The Tennessee Shuffle

It’s been an uncharacteristically positive week. Part of me is waiting for the axe to fall, but the rest is content to appreciate a suspiciously positive few days. I think a large part of my current contentment is that last night, I finished The Great Virtual Run Across Tennessee.

I started this 1021.7km challenge on May 1st, along with some 20,000 others. That date was during the strict lockdown here in Ireland, so going out for exercise was my only way of blowing off steam after the torture of working online and staring at a screen all day. Having a target to aim for was more motivating than simply going out for a run for a while. Particularly since most of the running events I had planned on participating in this year have been cancelled.

The deadline for completing the run is August 31st. So there’s still over two months left for anyone else who wants to join! I figured that I would do that with little effort. It would be no more than my average weekly mileage, even when not training for anything in particular. So, I decided to aim to complete the run by the end of June.

The first couple of weeks went well. I managed steady mileage during the week, and then longer runs at the weekend, so was well on course. However, I lost a lot of momentum later in May, as work built up and I didn’t get enough miles under my belt as I had been striving for.

Nevertheless, by May 31st, I was just a few km shy of the half-way mark. I was starting to tire at this stage, and it was tempting to take a long break. My calves and both Achilles’ began to protest. I went out on that day to hit 50km, but just couldn’t make it. I turned for home around 30km, and managed only 34. This worried me. I felt as if I had tanked, and was unsure about how much more I could push things.

Thankfully, that was the only time when I didn’t hit the target I had set out at the start of the day. It was generally the contrary; so many days I went out with a distance in mind, and ran longer. Sometimes far longer. Often the first 5 or even 10km were hard, but I started to find my groove and ended up running for a couple of more hours without any problems.

I only missed one day in June, when I was woken in the wee hours with severe cramp in my left calf. I took that day off, and gingerly went out for a run the following day. Thankfully, cramp was not an issue beyond then.

Stiffness was. While I was able to go out for hours, my pace was very slow. Again, this started to worry me. If I’m only managing about 9km an hour, where am I going to find the hours to finish this before the month of June is out?

So, on Monday June 15th, I had my final rest day. I know that when I go back to my physio she’ll give me that look of disapproval and resignation that I am becoming used to seeing. But, with almost a third of the race to go, I realised that I would have to run a little over a half marathon every single day for the rest of the month to hit my target. Thankfully, I had this last week off work, and so was able to make up a lot of mileage. On most days, I ran in the morning and in the afternoon. And averaged almost 30km a day.

A few years ago, I was very proud of myself that I had run 4 half-marathons in as many days. That was certainly the longest amount of consecutive running I had ever done at that point. Well, the last 11 days absolutely blitzed that. Despite the various aches and pains, and fatigue, I pushed on. Earlier this week, I brought forward my target, aiming to finish on Sunday June 28th.

So yesterday morning, I woke up with 55.7km to go. My legs felt like lead. But I was almost there. The plan was simple. Run 12km, four times. Friday morning, Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday evening. And finish with a short gentle run on Sunday morning.

So I dragged my concrete calves to Phoenix Park, which is close to where I live in Dublin – and was a key factor in choosing where I lived in the city when I moved here – and plodded through 5km. Then I started to feel the buzz, so I kept going, and despite the stifling humidity, ran 26km. Target for the day exceeded. But then I thought I might as well go out again in the evening, and run 9 more km, to take my total to 1000km. That would mean I’d be able to finish on the Saturday.

So I set out again. After a couple of km, I said to myself “Why not run 16.2, and that will total a marathon for the day, and my final run tomorrow will be shorter?” So on I went. as I approached 40km (total for the day), I checked the time. It was 20:45. Plenty of time before midnight.

I could finish the whole thing there and then.

And so I did, I pushed on another 16km past that, doing the last 4km through the city centre, to see the bizarre and surreal sight of Dublin being virtually empty on a Friday night – Temple Bar is quite nice when there are no people in it. And so, with an hour and ten minutes remaining in the day, I finished.

I realised more than ever that running is 90% in the mind. I have had all kinds of aches and pains. I know my calves in particular are not in good shape right now. My stride has shortened. I could barely even accelerate going downhill. My shoulders, back, neck, feet, and ankles hurt. But none of that mattered. I knew I could keep going. I learned that I could push through it all and challenge myself more and more. Besides, after over three months of working online, running for hours on end is a welcome break, and far less tiring than being stuck on Zoom all day!

Nevertheless, it’s time for a break and to let the body recover for a few days. I am not doing the ‘Back Across Tennessee’ leg, which many are doing, and many have completed already! The first runners to complete the initial 1021.3km did so in 12 days; so my 57 day haul pales in comparison. But the (online) community that’s been built around this run has been nothing but inspiring and encouraging. It shows us what the human body and mind are capable of; far beyond what most of us even consider in our day-to-day existence.

So thanks to all the other runners and walkers involved. Thanks to my mate who suggested doing this (and congratulations to him for finishing a day ahead of me), and to my two other two buddies still out on the course. I’m cheering you from the sidelines. And thanks especially to the diabolical mastermind behind it all, the inimitable Lazarus Lake.

Perhaps I will make it back to Kerry this year again. Fingers crossed it goes ahead.

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2 thoughts on “The Tennessee Shuffle

  1. Awesome work buddy. Love the t-shirt too. I’ve at least another 6 weeks to go. Don’t forget me!!!!!

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    1. Rooting for ya bro!

      That t-shirt is from the Achill half marathon a few years ago. That’s actually the back of the shirt. With a couple of km to go, I switched it back to front because wanted the message in the photo! Irish Running Caesar I am.

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