Running a virtual half marathon + an update on the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon

Many, many years from now, when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is hopefully a distant memory, I know what I’m going to say if people ask me how I spent my time. 

No, not sharing memes and screwing around on Instagram — though plenty of that happened, too. 

I will say that I just kept running. Even as all my races got canceled and life felt so uncertain. Running has truly been a bright spot, despite the fact that so many races that I had been looking forward to have now been postponed until 2021. (And honestly, I don’t mean to be negative, but I think spring 2021 races are in jeopardy, too. But we’ll just have to wait and see!) 

I’ve embraced the idea of virtual racing, despite some initial hesitations. So when my friend Staci told me about the I Just Kept Running virtual race she saw advertised on Facebook, I knew I wanted to register for it. How could I say no to the Forrest Gump medal?

I had until the end of August to complete the run, and saved it for this weekend, when I was supposed to run a half marathon per my training plan for the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon. I didn’t have a real serious goal in mind and would have been happy with anything under 1:45. I figured setting a PR or even going sub-1:40 would be pretty difficult during a virtual race with no one around to push me. This was actually the longest virtual race I’ve ever done, too. And of course it was pretty warm, as it always is in Maryland in August. Although it was cooler than it has been the last few weeks! This summer has actually been one of the hottest, most humid summers I’ve experienced in my 13 years living here, so that’s made running a challenge.  

I ended up clocking in at 1:42:14, running a 7:48/mile pace. I went out WAY too fast in the beginning, running my first two miles in 7:25 and 7:10, respectively. What?! No. Better not pull that shit in my marathon. The last few miles were a struggle as a result (though my pace in the last three miles was still in the high 7:50s. Not bad!) 

I ran on my favorite B&A Trail, where I’m back to doing most of my long runs. At the beginning of COVID, I avoided the trail and stuck to just running from my house. Once things started to open up a bit more earlier this summer, I felt more comfortable running there, though it can get crowded. Last weekend, it was packed. And I’ve been waking up early in an attempt to beat the heat and humidity, but I guess so has everyone else! There are a lot of people wearing masks, though to be honest, I am not one of them. I wear masks everywhere else, and believe everyone absolutely should be doing the same. But I draw the line at running in them, especially in this heat. I know there is a lot we don’t know about COVID. However, experts have said that outside activities are safer than inside activities, and I’m never within six feet of anyone on the trail for any sustained period of time. But I digress. 

Usually, I run from the Annapolis trailhead, which involves running up a fairly long hill right at the beginning. I didn’t want to do that during my race — one of the perks of virtual races, you get to pick your own course! — so I drove to Pasadena and parked at the Earleigh Heights trail entrance. I ran north on the trail five miles, then back five miles to where I began, then another 1.6 miles south to Severna Park and then 1.5 miles back for 13.1 miles. 

The race mailed me a bib, which I wore to feel official! I saw a few people looking at it when I was running, probably wondering what race I was doing. Even though I obviously wasn’t in a race environment, some of the other runners and cyclists on the trail cheered me on, so I felt like I had some crowd support. That was really fun. And I got to see my friend Jessica, who is training for her first marathon, the Baltimore Marathon. That’s now virtual, and she’s planning to run it in October.

I also tested out what it is like to run while holding a water bottle. At my upcoming marathon, there will be no volunteers handing out water due to COVID restrictions, but there will be hands-free refilling stations for your water bottles. They are basically these large jugs with a lever on the ground that you step on to release the water. I’ve never carried my own hydration during a marathon, so this is super unfamiliar to me. I do have a hydration belt, but it’s kind of heavy and slides around a lot and messing with the bottle always wastes time. I thought I’d run with a Camelbak, so I bought one and tested it out on last weekend’s 17-mile run. It was awful. I thought the water was really hard to get out of the straw, the bouncing on my back was annoying and it chafed me badly (I was running in a sports bra because it was so hot and I have scabs all over my stomach and back from the chafing!) This week, I bought an 18-oz. water bottle at Charm City Run with a holder that loops over my hand. I thought it was really easy to use and when I was ready to drink from it, I just used my other hand to unscrew the lid and didn’t have to worry about readjusting the belt, etc. I’m a fan! 

Speaking of Chasing the Unicorn, it is still happening as of right now. In fact, I tuned into a Zoom call that the race organizer held for participants today. It was …. interesting (you can read my rant about it on Twitter), but I did learn a few things, including the fact that the state of Pennsylvania will be on the premises on race day and will shut the whole thing down if people are not abiding by the guidelines. Like, right in the middle of the race. I think the race director has some really solid plans in place; I just hope everyone follows the rules. It’s cool, though, people have been great about following all COVID regulations! /s

My training has gone really well, and now I only have two more weeks until it’s taper time. They’re pretty challenging weeks, and I’m looking forward to them, but at the same time …. If the race is going to get canceled, it would be nice if it happened before those 19- and 20-mile runs. 

I’ve been following the Hal Higdon Advanced Marathon plan, with the end date being the Chicago Marathon in October, which of course got canceled. I’m essentially cutting the training short by a month to do Chasing the Unicorn on Sept. 13, and I’m not totally sure I will have done the training to run the race I hoped to run. I’m only going to have time to squeeze in one 20/10 weekend (20 miles one day, 10 the other) before I have to taper. Hal’s Advanced plan calls for three of those weekends, with the first being six weeks before the race. 

It is what it is, I guess. At this point, I’ll just be happy to run a marathon…. Boston qualifier or not.

One thought on “Running a virtual half marathon + an update on the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon

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