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An open letter to the coronavirus

Dear coronavirus,

I am thankful and glad that we have not met in person, as far as I know. You, sir or madam, are a menace to the world.

It’s been angering, sobering and disheartening to follow your path of destruction. First you wreaked havoc on China, then rapidly spread to Europe and elsewhere, before descending on the United States with unrelenting fury.

You’ve taken lives, young and old. You’ve sickened people, previously well and unwell. You’ve impacted businesses, large and small.

But you know what you haven’t done? Intimidated the running community.

Sure, races have been cancelled or postponed, including popular ones like Western States and the Boston Marathon. (I am grateful that my mid-March race went off as planned, with safety precautions ordered to keep runners, crews and volunteers safe.)

In accordance with social distancing, virtual races have sprung up. I am participating in one this coming Saturday that iRunFar is coordinating to help raise money for itself and the World Health Organization. The Marathon Training Academy is also hosting a virtual race (disclaimer: I am a coach for MTA). And others have popped up as well like Ellie Pell’s Quarantine Treadmill Ultra.

That’s the healing that the running community needs right now – at a safe distance.

This is not intended to make light of the severe toll in human lives that will be left in your wake. It’s an absolute tragedy and we’re not close to the end yet.

We’re all feeling various emotions as the toll of your wrath deepens. And frankly, you pissed me off when you made Kaci Lickteig cry.

Upon hearing the news of Western States being cancelled for 2020, she wrote this on Facebook:

“I rarely find myself sad, and it’s even rarer that I cry. In light of our pandemic we are all facing, I have tried so hard to keep seeing the silver-linings and seek all the positives. The weight has been piling up on my shoulders. More and more until finally today it broke me. This COVID-19 crisis now causing Western States to be canceled took every last bit of my strength. …”

You may have made one of the most inspiring, popular and positive elite ultra runners sad. But she will rebound and come out of this stronger than before. Because you know what, coronavirus? That’s what runners — especially ultra runners — do. You don’t stand a chance of breaking us.

Or in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, where a runner completed 6,250 laps inside his apartment for a 50K.

And we won’t stop there. Hell, there are already predictions that you will cause a running boom.

Think you are tough, coronavirus? Ultra runners are tougher.

We get up at zero dark thirty to run in the dark, cold, rain or snow. And do it again the next day. And the next.

We survive on funky gels, caffeine and guts.

We stop mid-race, or training run, to poop in the woods, a proper distance from the trail.

We thrive on finding ourselves in dark places and then emerging to achieve goals that are unfathomable to some. The 100-mile distance is becoming more popular, as are races that go even longer or involve multi-day stage events. A common refrain from one of the greatest ultra runners of all time puts it simply, “100 miles is not that far.”

You want to know how mentally and physically strong we are?

A 70-year-old grandmother overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to finish the Western States 100-mile race with only six seconds to spare.

But it wasn’t just her effort. She was supported by a passionate running community.

And that running community doesn’t just hang out at the Placer High School track. It’s everywhere.

We are ascending the mountains of Colorado. We are zipping through trails in flatter areas. We are charting new FKT (fastest known time) attempts in our communities. We are traversing trails in virtually every town in this great nation and across the world.

We won’t be stopped. Not by you for sure.

We will achieve victory over you. And when we do there will be changes around the world and within the ultra running community.

Among the changes in the ultra running community is that we will come back stronger, more inspired than ever to help one another, explore trails and find joy.

Because that is what ultra runners do: we are driven by our common love of the outdoors, the thrill we get from helping each other and the adrenaline rush we get when we conquer hard things. And after we take you out, we will celebrate. After all, we have plenty of pint glasses to toast ourselves after a hard-fought struggle.

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