisted of 3 ‘stages’ per week (for a total of 21) in which you could either just do them, or challenge yourself to ‘race’ them. Yup, I ‘raced’ them, and was amazed at how well my body held up throughout this challenge, which has now been extended into the fall. In the preliminary standings, I’m actually leading in the General Classification (GC) for males! I think I’ve had a total of 3 days where I haven’t run in the last 2 months, yet I’m maintaining the speed, and perhaps even getting faster!

So what does all this mean? Why should you care? Well, you shouldn’t care. At least, not about my personal results. However, you might want to challenge yourself to try something new, or return to something you used to be passionate about. This pandemic has been hard on everyone, and staying healthy mentally is the most important thing. For me, the running has given me the mental health I needed (with a side benefit of physical health). I have pushed myself to new limits, and learned more about my abilities and resilience, and for that, I ironically have to credit the current situation. If I had to commute every day, there is NO WAY I could have stuck to this. However, the time saved from commuting has now been re-invested in myself, and I hope that each and every one of you might be able to do that as well. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go eat another ice cream sandwich. Another perk of all the running is the fact that I HAVE to eat a lot :-). Take care everyone. Hug those you can, and tell those you can’t give a real hug what they mean to you. Ca va bien aller as they say in my neck of the woods!

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