Like most other activities and events this spring, my running events were either cancelled or postponed.
I tend to be a person who needs something on the calendar to look forward to as a goal, so, while I had more “free time” on my hands in the last two months, I didn’t really have anything to train for when it came to running and exercising. Then I found the “Limitless Vertical Challenge.”
The Limitless Vertical Challenge was an opportunity for runners, hikers, and athletes around the world to test the limits of their endurance and seek to surpass them. A virtual race, not measured in miles but by vertical gain, challenged its participants to keep working toward greater heights. One more step, one more mile, or even one more mountain. It ran from May 25 to May 31, and participants could use a treadmill, and stairway, or whatever hill or mountain they had access to.
Again, the goal wasn’t a certain distance, but instead elevation gain. I signed up almost immediately, and began working out the logistics. You see, it was about more than just going “uphill” a lot. I would also have to go back down! And if a hill was steep, that meant it would be more difficult to descend over and over again.
Living where we live, there aren’t any hills that are 200 feet tall either, so it was going to be a lot of repeats. On top of that, regarding scheduling, I was going to need to work around a work schedule that was getting busier and also family time—after all, I was the math and science instructor during their home schooling!
This was the third time in my running “career”—if you can call it that—in which I truly didn’t know if I could do it. I remember getting dropped off at the start line of the Chicago Marathon in 2004 and truly wondering if I would finish. I also remember the start line of my first 50-mile run, having no idea how on earth I would cover 50 miles.
But on both occasions, I finished—and immediately was wondering, “OK, what’s next?” That’s a fault of mine. I need to work on being happy and present with “today” and not persistently looking for what’s “next.”
Going in to this challenge, I was not sure if I’d have the time, or the legs, or the ability to remain injury free from the constant pounding of an entire week of uphills and downhills. I got off to a decent start with four hours of repeats at the Parnell Tower. Yikes...that sounds crazy in and of itself, yet after Monday (Day 1) I was only at 4,610 vertical feet of gain out of 20,029 (the elevation of Mount Everest). If I only gained 4,600 feet in four hours of activity, I was never going to get to my goal.
So, I worked to find something a bit steeper but still “runnable” and found that the Nutt Ski Hill in Plymouth may be as good as it’s gonna get. Growing up in Plymouth, I used to try to run up and down the hill as training for football. Back then, if I could run it three times, it was considered a success.
On Tuesday, I went up it 39 times. At just over 100 feet per climb, and needing to average 4,147 feet per day to reach my goal of 29,029 for the week, I had some work cut out for me. And as I mentioned, for the first time in a long time, I didn’t know if I’d get it done. Tuesday and Wednesday I pressed on, getting repeats in both early in the morning (wonderful sunrises) and then also in the evening after the kids were in bed.
By Thursday, I was cooked. I woke up to try and get some hill repeats in early in the morning and simply couldn’t do it. I even went back to sleep after the kids ate breakfast. My body had had enough.
I’m very thankful for that extra sleep on Thursday morning and was able to get in 4,500 feet on Thursday night in the rain. While not ideal running conditions—my feet were soaked and sliding around in my shoes as I ran down the hills—I “sucked it up” and got some elevation in the books.
This left me with about 11,000 feet of elevation gain for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Ouch. Then, on Friday, due to work and family, I logged a big “zero” day. Not a step. Now I had 11,000 and two days to get it done.
On Saturday I was fortunate to have my friends, Matt and Jeff, join me for parts of the morning. It’s amazing how much better things can go with a little company. There’s a phrase about company and misery....
With a little help from my friends, after Saturday’s effort I “only” had to get 3,000 feet of elevation gain on Sunday. Isn’t it amazing how the body can adapt? How the mind can adapt? Before I started, I was overwhelmed with the idea of 29,029 in seven days. Even 4,147 in a single day seemed impossible. Now I had created a mindset where 3,000 feet of elevation gain in a day was something totally within the realm of possibility—if not even downright easy?
On Sunday, May 31, I did, in fact, cover that 3,000 feet. My total for the week was 29,089 feet of elevation gain. It took me a total of 16 hours, 22 minutes, and 4 seconds of exercise time to do it. I covered just over 60 miles total (exactly evenly split between uphill and downhill).
There wasn’t really a finish line to this event. I just kind of packed up my stuff and drove home, and then made myself the largest burrito I could fit in a single tortilla. Then I ate ice cream.
I’m very thankful for this COVID-19 experience to open up our lives to different challenges, to remind us to what really matters, and to remind myself to simply take life and challenges one day at a time—one step at a time—and, if needed, stop halfway up the hill and take a couple extra breaths. You can do it.