Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, races are being canceled. Some of them are looking to postpone to the fall, while others are simply canceling and offering runners deferrals to next year. There are a few who are offering a virtual race option. With this option, runners usually have a date range to complete their virtual race and they submit their results to the race directors by sharing their GPS data. My running buddy, Kim, and I were registered to run the Hungry Mother 25K on April 4.
As expected, the actual race was canceled but the organizers did offer a virtual option and Kim and I decided to participate. I’m pretty sure this was my first true virtual race.
About a week and a half before the race, Kim and I planned to go down to Hungry Mother State Park and run the actual course for our virtual run. Then it became clear that traveling two counties away to a different community wasn’t the best course of action in the midst of the pandemic. So Plan B was to run locally at Pandapas, where we could run a course comparable to the Hungry Mother course. However, most of the trails in the Jefferson and George Washington National Forests got closed the week of the race, including Pandapas. After that, Kim’s friend ‘A,’ who lives nearby, provided us with a Plan C: Run a loop from Kim’s house up the mountain, along the ridgeline trail, down the mountain, and loop around on the roads back to Kim’ house. Barry has run up there a lot and he said we would love it. Sounded like a fun adventure to me!
We decided to run our virtual race the same day as the originally scheduled race, and headed out from Kim’s house at 8 AM that morning. It was a gorgeous day, sunny with temperatures in the upper 40’s.
Kim’s friend ‘A’ met us on our way up the mountain so that she could make sure we didn’t miss the trail at the top and show us the way along the ridge line. I was grateful for her help!
We had a steep climb up the mountain. It was tough, but not awful as I was fearing. With the good company, it wasn’t long before we found ourselves done with the climb and on top of the mountain.
We got on the trail at the top of the mountain, and this was definitely my favorite section! It was really pretty running up there and ‘A’ showed us two really great overlooks along the way.
The two overlooks were so cool. We spent a little time at each overlook just taking in the view. I’m so glad we had such a clear day! We marveled at how small and close together things looked from up on the mountain – things that normally feel very spread out when you’re down there driving from one spot to another. We could see the whole loop we would run and the roads we live off of from up there.
‘A’ accompanied us until we hit the gravel road that would bring us back down the mountain, about 5 miles into our run. This was the steep downhill part that you can see on the elevation profile above. My left knee has been giving me some intermittent trouble, and I was worried it would hurt a lot coming down this hill. Luckily, it felt fine the entire run.
Once we got down the mountain, we began the road section of our loop. The roads were curvy, two-lane roads that don’t have shoulders and this part was definitely not our favorite. There seemed to be a lot of people out and about, since it was such a gorgeous day. We had to deal with a lot of cars and several dogs.
I really started suffering the last third of our run, and I walked more than I should have. The ball of my left foot had become pretty painful. I have a callus there that really starts to bother me when it gets too thick. But mostly, I was just feeling really tired and not enjoying the road section. I was relieved when we finally turned back onto Kim’s road, as the traffic decreased significantly.
From there, we had a little over 2 miles to go. We weren’t sure exactly how long this loop would be. But it was here that I started to realize our mileage was going to work out perfectly! Trail races are never exactly the distance they advertise – they’re usually just close to that distance. I had figured since this was a virtual run for a trail race, as long as we were in the ballpark it would be fine. But it looked like we were actually going to hit the nail on the head.
I sprinkled in a few more walk breaks before we finally turned onto Kim’s driveway, with about 0.8 miles to go to our finish line. We had one more mean little hill to conquer, before finally finishing our run with 15.66 miles by my watch (a 25K is 15.5 miles). How about that!
Kim’s husband forgot to throw us a virtual race finish line cookout – probably because he was busy chasing their two small kids around 😉 . So instead I just took up residence in their driveway for a little while until I recovered.
All in all, it was a fun adventure. Kim and I agreed we would definitely love to do the first part of this loop again in the future. Instead of running the actual loop, with the road sections, we would just do it as an out and back from her house, up the mountain, along the ridge, and back. We may not have had reason to explore up there had it not been for our current circumstances, so I guess that’s one little positive to this whole COVID-19 situation!