The date was December 29, 2020. We’ve had 70+ centimeters of beautiful, fresh snow, and I decided to go out into the nearby forest for some running “action shots” using the self timer on my camera. I just started doing these timer shots this year. And I felt that I was getting reasonably good at it. In two or three tries I would capture the photo I wanted. But for whatever reason, my timing was way off that day.
Instead of going back in for fresh batteries, and going back out again, I decided to work with what I had. Hasn’t that been the way for 2020? It definitely hasn’t turned out the way we expected it to. But we work with what we have been given. Looking through my photos, I was smiling to myself. I was actually getting caught up with that obsession of that “perfect photo”. More likes. More comments. More shares. We are obsessed with social media, but it has a dark side. It often magnifies the comparison factor, undermining people’s already frail psyches by highlighting how normal and even happy everyone else is in comparison to oneself. Leaving us with a feeling of inadequacy. I will often say that social media is like other people’s lives “highlight reels”. One thing I do find very uplifting and refreshing is the Twitter running community. We do post our runs, with times and distances. But there is not the comparison factor found there that you’d expect. With a few exceptions, we are always encouraging, building and lifting one another up.
On Twitter the other day, Dace Bulte, an inspirational Latvian runner friend of mine, posted the following on her Twitter feed. After having received her permission, I’d like to repeat what she posted, “Hi Friends! How would you describe 2020? 1️⃣ A year of virtual runs & races. 2️⃣ A year of new discoveries & learning. 3️⃣ Both a challenging & an amazing year. 4️⃣ A year of togetherness & generosity. 5️⃣ Full of anxiety, trials, and lost opportunities… 🤔 or..
This was a tough one to answer, because my 2020, all 5 answers had a little bit of everything in there for me. But probably #3 was the most accurate answer. The year started very normal. I was working as crossing guard, a job that I absolutely love. As well as continuing as lay pastor at the church In Hillsdale. On February 18th I had the opportunity to do a presentation for the Monarch Ultra for the Women’s Institutes. Really enjoy having these opportunities. My sister Linda is president of the local Clowes/Edgar Women’s Institute, and every monthly meeting they have a guest speaker. I had previously spoken once in 2018. It was all about running. Big surprise eh…lol! Once a year they bring several area Women’s Institutes together with their families for a potluck and what my sister described as a “special speaker”. Well, I was asked if I could be that speaker. I was a bit shocked thinking “You are kidding, aren’t you?” But a prior CTV interview I did just before my trip to Mexico brought a lot of local exposure for the 4,300 kilometer relay. There were so many people eager to hear about my experience in Mexico running for the Monarchs. For as long as I can remember, plus the generations before, the Women’s Institutes have given to the rural communities. It really felt good in a small way to give back, through my speaking.
It is hard to believe that less than a month after my Monarch Ultra presentation the world as we know it changed. A global pandemic. In this region, schools were closed. Which meant I was no longer needed as a crossing guard. And we were no longer physically allowed to meet for church. To keep my sanity I attempted to keep running. With races being cancelled it was so hard to keep motivated. And I wasn’t even sure if I could get into this “virtual race” thing.
With all these races being cancelled, a lot of my Ottawa running peeps had registered for this 1000 kilometer virtual race called Great Virtual Run Across Tennessee. I kept saying no, because I honestly didn’t think I could run 1000 kilometers in 4 months. Eventually I gave in, and on May 6th I registered. But it put me 6 days behind all the others. There literally was over 19,000 runners that had up to a 6 day head start on me.
At first after having both jobs abruptly ended, it was nice not having any structure. But only for a couple weeks. By the time I registered for this 1000 kilometer virtual thing, I really needed it. After registering I knew then what I was going to do the next day. Run! The day after that? Run! The running and hiking routine created stability and security. It gave me something to depend on each day during this pandemic. And something to look forward to for the following day when I went to bed each night. I likened my runs and hikes each day to putting a day in at work. Some days ended up being full 8 hour days.
Daily updates with distance screenshots of my progress in this virtual went on Twitter and my Facebook running page. I did one 1,000+ kilometer crossing, then a second crossing. And then with a runners friend’s encouragement, one crazy third crossing of well over 1,000 kilometers in a month. Finishing overall in 89th place out of 19,620 runners. During those 4 months, I really connected closely with nature! I lost over 25 pounds, feeling better physically and mentally in such a long time. My blood pressure has never been this good. It was challenging, but incredibly amazing for sure.
I have really taken this “stay at home” thing to heart. All my run/hikes involved either no driving at all, or driving very short distances. The most I have actually gotten in my Prius all year to drive somewhere is 32.5 kilometers. My wife drives that distance every day for her work at the post office, and one day she needed me to drive those 32.5 kilometers to drop off something at her work. COVID really scares me, so I am extremely careful. At 62 years old, I am classified as being in that “vulnerable population”. My Netherlands extreme adventure cyclist friend Shane Little came down with COVID-19. Being one of the most physically fit people I have ever met in my entire life, he shares all about his experience of how it affected him both physically and mentally (and for months after) in this article he wrote. If you are able, I encourage you to set aside 10-15 minutes to read.
The timing after my 4 month virtual finish (which ended up being 3,214.4 kilometers) was perfect. A few days later I was back doing my crossing guard duties, and a couple weeks later again our church re-opened. Our congregation is mostly elderly without computer access. That in person social connection it seems for them was as necessary as air for health. With a very small congregation it was very easy to follow Ministry of Health protocol. This recent second wave of COVID has hit harder than the first. Regional COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions, ventilator usage and deaths are all higher this time around. Reaching record high numbers. So our province has issued a 28 day lockdown. There is an extended winter school break from 2 weeks to 3 weeks. But who knows, it could be longer. The 28 day lockdown has also closed our church down once again for this period. But maybe longer. “Technically” we could have held a Christmas Eve service for up to one third capacity, as the lockdown didn’t start until Boxing Day. It is the one and only time a lot of the community will come out for a church service during the year. For many it is an annual tradition. Several community members shared their disappointment of the cancellation. But it was just too risky. To risk the spread of COVID-19 would be a denial of my faith, and a perversion of our communal worship. There will always be next Christmas.
Since August 31st I have gained back 7 pounds of the 25 pounds I lost. And with this second lockdown again, I’m once again needing a bit of structure to keep me active. Something to do tomorrow when I wake up. And then the next day. With the recent spike in infections, I have no idea if I’m going to be back at the crosswalk on January 11th, or if the schools will be closed longer. Or if the church will reopen in late January. So many unknowns.
The way things are going, I really don’t expect things to change that much going into 2021. Races likely will still be cancelled. People will be asked to stay home, and not travel to other areas. For that very reason, I have registered for another 1000 kilometer virtual. This one is of Canadian origin and is called “A Great Canadian Running Challenge”. It is to complete 1,000 kilometers of running, jogging, walking or hiking in a year. I wanted something to once again challenge me, and put some butterflies in my stomach. So I ended up clicking the “Elite” category of 3,000 kilometers or more in a year. I told my wife that “I don’t feel that elite”. She told me that I was. So wonderful to have a wife who supports me the way she does. Even if I do get back working my two jobs, 3,000 kilometers should be doable in a year.
To close, I would like to leave you with a couple of questions. The 1st, is the question from my Latvian runner friend Dace Bulte, “How would you describe 2020?” It really is so hard to plan anything these days. So my second question for you would be, “Have you anything planned for 2021?” Thank you so much to everyone for your amazing support. You are the best! Have a great year ahead!