When I was in college 10 years ago, I learned an acronym for smart goals. The five points were Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timebound. It has been fun interreacting with the running community on Twitter and learning the specific running goals my running peeps have chosen for 2022. Some have a goal of their first 5k, or 10k. Or running their first half marathon, marathon or ultra. There is running a specific race. Others have decided to start a #runstreak, which is running everyday over a specific time. While others a specific distance over a defined time period.
As for me, I didn’t know what kind of challenge to work towards during 2022. The past two years have been pretty much all virtuals. And I have to admit I am pretty much all “virtualed out”. The virtual challenges served their purpose tremendously in keeping me active. They have helped me so much both physically and mentally.
My biggest virtual challenge in 2021 was A Great Canadian Running Challenge, which covers the entire year of 2021. I had set two specific goals with this challenge. One was to average 100 kilometers of running and walking a week, or 5,200 kilometers for the year. Our province was in lockdown when I signed up in the beginning of the year. Which meant schools were closed and I wasn’t required as a crossing guard. The church I lay pastor was also closed. My other specific goal was to reach 1,000 kilometers before schools reopened. I had no idea when that was to take place, so I kept pushing really hard. All my distances outdoors in our Canadian winter. I ended up reaching my target of 1,000 kilometers on Sunday February 7th (day 38). The very next day schools resumed and I was back on my crossing guard duties. As for total distance, I ended up finishing up the year with 6478.86 kilometers (fourth overall). It is tough getting out there day after day. No matter what the conditions or how I am feeling. My shortest day in 2021 was 6.81 kilometers on December 9th. My longest day was 101.5 kilometers on July 9th.
This 100+ kilometer day on July 9th was supposed to be on my 63rd birthday on July 7th. Because of torrential rainfall that day it was pushed back a couple of days. The run was also a 100 kilometer virtual for The Limberlost Challenge, also cancelled do to COVID. The previous time I ran the actual Limberlost Challenge race was 3 years earlier. The course was 56 kilometers, and was right on my 6oth birthday. So I ran 4 more kilometers, for 60 kilometers for 60 years. Running 100 kilometers self supported like I did on July 9th was really tough. There were mistakes I made that had the potential to become major issues. Fortunately it didn’t get to that. Overall I was very happy how the run went. And I can learn from those mistakes I made for the next time.
Other virtual challenges I participated in was Smiles For Amanda. A very special and important run/cycle/hike in memory of Dr. Amanda Kelsall. Amanda was training to become a medical doctor and was killed in a motor vehicle accident on January 5th, 2014. Amanda was 22.
I also completed the four month Great Virtual Run Across Tennessee again. In 2020 I completed over a triple crossing, 3,224 kilometers in 123 days. It was so tough to cover an average of over 25 kilometers a day for 123 days straight. I wasn’t planning on entering this past year, but the Twitter running community talked me into it (even a 63 year old like me can have peer pressure). Vowed this year it was not going to be a repeat triple crossing. In the end I covered over a double crossing, or 2,317 kilometers for the 4 months.
Then there was the Monarch Ultra, a definite highlight for 2021. They had a 10k virtual. Although my 101 kilometer run on July 9th was much longer, I wore the virtual Monarch Ultra bib to bring awareness of the relay. Because of COVID, the 2021 Monarch Ultra relay stayed within Southern Ontario. Covering 1,800 kilometers over 21 days. It was such a honour and privilege to run 50 kilometers that final day through my own “neck of the woods” to Barrie.
On top of all the virtual running challenges, in 2021 I actually ran a race. My 1st race in over two years, the Salomon Summit 700 held in the Blue Mountains was deferred from July 2020 to July 2021 and then deferred again until to September 25, 2021. For being only a 10k, I really struggled with the fact there was a 65k drive each way to the start line. And almost did not go. It ended up being an amazing race, however.
Heading into 2022, I really don’t know what goal to work towards as a runner. I am trying to get away from #CarDependency. And every trail ultra I am interested in here in Ontario has #CarDependency attached to it. Our planet is in a Climate Crises. It is here now. It is being felt. And it could get much worse. As I have been getting more and more involved in environmental advocacy, I’m no longer interested in driving 200 kilometers each way to run a 50k race like I might have five years ago. Driving these distances for a race is very common for ultrarunners in Southern Ontario. And I ask myself the questions, “Is there any future for me at all as an ultrarunner? Can running ultra distance races a long way from home and environmental advocacy coexist on the same page? Or would that be living a double standard?”
So I started to see if I could get to any of these races using the lower carbon footprint of public transit. In the end I could not find any trail ultras in Ontario I could get to by using public transit. I expanded it across Canada, and still came away empty handed. When I expand it even further across North America, I discovered there’s a lot of trail ultras to research. The website Ahotu lists 2,415 upcoming ultramarathons in North America in 2022. Even if I were to research six races a day, I still would not get through the entire list of them within a year.
So I enlisted the Twitter running community with the specific goal to find ANY one trail ultra within a 4 mile (6 kilometer) run of a train. The reason I specifically chose the train is that it’s a far more efficient way to travel. The website Our World in Data mentions that “Taking a train instead of a car for medium-length distances would cut your emissions by ~80%.” Southern Ontario at one time used to have a thriving passenger rail network. Sadly it is all gone, hundreds upon hundreds of kilometers of track ripped up to be replaced by highways.
It is still early in 2022. I have thought surely I could find one trail ultra in North America accessible by train. So far I have been unsuccessful. Maybe I am being just too unrealistic with my goal. Achieving this goal might end up being tougher than running/hiking over 6,500 kilometers for the year. And tougher than running 100 kilometers self supported. After running 16 timed ultra races in the previous 5 years before COVID, I am thinking my ultrarunning trail race days might just be about over. The reason why roads have killed the passenger railway system in North America is that they are highly subsidized. Bloomberg has an article titled, “Nine Reasons the U.S. Ended up Much More Car Dependent Than Europe”. Over the last 40 years, gas taxes, tolls, and registration fees have covered only about 60 or 70 percent of roadway expenditures across all levels of U.S. government. The remainder has been paid using property, income, and other taxes not related to transportation. These subsidies for driving reduce its cost and increase driving demand in the United States. It may be cheaper, but our obsession with the car doesn’t factor in any of the massive environmental costs attached to climate breakdown. In European countries, meanwhile, drivers typically pay far more in taxes and fees than governments spend on roadways. This is one of the reasons why their fuel is twice as expensive.
Passenger train service in North America really got the short end of the stick these past 50 years. When public transportation such as trains do not turn a profit, the 1st thing that happens is services are cut. This is exactly what has happened with Via Rail here in Canada. With services cut, people are even then less likely to use it. It really goes to show how much of a car culture we live in here in North America. Catrina Denker is a Swiss ultrarunner friend who doesn’t own a car in her home country. She is constantly on the go participating in trail races and ultramarathons throughout her country. She will take the train to these races. The race starts right at the train stop. And the cost of the train ticket is included right in the race registration. Catrina tweeted these words about taking a train to a race, “Traveling to a race by train is so much easier than by car. No worries that you’ll get stuck in traffic. You can walk around in the train, chat with friends, eat something, use the bathroom, read a book. No frenzied search for parking when you arrive. Highly recommend it!”
It is not just Switzerland. The vast majority of European countries prioritize train travel over car dependency. There is this 250 kilometer, 5 day stage race that runs from the northern Cambrian mountains to southern Snowdoniain in Wales that I would love to run some year. It is called Ultra X Wales. On their website not once is ever driving a car mentioned to get to the race start. It only way it mentions to get there is by train. What a difference from North America.
Europe also prioritizes active transportation such as cycling and walking to move away from car dependency. Many cities have implemented entire networks of bike lanes, separated cycle tracks, off-street bicycle paths, and traffic calmed neighborhood streets. This makes it easy travel by bicycle between any origin and destination in a city or region. Additionally, European traffic laws actually protect pedestrians and cyclists, often putting the responsibility for a crash on the driver. North America traffic laws, police, and court juries often fail to prosecute or punish drivers who kill or maim pedestrians or cyclists. It is really frightening being a vulnerable road user here in Canada.
So this is a bit where I am at as I run into 2022. For a guy who did say he was “all virtualed out”, yeah I did sign up once again for 2022 in the A Great Canadian Running Challenge. Because I really don’t know if I’ll have much of anything for races this year. Once again my province of Ontario is moving into a step 2 lockdown. It could be a while yet before we are out of this pandemic. This year my virtual mileages will be far less as I am strictly recording just my runs, instead of runs/walks. I’m also looking forward to continuing to promote a running group I helped start last fall here in Hillsdale. It’s really low key and all about social support, enthusiasm, camaraderie and having fun. I have been really enjoying it. Wishing you an amazing 2022. I hope you achieve all your goals.
Do you have any goals for 2022?