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How Virtually Running Across America (Alongside 20 Women from Around the World) Broke My Virtual Race Slump - Part I

I had a baby. In the winter. On the cusp of a pandemic.

2020 has been the year I gave birth to baby #2 and life has also given birth to all things virtual. Social interaction has been limited to social media with virtual classrooms, virtual happy hours, and virtual finish lines. In January, all I had to worry about was feeding, sleeping, recovering, toddler wrangling and climbing my way up to getting back into shape, postpartum. Truly baby steps of progress. 

 


 

 

The mental and physical benefits to recovery are a must for me - if you can find the motivation to start. It was by no means pretty, but finally (alongside my friend who gave birth three weeks after me), we made it to our first “long” outdoor run - jogging strollers, rucked up babes, mobile milk and all. It was perfect and so incredibly freeing! When our runs together stopped we turned to virtual races. We did a charity 5K for our local hospital, we dressed in costumes to spice up solo runs, we celebrated my 40th with a homemade half-marathon and we postponed real events to the fall hanging on to hope they would happen. One by one, postponed events gave way to cancelled races and what we thought was a tangible finish line kept moving further and further away. 

The finish line felt exactly as it stated: virtual. Mirage-like. I missed the camaraderie, the sound and smell of the start, the buzz of the corrals filled with nervous energy - the unknown excitement of the journey about to begin. But as the gravity of our reality escalated, we entered the virtual realm. Virtual had that sweet honeymoon phase, but after a few rounds of distant running, the honeymoon was over. Event after event, training run after training run was the same - alone and hard. I was training and racing to a finish line that was no longer finite. I hit a wall; virtual fatigue.

Ok, maybe it was real fatigue. February in Boston is not fun weather; add to that a baby, a cesarean incision, postpartum emotions, mommy isolation, a few snow squalls, flu season, and there’s ample reason to not lace up, and hibernate with hot chocolate and a movie (yes, please). Add to that Covid and it seemed impossible. I needed something. I just didn’t know what. 

 

Building A Virtual Team

As a Boston local, I had known about Dave McGillvray’s incredible solo run across America for the Jimmy Fund, had seen images of his 1978 finish in Fenway Park, and celebrated with him at Fenway Park last year when he launched his 2nd kids book “Running Across America.” Team DMSE decided to recreate his infamous trek across America with their virtual Medford to Medford, and I decided to sign up. I was hesitant at first thinking about the virtual fatigue, would this be the same? Would others feel similarly? Would this be another virtual burnout?

I set out to build my team telling my @FitnessInternationalTravel colleagues first - they were in. I asked my husband, he was in. I shared it to Facebook and 3 friends raised their hands. As I shared it, women began asking if a friend could join. It was a theme, “I know someone that could use this - can they join the team?” And so our team grew.

Before I knew it we had 19 women and John. I asked him if he wanted to start a new group or if he thought we should be all women. And so, all women we became - although I do wish he went for the One Lucky Guy role (a very popular race entry slot in the All Women’s Half-marathon). 

And thus, we formed our team, RUN FIT RUN.

 

 

Virtually Running Across America 

We set off on June 11th - a little dot on the Medford to Medford map - with over 100 other team dots following Dave’s footsteps across America. We set up a team Facebook page. We logged our miles. We woke up in the morning to see our place in the race - how far had other teams gone, where did we line up with those that were cycling, where were we overall and among the women?

We set challenges amongst our team and “virtually” against other teams, especially our teammates’ husband and the all female groups.

We finished the day logging in to see where our team dot was along the journey. What state were we in? What landmark were we near? What landmark did we pass? What place did we finish in for the day?  Were we holding ground?

We posted motivational pictures and quotes. We congratulated teammates on completed legs. We celebrated birthdays, first runs, passing state borders, crossing the Mississippi, arriving in Massachusetts, and being first in the female group. We empathized losses and we bonded as a team. 

It was magic.

As the 3,452 miles counted down, there was a sense of conclusion on the horizon. That last mile feeling of the marathon, okay the last .2, that excitement seeing the finish line and at the same time full recognition of and desire for it not to be over. It felt that our last miles should be more - so we set a plan to finish the miles together, careful of the current environment, and found a place for the three of us to meet in person.

As the night approached, my heart was abuzz and adrenaline tingled my legs. Putting on a race bib felt as foreign as the first one I donned for a marathon. I fumbled with the placement. Did I have pins? No...but my friend did. She always has the pins. She’s always the prepared one. And right then and there, it was a little reminder that some things are still the same - our running instincts and teammates are still the same - we just needed to be reminded of what it felt like to be part of it.

I didn’t know how much I needed this race, how much I would enjoy it, or how much I needed my team until we were in it. It was a shared sentiment. We were sad to see it end but grateful to have had each other and these miles through the summer months together. 

As the three of us lined up and set off with our greater team logging miles across the world, it felt real, it was real. We never lost those smiles each step towards the finish of our journey across America together.

 

 

 

 

In Part 2 of this blog series, Kelly will share what the virtual run taught her and how she is preparing for the future.

Photo credit: Kelly McLay (@kmclay13), Danielle Moroukian (@Dmorouk), London Pod (Mark Cocksedge Photographer)