Well, this year and this blog are off to a rocky start – and not the rocks I originally planned to be conquering. I hoped that I would be posting every couple of weeks about a new adventure I was tackling; namely hiking a significant portion of the Pennsylvania Appalachian Trail or running a race near Zion National Park. Alas, the best laid plans have nothing on a world wide pandemic that is affecting everyone’s day-to-day activities and claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. It isn’t the best time to be an outdoorsy person, but I feel like I’ve so far made the most of keeping away from everyone so life can soon get back to some semblance of normal.
Since June 2019 I’ve been training to compete in an ultra-marathon near Zion National Park. This involved hundreds of miles of running and maintaining a healthy-ish diet (chocolate cake calls to me). The race was going to be my first ultra and I was thrilled to be running in an area of the country with such legendary scenery while claiming the bragging rights that come with completing a 50K. My plan leading up to the race was to meet up with an old friend and visit Las Vegas the weekend prior to arriving at Zion. Then, for the week before the race, I’d acclimate to the high desert (~5,500 ft.) and hike some of the major hikes in the park like Angel’s Landing and The Narrows. I had never been to the park (still haven’t sadly) or run a race this distance and I was ridiculously excited to see the sights and have the months of training come to fruition.
It was not to be however. One month before the race, with flights booked and travel arrangements made, COVID-19 took hold in the United States and the race organizers deemed it unsafe for the event to take place. Like many athletes around the country, I was crushed. I couldn’t help but wonder what my weekends for the last six to nine months would have looked like if I hadn’t devoted anywhere from one to four hours every Saturday or Sunday to a long run. What sorts of activities and experiences would I have been able to enjoy if I had known this race was not to be? It took a couple weeks to pull myself out of this funk when I decided to run my race regardless of the circumstances, albeit in a more local and far less scenic location. I WOULD NOT LET THIS VIRUS DERAIL SUCH A SIGNIFICANT PORTION OF MY LIFE.
Last weekend, April 18th, the same day my race was originally scheduled to happen, I set out to Chesapeake City, MD the western terminus of the C&D Canal Trail. Leading up to this event, pretty much all of my long runs were mentally therapeutic in nature. I would lose myself in the moment for hours on end and forget about all the other things happening in my life. This run was both the same and different; I went inside my head and tuned out the world as I self talked to tune out the pain of 31 miles of running, but I still couldn’t help but notice the apocalyptic feel of the trail. Where numerous families walked their dogs and rode bikes just a month previously, this paved path on the banks of the canal was all but deserted. For the entirety of my race from Chesapeake City to Delaware City, DE and back, I saw a total of 10 people. This was not the mental tune out I was expecting or used to. The lack of people was a reminder of the times and I simultaneously appreciated the isolation and wished for more people to pass, if for no other reason than to stave off the monotony of a straight, paved walkway. I’m happy to announce I WON my race of a field of one with a time of 6:36:09, but it was far from the race I was expecting. Trying times call for trying measures and social distancing in MD/DE is one thing I will always remember about my first ultra-marathon. A bittersweet memory for a bittersweet achievement.