• Miriam Diaz-Gilbert

How I Ran a Virtual 901 Mile Ultra in the Summer and Fall of Covid 2020



On November 10, I finished the virtual Tip to Tip Great Florida Traverse — All the Way — 901 mile ultramarathon in 204 hours; 42 minutes; and 10 seconds. I ran a collective 104 days beginning June 1, 2020.


I never intended to run the 901 mile event. I had signed up for the Tip to Tip Great Florida Traverse — Just the Tip — 128 mile event. I was the first to cross the finish in this event on June 19 in 32:12:10 in 14 collective days.


Not long after, fellow ultrarunner Bill mentioned I should keep going and finish the All the Way 901 miler. I came to my senses and put one foot in front of the other — only 773 miles to go! After all, runners had until December 31, 2020 to finish the 128 mile event and the 901 mile event.


I got back on my virtual course in my town and and across two other towns. My course consisted of roads, trails, parks, and the high school track. After I finished all 901 miles, I asked my social media followers to shoot me questions they’d like to ask me about my virtual ultrarunning journey.


I was asked about my mindset, injuries and setbacks, and the physical and psychological challenges of running virtually at home instead of in Florida. People wanted to know what I ate while running, and how I stayed motivated.


Mindset


Running a virtual marathon in April and a virtual ultramarathon in May prepared me to tackle the Just the Tip 128 miler in June, and to continue running the All The Way 901 miler.


When Covid-19 struck, the 2020 races I’d registered for were cancelled. Runners had the option of deferring until 2021 or running an alternative virtual event. So I ran the Blue Ridge marathon virtually on April 18. To complete 26.2 miles, I ran two different loops in my neighborhood in broad daylight on a nice weekend. Read here how I did it.


A couple of weeks later, on Mother’s Day weekend, I ran the virtual 24 hour 50K+ Solo Challenge. This was the alternative to the cancelled Dawn to Dusk to Dawn track ultras, including the 24 hour event I was registered for.


I was happy with the virtual alternative and logged 63.9 miles on the coldest May weekend on record where I live. In June I conquered the Tip to Tip Great Florida Traverse — Just the Tip 128 miler. This is how I did it.


I love running in the summer in heat and humidity under the bright sun. It’s my favorite time of the year. Summer sunshine and running in July and August was great for my mindset as I put one foot in front of the other to take me to the All the Way 901 mile finish.



With the exception of a tumble I took in October, I suffered no setbacks or psychological and physical challenges. I maintained good nutrition, calories, and hydration. I never lost motivation.


One Injury and No Setbacks


In June I logged 181.06 miles in 21 days. Eight of those miles were walking miles. In July, I logged 191.81 miles in 21 days. I took 9 rest days. In August, my monthly miles decreased. I logged 160.51 miles in 18 collective days and increased my walking miles from 9 to 12. I took 12 rest days. My body was fatigued but my mind remained upbeat.


On September 10, I posted on Facebook — “When will this be over? Seriously! Only 318.41 to go!”

September brought 150.41 miles in 13 collective days. Another decrease in my monthly miles. I increased my rest days to 17. By the end of September, I had logged 491.98. Giving my body a break in September paid off in October.


In October, I ran fewer miles but increased my running days to 23 and decreased my rest days to eight. I logged 130 miles. I ran fewer miles but at a faster pace. I finished the Just the Tip 128 miler at a 15:06 per mile pace. I finished the All the Way 901 miler maintaining a 13:38 per mile pace. My fastest mile was 9:28. I had not run a mile that fast in years.


But I did take a tumble in October, my only injury. At the end of mile one of a planned four mile run, I suddenly fell hard on the street. I scraped my palms, and slightly bruised my left shoulder. I scraped my left knee. My right knee got hit the hardest and bled the most. I turned around and jogged back home, cleaned up the bloodied knee, and iced both knees and shoulder.


When November came, I was glad I had only 80 more miles to the finish. I ran eight days and took only one rest day. By November 10, I had only 18 miles to go. I started the unseasonably hot and sunny autumn day with 3 miles. I took a break then went out for five more. After lunch I logged the final 10 miles and finished the virtual Tip to Tip Great Florida Traverse 901 miler in 204:42:10.


I placed 127/417 participants. I am grateful I had a lot of fun and stayed healthy in the summer and fall of the Corona 2020 pandemic.


Only 10 miles to the finish!


Physical and Psychological Challenges


The ultrarunning life is a solitary life, at least for me. I prefer to spend hours and miles running alone since I began training for my first 50 mile ultra in 2005. My mind and body are accustomed to the grueling distances on varying terrain and weather conditions. Consequently, running virtual ultramarathons on my own was not hard.


Running the Just the Tip 128 miler and then finishing the All the Way 901 miler required patience more than physical or mental strength. Because runners had from June 1 — December 31 to complete the distance, there was no pressure. I ran at my leisure all summer and part of fall.


In the collective 104 days that I ran, I averaged 9.8 mile runs. My longest run took place June 18. I began at 9 am June 18 and finished at 4:28 am Friday morning June 19. I logged 38.14 miles with a few breaks.


Although I was not at a real race site surrounded by other runners, we were connected and supported each other on the Tip to Tip Great Florida Traverse Facebook page. We posted pictures of our miles and journey. We stayed connected as a running community while apart.


Having traveled in Florida in 2017 in our RV rental from Miami to Key West, from Key West to Naples, and from Naples to Pensacola, where I ran the Wildcat 100 miler on Labor Day weekend, I was familiar with the real route and could visualize the virtual route.


And just as pacers are allowed to accompany runners in real ultras, my husband Jon, who has paced me at many ultras, accompanied me on his ElliptiGo bike, including 12 miles of my last miles of the 128 miler in the dark. Jon logged 389 miles on his ElliptiGo bike and helped to get me to the finish of the 901 miler.



Running close to home helped to make the miles less grueling. I had access to clean bathrooms at home and not race site porta-potties. And I slept well in my own bed. I also ate healthy homemade food. And I got no blisters!


Nutrition and Hydration


I had access to freshly made food at home. I ate a lot of wraps — chicken, egg, bacon, cheese, and avocado wraps. I ate cornmeal. I ate leftovers from dinners the night before. I ate homemade apple pies.


On some of my 10 or more mile runs, Jon accompanied me. He was my mule and carried my packed Ritz crackers, potato chips, and fruit — oranges, cantaloupe, pineapples, and bananas — in his backpack. I stayed hydrated with Nuun. On two occasions, I treated myself to an ice cream cone from the Mr. Softee truck calling my name.



Staying Motivated


Although my body may have gotten physically exhausted, my mind and motivation never wavered. The weather kept me motivated. I love blue skies and sunshine. I love summer and running in heat and humidity in the summer. I got caught in the rain once.


Staying healthy and strong — physically, spiritually, and mentally — during the pandemic through movement and running kept me motivated. Of course, I always wore my Buff around my neck and covered my mouth and nose when I saw people walking or running in my direction.

Knowing that I had the support of virtual fellow runners kept me motivated. That’s what’s so wonderful about the ultrarunning community.


We support each other wherever we are — together in real races or apart but connected in virtual races. And what kept me going all spring, summer, and fall in these virtual ultramarathons was the reason I was running so many ultra miles — cancer caregivers. As a cancer caregiver to my husband Jon, I know how overwhelming caregiving is.


I was running ultra miles to raise donations for a worthy cause — Ultra Care for Cancer Caregivers, a GoFundMe campaign to provide joy and respite to cancer caregivers. I am still running virtual ultramarathons to continue to raise donations meet and the $10,000 goal to benefit cancer caregivers. So far, nine caregivers/families have been nominated and been recipients of a little joy and respite. If you know a cancer caregiver you would like to nominate to be a recipient, contact me.



You, Too, Can Run A Virtual Race


I am glad I completed the longest multi-day and longest ultra distance of my life, so far.


We all hope races of any distance are not cancelled in 2021. But with the surge in Covid-19 and new lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, races might be cancelled once again. If that’s the case, I will continue to run virtual races. And you should, too!


Sign up for a race and distance you are comfortable with — a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, marathon, and beyond. Sign up for a race(s) to keep you moving and staying mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy during this difficult time. Consider registering for the virtual Dawn to Dusk to Dawn 50K Challenge in May. I'm already registered.


And you don’t have to run; you can walk the distance at your pace. And you don’t have to run or walk outside. If you have a treadmill, you can run/walk virtually on your treadmill.

Have a lot of fun and experience the joy of running!


In 2020, I logged 1,068.61 virtual race miles in a collective 111 days. So far, in 2021, I have logged 102.83 virtual miles in 6 consecutive days. How many virtual or real race miles will you log in 2021?


Go ahead, lace up your shoes, and start moving!


My swag and medal finally arrived on April 1, 2021.


© 2021

Updated & originally published in Runner's Life on Medium.

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