Has the running world gone virtually mad?

There’s no races at the moment… well, there’s no mass participation races… well, there’s no organised races… ok, so there’s no races as we normally know them. But, has the running world still gone virtually mad!! And that’s before you take in the Gareth Allen factor…

Here’s my take on the fun world of virtual races, and my admiration at the antics of two of my best pals.

Catalogue pose selfie - with optional perspiration! Catalogue pose selfie – with optional perspiration!

The Gareth Allen Factor

Let’s face it, insanity is something that I’m very well qualified to recognise… I have a medical certificate to prove it!

However, my old pal, Gareth certainly seems to be taking it to another level with his lockdown running exploits with his back garden running!

And if 1,066 laps and 26.2 miles of said garden wasn’t enough in late March wasn’t enough, last weekend he decided to run 100 miles in 25 or so hours!

Now Gareth isn’t simply being driven by a slight level of insanity, he is raising money for some great causes as part of a planned campaign of 12 hundred mile races * in 2020 **!

* I use the word race with caution when talking about 100 mile running events
** The schedule has been rearranged to go provisionally from August 2020 to September 2021

Whilst I will happily queue to lightly tease, the reality is that I am in awe of what he is setting out to do and totally amazed by the sheer bloody mindedness of being able to run 100 miles around a back garden. Stunning, insane and totally Gareth.

Gareth hanging out in the back yard (photo originally from Southern Echo) Gareth hanging out in the back yard (photo originally from Southern Echo)

Now while Gareth’s madcap adventures are not virtual races, it does take me onto the virtual insanity gripping the world of running at the moment, and I’m all for it…

The World of Lockdown Bling

I’ve never been one for virtual races but am definitely seeing a real value to them in lockdown. I wrote last week about the magnificent 2.6 challenge and it is clear that it really was uplifting for so many to think about something other than Covid-19 and isolation, to find so many creative ways of raising money.

Many people chose to run the 26.2 mile distance last Sunday although, for me, that was only ever an option for those living in very isolated areas or with suitable back gardens… although I do have to give absolute credit to another of my great pals, Michael Wiggins, who ran up and down his street about 60 times to complete the marathon distance… he did ask the permission of his neighbours and many of them were cheering for him BUT absolutely everyone was respecting the social distancing rules.

He absolutely did earn a virtual medal, the Phoenix Running Not The London Marathon bling, and has raised a phenomenal amount for the St George’s Hospital Charity, Tooting.

I think it is often all too easy to underestimate the incredible commitment and effort that people put in up and down the country to train for running events. These aren’t professional athletes for whom it is their livelihood, these are mums and dads, they often have full-time careers, these are people who have often overcome incredible odds and have the most inspiring stories. Unlike Michael, these are often not gifted athletes.

They bare their souls and make themselves so vulnerable because they have a dream of doing something that only 1% of the population will do… and that is complete a marathon. And as I reflected recently, for the London Marathon alone they raised £66.4 million for charity in 2019.

They earn their moment of glory and, whilst for many of them, it will come in October or next year, virtual races are giving them a wonderful opportunity to see some reward NOW for their amazing efforts. And that can never be a bad thing.

On a personal level, after 36 marathons and a wonderful journey to this point, I don’t have that particular motivation. However, for me and thousands of other runners across the world, virtual races are enabling us to remain connected (virtually!) as a running community, and providing a fun reason to get out and get some miles in.

It’s kind of fun knowing that I’ll go out tomorrow morning, nice and early, and run 13.1 miles… I’d do that often on a Sunday anyway but rarely have a medal coming through the post as a reward!!! And believe me when I say I have no interest in running fast times for virtual race medals.

Simply, it’s great fun to see others maintain their motivation and be rewarded for it, and it’s nice to have an extra incentive to go an extra mile around the block when I come to the end of my run!

And the most important thing is to ensure that I do it responsibly, just like I know all of my running friends are. For any runners who are finding it difficult, some of the simplest and best advice I’ve seen is here from Mary Jennings, a published author and regular contributor to the Irish Times… and running coach!

What am I virtually up to…

So yes, I confess that I am collecting the odd medal to ‘commemorate’ lockdown and Covid-19… I could probably phrase that better!! With the virtual running events of my wonderful friends at Phoenix Running, I could possibly earn a medal every time I set foot out of the door!!! I probably don’t need a medal for every 6am saunter around Wandsworth and Clapham Commons, the beautiful scenery and the lack of people at that time are reward enough.

While definitely not reaching for the Gareth and Michael levels of insanity and dedication, here is what I’ve signed up to so far:

So yes, I am truly embracing the virtual insanity and encouraging others to do likewise… but following lockdown guidelines and the advice of Mary Jennings.

Really the end

It’s virtually and really the end of this post!! I need a glass of wine to prepare for a gentle jog tomorrow morning.

As above, I’m intending to complete both the Virtual Superheroes Run and a Virtual Kebab Chase by running from Ba Ba Boom in Battersea to Ba Ba Boom Islington … and back!! The difference from the usual Kebab Chase is that I’ll have to cook my own kebab… and believe me when I say that the return of Eve and the team is one of the things I’m looking forward to most when we are through all of this!

So whether you are running virtually on the roads or your couch this weekend, stay safe and healthy, remember that this moment is finite, there is life beyond it and dreams to be achieved. In fact, this is an opportunity to really think about what we are doing in lockdown that we really want to continue doing through choice when restrictions are lifted… but that’s a theme for another post soon.

Rohan Kallicharan

Rohan is an award-winning mental health campaigner and speaker with lived experience of mental illness. He has been involved in a number of high-profile campaigns to raise awareness and break down the stigma around mental ill-health. He is a sub-3 hour marathon runner, HR Director and husband to Claire.