Your own personal epic

Without races, these runners show how we can create our own events

This essay is by Amanda Loudin, a friend of The Half Marathoner who’s written widely on running, fitness and health for Runner’s World, ESPN and Outside Magazine. I love this one, as it shows how runners are meeting a difficult situation with resilience, grace and enthusiasm. I hope you love it as much as I do. 👍 — Terrell

In late October, the trio of Christin Douglas, Lexi Miller and Suzanne Stroeer went after a big, hairy goal: To become the first females to finish the alternate route of the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim.

In just over 22 hours, the three women ran 42 miles that included 15,000 feet of elevation gain, and two swims across the Colorado River, setting a new fastest known time (FKT) on the route.

In this year without racing, plenty of runners have chosen to take on virtual events in every distance and variation there is.

But another subset of runners is taking a different approach — going after FKTs or setting up their own personal solo adventures. Some accomplish both, even when that’s not the intended goal.

Whether pushing for a new personal epic distance or going after an FKT, these adventures provide a deep sense of accomplishment when official finish lines don’t exist.

Here’s how runners are getting it done:

Another kind of finish line

Douglas and her friends bagged their FKT this year as a second attempt at the goal. Last year they had to turn around due to bad weather and untenable conditions. This year before setting out, they put in a great deal of prep to ensure they could find success.

“There were tons of unknowns here, the river crossing being just one of them,” says Douglas. “The ‘trail’ needed different maps and GPS back-ups to stay on track. Route finding ended up being the toughest part of the route.”

Knowing how difficult and remote their run would be, the threesome carried the Somewear satellite communications device for tracking and emergencies. “I wouldn’t recommend a route like this be done without something like that,” says Douglas.

Not all routes are so treacherous or remote, nor do they need to be in order to add a big feather to your cap. Johnny Lyons, a 37-year old Baltimore-based runner has run his share of marathons and ultras and had plenty on the docket for 2020.

“I had plans for Boston, the B & A Marathon, the Old Dominion 100 and the Arkansas 100,” he says. “One by one they cancelled, although I was holding out hope that Old Dominion would go off because it’s so small and runners are so spread out over the 100 miles.”

‘I had an immense feeling of satisfaction from this effort.’

Armed with lots of mileage in his legs, Lyons decided this fall to run the length of the local North Central Railroad (NCR) Trail from Maryland into Pennsylvania, and back. Totaling 95 miles on the old rail bed, Lyons’ personal epic was a bit more sedate than what Douglas and friends took on, but no less challenging or rewarding.

He also enlisted support from friends and family. “My wife followed me with food and water and different friends joined in throughout the run,” he says. “The experience was better than I expected.”

Finishing out in 18 hours and 55 minutes, Lyons decided to check in on the FKT for the particular route and learned that no others had recorded one for the out-and-back version.

“I had an immense feeling of satisfaction from this effort,” he says. “I gained confidence knowing that I could accomplish something like this without having to be up against a field.”

Because he also included his friends and family, he says he feels closer to them after experiencing it together. “If this had been a race, I probably wouldn’t have chosen this particular one because it sounds kind of boring,” he admits. “But to try it on my own was a different story.”

An entirely new experience

While she undertook her personal epic in pre-pandemic days, Katherine Yager, a 31-year old marketing consultant from Hamilton, Ontario, also endorses the solo adventure. In 2019, a bit tired of organized racing, Yager decided to take on the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland.

A 300-kilometer-long, rugged trail along the coast of the island, Yager went it alone with scheduled meet ups every now and again with her husband.

“The trail is split into sections of about 10 to 20 kilometers long, so that made it convenient for him to serve as my support along the way,” she says. “But the biggest challenge was how technical the trail is — I was far off many of my expected crew stops because it took longer than I expected.”

So challenging was the course, in fact, that Yager pulled the plug after running 130 kilometers of the trail over three days. Still, that didn’t diminish her sense of accomplishment.

‘There was no finish line waiting for me, but it was way cooler than a race because I was the only one who did it.’

“With races, you know how far you are running, where the aid stations are, and you have people around you the entire time,” she says. “They are predictable and comfortable.”

A solo adventure, however, delivers an entirely new experience. “There was no finish line waiting for me, but it was way cooler than a race because I was the only one who did it,” Yager says.

As to running solo for such a long distance, Yager says it’s important to mentally prepare for the isolation. And then there are the logistics and understanding what you might face — in her case, a moose.

“My husband had warned me I might encounter one,” she says. “I could hear it in the woods running alongside me. I just ran as fast as I could to get away from it.”

Luckily, Yager succeeded and now has a good story to tell. While moose may not play a role in most solo adventures, preparation remains key no matter what course you take on.  

For Douglas, having partners in crime was a saving grace.

“We only saw one other person the entire time we were out there” she says. “While it would have been a cool solo adventure, it was such a boost to have partners there. At the end, we buckled down mentally and were able to encourage each other through the low points.”

👉 P.S.: One reason I love this essay so much is that Amanda wrote it at a time when its lessons are particularly relevant for us all, especially as we’re all seeing the numbers of Covid-19 cases skyrocket again. A number of races had been coming back on the calendar in the past couple of months, but I can only imagine those will be start being cancelled again in large numbers, at least until vaccines are widely available (which it appears they may be relatively soon). We’re all going to need to draw on our own reservoirs of patience, grit, resilience and creativity to get through the next few months, and I love that Amanda has found some amazing runners lighting the way forward. I hope they’re an inspiration to you too. — Terrell