Category Archives: Training

The Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee #GVRAT1000k

Before lockdown I never thought I’d do a virtual race.  I mean why pay for the privilege of recording your mileage/time on a random website in return for a finishers medal that I would just put in the drawer with all the other finisher’s medals I have received over the years. Virtual races seem to have become popular in recent years and for many people they are actually a great pathway to ‘real’ races. But not for me.  For a start, as an accountant, why would I want to pay for something that I can do for free?  I pay to do real races, but that is different. Or at least that is what I thought.

That was until Covid-19 came along and all races worldwide were cancelled.

I found myself competing in my first virtual race, the Quarantine Backyard Ultra, in early April and not long after that I heard about a virtual race across Tennessee which would be starting on 1st May.  Runners and walkers would have four months (May through August) to complete 1,022km (635 miles) from the bottom left corner of Tennessee and finishing to the top right corner.  For those who wanted a bigger challenge, there was the option of the double crossing of Tennessee within the same time period.

GVRAT map

The race was being organised by the famous Lazarus Lake, founder of events including the Barkley Marathons and Big’s Backyard Ultra.  He initially thought that a couple hundred runners might be interested in virtually crossing Tennessee.  Little did he know that over 19,000 runners and walkers (including me) would toe the virtual start line and the event would raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to help feed the homeless people of Tennessee.

With no actual races on the horizon I decided to enter the double GVRAT – there and back – rationalising that walking approximately 500km per month for four months would be great training for when races do finally resume after lockdown (I’m still hopeful that we will have the opportunity to do a real race before the end of 2020).  2,000km would give me about 50% of my normal annual mileage in the space of four months, and recording my daily mileage and watching my runner icon slowly move across a map of Tennessee would give me the motivation to keep going.  I’m the sort of person that needs a race goal to motivate myself to train, and with no upcoming races I wasn’t sure how motivated I’d be during the summer.

Of course, staying healthy and social distancing during the Covid-19 crisis was always going to be number one priority.

The race:

The race started at midnight on the 30th April local time.  This meant it started in New Zealand first and for us in England it started about 11 hours later, and for those in the US, even later.  But when the race finishes on 31st August, it also finishes at midnight, so everyone has the same amount of time to complete the distance unless they happen to change time zones.

Because of this it meant that race times would only be recorded in full days but that didn’t stop a few people starting their race immediately after midnight in their local time, and the first people to finish treated the race as if it was a real race, running as much mileage as they possibly could each day.  The first person to finish the race took just 12 days!

For me, my initial aim was to take eight weeks for the first 1,000km (actually 1,022km) across Tennessee and then eight weeks for the return journey, and treat the event as high mileage training.  I also had a full time job to fit the race around.

GVRAT week 1 progress map
GVRAT week 1 progress

The race started on Friday 1st May and I started at 5am with a 37km walk before work.  By the end of week one though, I had completed 162km (101 miles).  A 100 mile training week. The last time I had walked 100 miles in a week that didn’t include a race of 100 miles or longer was in 2014!  I have never been a high mileage athlete when it comes to training, but this race was enticing me to walk farther than I normally would, and also farther than the 125km weekly average I had planned for the race.

But surely this was a one-off.  My weekly distances would now settle back to my required average of through the summer. Just enough weekly mileage to get me through 2,000km in four months.

GVRAT progress map week 2
GVRAT week 2 progress

Week 2 – another 100 mile week. Another great week of training.  After just two weeks I’d completed just under one third of the one-way journey across Tennessee and I was in 304th position out of 19,000 athletes.  I’d started checking the online results on a daily basis to check my placing and had even started graphing my daily mileage and analysing how my average daily mileage since 1st May correlated to my current position in the race.

GVRAT progress map week 3
GVRAT progress week 3

In week 3 I purposefully reduced my mileage as I had never walked back to back 100 mile weeks and I was concerned that a third 100 mile week could bring on an injury.  I was purposefully keeping my average speed to a above 8 minutes per kilometer (12:50 per mile) due to my shin injury from the Thames Ring 250 last year but in the first two weeks of May I had already walked further than my average monthly mileage for the first four months of the year.  Even so, at 133km week 3 was still longer than any other training week (non-race week) in over a year!

By the end of week 3 I had dropped to 448th place and with a rest day for day 22 I dropped another 100 places.  I started to think about ‘racing’ through to the finish. Lockdown restrictions in England were being reduced slightly and I was able to walk farther and farther away from home.

GVRAT progress map week 4
GVRAT progress week 4

The 23rd, 24th and 25th May was a long weekend in the UK so I walked 165km in three days, starting between 4 and 5 each morning. Week 4 mileage was 198km (123 miles) which coincidentally was the same distance I had completed in the Quarantine Backyard Ultra.  I was now just short of two thirds through the one-way trip across Tennessee and started thinking seriously about two more 100 mile weeks to finish in 6 weeks total – or at least make it to the half-way turnaround for the double crossing.

One of the things I really enjoy about ‘real’ ultramarathon races is walking through the night.  There is something special about walking huge distances while everyone around you is asleep, and I was missing this.  So the following weekend I decided to do an overnight walk through London.  It turned out to be a 104km walk starting at 10pm on the Saturday night, walking from home up through London and through towards Stratford (where the 2012 Olympics were) and then across the top of London before heading back home.

I started using a website called CityStrides a while ago which shows streets you’ve walked previously on a live map so that you can identify which streets you haven’t been on previously.  I’ve spent the last six years exploring areas all around greater London and the website makes it easy to see whether you have ‘been here before’ – although quiet often I will recognise a street that I might have walked down months or even years ago.

The website shows how many completed streets you have walked/run along and has a leaderboard for different cities around the world as well as showing the percentage of each city/borough you have completed.  So in a way, it is a little like a virtual race in its own right. After each walk the website would show how many new streets I had walked.  During the whole GVRAT event I completed 902 new streets including 161 new streets during the 104km overnight walk.

Citystrides 1st May to 10th June
Citystrides 1st May to 10th June
GVRAT progress map week 5
GVRAT progress week 5

Week 5 mileage ended up at 173km and I was now in 368th place with just under 200km to go.  One more big week to get to the finish.

The race had started on a Friday meaning that each of the above weeks are Friday through to Thursday.  Week 6 started with a rest day, my ninth rest day since 1st May.  Over the weekend I walked 32km and 52km on the Saturday and Sunday respectively leaving just 112km to finish the race and five days to do so if I wanted to complete the race in six weeks.

Throughout the race I had been working fulltime from home which meant fitting the race around work hours.  All of my rest days had been on workdays during which I would work longer hours so that I could work shorter hours on the days I wanted to walk long.  I decided to have a tenth rest day on the Monday leaving me three days to walk 20km, 30km and then 62km to finish on the Thursday.  The plan was that the Tuesday and Wednesday walks would be before work and I would finish work early (3pm’ish) in order to get the final 62km completed before midnight on Thursday, day 42.

After the Monday rest day the results showed me as being in 398th place.  20km on Tuesday and I slipped to 401st place. I now had 92km to finish the race and decided that I would do all of that on Wednesday, day 41 of the race.

The only problem was that Wednesday was a workday and I had several meetings to attend (virtually) with the first starting at 9:30am and the last finishing at 3pm.  So it would be a short workday sandwiched in between a 35km morning walk starting just after 4:30am and a final 57km after work.

The 35km went fine.  I had to message my manager just before 9:30am to tell her I would be a couple minutes late for our meeting, but that was fine.  I had woken at 4am and had breakfast before my walk and I had an early lunch straight after my 9:30 meeting. A second lunch a couple hours later before an early dinner straight after my workday finished at 3pm, and then I was off out the door again.

For the whole of the last 41 days I had managed to avoid rain when training.  It had tried to rain on the 1st May during my first walk of the race, and I had carried my jacket on one other day, but other than that, the weather had been perfect.  Now, at 3:45pm as I was preparing to head out for my final walk of the race, the heavens opened, and it started raining.  But this wasn’t going to stop me.  I had set my mind to completing this race today and I needed 57km before midnight.  My average pace for the whole 41 days had been a shade over 8 minutes per kilometer so if I left home before 4pm and maintained that same pace then I would finish the race before midnight, before the end of day 41.

GVRAT progress map week 6
GVRAT progress week 6

And that’s what happened – I completed the 57th kilometer at about 11:45pm and then walked one last kilometer, crossing over the Teddington footbridge across the River Thames, the same bridge I had walked over at the start of the race on the morning of the 1st May, and back to my home where I recorded my daily mileage for the last time.

GVRAT finishers selfie
GVRAT finishers selfie

Or at least the last time for the one-way race across Tennessee.  There is still the return journey to do.

I finished 305th and took 137 hours to complete the 1,022km.  I did 32 walks at an average of 32km (20 miles) each, in 31 days with 10 rest days.  Great high mileage training.  The virtual race is giving me what I wanted from it.

Photos:

During the last 41 days I’ve taken a few photos as I walked the streets of South West London, London and North London.  These are some of my favourites:

Teddington Lock
5am on day 1, walking across the footbridge at Teddington Lock less than 1km into the 1,022km race
M3 motoway during lockdown 3rd May 2020
The M3 motorway during lockdown on 3rd May. Not a car in sight.
Wentworth
One of the private roads in the Wentworth golf course resort
M25 motoway during lockdown 3rd May 2020
The M25 motoway during lockdown 3rd May 2020
River Thames early morning 8th May 2020
River Thames early morning 8th May 2020
Deer in Richmond Park 12th May 2020
Deer in Richmond Park 12th May 2020
Crossing London Bridge with the Shard in the background
Crossing London Bridge with the Shard in the background – 16th May 2020
Tower Bridge and the HMS Belfast
Tower Bridge and the HMS Belfast – 16th May 2020
Pall Mall during lockdown - 16th May 2020
Pall Mall during lockdown – 16th May 2020 – hardly a tourist in sight
Buckingham Palace during lockdown - 16th May 2020
Buckingham Palace during lockdown – 16th May 2020 – hardly a tourist in sight
Walk like a penquin
Walk like a penguin – early morning walk on 21st May
Abbey Road Studios London
Abbey Road Studios
Abbey Road pedestrian crossing London
Abbey Road pedestrian crossing. The Beetles walked across it in the 60’s and I walked across it on the 23rd May 2020. Abbey road Studios are in the background.
View of London from Epson Racecourse
View of London (15 miles away) from Epson Racecourse – 24th May
Homeless in Notting Hill
Homeless in Notting Hill – 31st May
London from Wimbledon
London from Wimbledon – 6th June
Where I walked 1st May to 10th June - GVRAT
Where I walked 1st May to 10th June – 1.023km in South West London plus a small amount of North London
GVRAT graph place versus daily mileage
GVRAT graph place versus daily mileage – average of 15.5 miles per day for 41 days, finishing in 305th place

 

 

And one last screenshot.  I posted on facebook in the GVRAT facebook group after I finished the race.  This was by far my favourite comment, and also one of the reasons I write these race reports.

GVRAT Facebook feedback

 

It’s now time to head back to the start in order to complete the double crossing!

 

Edit:

I completed the return crossing of Tennessee on 4th August when I completed a 219 mile circumnavigation of Surrey, UK.

New plans for 2018

Today is the 1st of April and after struggling with injury for the last six months, I’m back training again and looking forward to a huge summer.  After missing the Belfast to Dublin Ultra this weekend, I’ve spent this afternoon making new plans for 2018.

My main focus of 2018 is still the Privas 6 day race in August, but I’ve changed some of my plans for the rest of the year.  I won’t be doing the EMU 6 day race in Hungary in May as I can’t get fit enough over the next 4 weeks to do that race justice, and it is too expensive to use as a ‘training race’.  The EMU was going to be a major part of my preparations for Privas though, so rather than doing EMU, I will bring forward my Paris to London fundraising walk for Limbless Association forward and do that in July rather than October.

I’m also going to do two 24 hour races over the next two months as well as Last One Standing UK in June.  So my plans for 2018 now look like this:

  • 21/22 April – French national 24 hour championship race in Dijon. This will be a training race with the aim of covering 100 miles in 24 hours at a steady pace.  I just want to spend 24 hours on my feet as I haven’t walked 24 hours since Roubaix in September last year.
  • 19/20 May – Continental Centurions Race in Schiedam, Holland. This is on a fast, almost dead flat 4km circuit in the trees within Prinses Beatrixpark in Schiedam near Rotterdam.  I set my current 100 mile and 24 hour PB’s at Schiedam in 2016 and this will be my first serious attempt at racing a 24 hour race since then.
  • 9/10 June – Last One Standing UK race as planned. I’m really looking forward to this race. The idea is that competitors have to run (or in my case walk) a 4 mile loop every hour, starting on the hour.  If you don’t finish within the hour, you are out.  The winner is “the last one standing”.  I thought this might be a bit of fun and good training, and I think that I can perform well against the runners in this event.
  • 16 June – 2nd annual P&H Scouts walkathon
    I’m not competing but am organising a walkathon for the local scout group. Last year they raised £2,250.  This year we are hoping to exceed that.
  • 1 to 4 July (Dates to be confirmed) – Paris to London
    I’m really looking forward to this and will use this as my final preparation for Privas which is 6 weeks later.
    I’ve mapped out a course which is roughly 400km in total (or at least it will be when I add ‘getting lost’ miles to the planned route) with 270km in France, a short ferry ride form Calais to Dover, and then another 126km through to London.
    I have had a look at the routes that other people have run or cycled between these two cities.  They usually go from London to Paris and they either start at Marble Arch and finish at Arc de Triomphe, or they start at Tower Bridge and finish at the Eifel Tower.
    I’ve decided that I will start at Eifel Tower and then go past the Arc de Triomphe on the way out of Paris, and will cross Tower Bridge on my way in to London before finishing at Marble Arch.  I’ve chosen to go from Paris to London rather than vice versa as I would prefer to be on roads that I am more familiar with during the final day (and a bit).
    I’m going to take 4 days to cover the distance at 100km per day which is a little less than the distance I will aim to cover during the first four days at Privas, but will be great training for the race.
  • 19-25 August 2018 – 6 jours de France
    My third attempt to break the NZ 6 day record after going close in 2016 and failing miserably in 2017. My goal is still to exceed 700km during the six days.
  • Mid-September – Roubaix 28 hour race (again)
    I’ve done this three times with two 200+ kilometer results (2015 and 2017) and will probably finish my year this race again.

2018 race plan map

That’s six walks of 100 miles or more. The same as last year.  I can’t wait to get started 🙂

May 2017 Training Summary

I only went out for nine walks during May – at an average of 34.25 miles (55km) each!

May was all about two separate events – the M25 circumnavigation on the first weekend of the month, and the Grand Union Canal Race (GUCR) on the last weekend.  In between, I rested for a week and then just did a few short, easy walks.

The M25 walk was definitely the highlight of the month.  I set the fastest known time (FKT) for circumnavigating the M25 motorway on foot, and also managed to complete the 158 mile (254km) walk without sitting down from the time I started until I finished 44 hours later – the greatest distance and time that I have walked without sitting down.  And I raised a total of £1,880 for Limbless Association.

The GUCR didn’t go to plan however, and resulted in a DNF at 100 miles.  I have discussed this in detail in my race report so won’t go into the details again here.

Total mileage for May was 498km (308 miles).  Year to date: 1,960km (1,218 miles).

Looking forward to June:

TR250 route mapThere is only one thing to focus on during June, and that is the Thames Ring 250 which begins on the 28th June.  This is a 250 mile (400km) trail race which follows the popular canal boat route from Oxfordshire down the River Thames towards London, and then up the Grand Union Canal (in the reverse direction to the GUCR) to Northampton, before returning to Oxfordshire via the Oxford Canal.

It sounds reasonably easy.  A flat’ish course, which is my preference – I’m not a fan of hills – and 100 hours to complete the race.

The race is only held every second year and this year will be the fifth running of the event.  To date 111 athletes have attempted the race and only 54 have finished – that is a 48% success rate.  Worse than that, only 49 of them completed the race on their first attempt – a 44% success rate.  And in total, the 111 athletes have 138 starts between them for 61 finishes – a 44% success rate.

So it would appear that the race isn’t going to be as easy as a straight forward, flat 250 mile race.

When I first considered doing the race I thought a time of around 72 hours might be achievable – that’s 83 miles per day.  But given that only 5 runners have finished in less than 72 hours in the history of the event, I suspect that this is unrealistic.

It’s going to be a great event.  I can’t wait to get started!  And to find out what will happen during those 250  miles.

P&H Sea Scouts Walkathon

The weekend before the Thames Ring I am organising a walkathon to help the local Petersham and Ham Sea Scouts raise money for their new clubrooms.  Established in 1908, P&H Sea Scouts are the oldest continuously run scout group in the world and their current club rooms are almost as old 🙂

About 100 Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, and Explorers, aged 6 to 18 will walk laps of the local common for three hours (two hours for the Beavers) as a sponsored walk.

Thanks to the support of Fitbit I have organised two prizes of Fitbit Charge HR’s for the scouts – one for the person who raises the most sponsorship, and one as a spot prize for one of the participants.

During the last month I have been speaking at their club nights to try and inspire them.  Some of them have been inspired by the idea of winning a Fitbit, some by my stories of long walks.  It has been a fun exercise so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they go on Saturday 24th June.

 

May 2017 map
Only nine walks in May, but I covered a reasonable amount of ground!