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Operation Inspiration a race day like no other

Today was a race day like none that I had previously experienced. No pre-race meeting. No friendly exchanges with other runners at the starting line. No finish line.

I joined iRunFar's #OperationInspiration Virtual Race to contribute to a worthy cause, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) efforts to erase the global coronavirus pandemic. For a donation, iRunFar emailed a race bib, encouraged runners to share their experiences on social media and covered the race live, as they regularly do with some of ultra running’s premier events.

It was my first virtual race. Previously, I had never been interested in doing one. But these are definitely different times. In fact, I have another virtual race planned, the Social Distancing Run, from the Marathon Training Academy. (Disclaimer: I am among the MTA coaches.)

The Operation Inspiration run fulfilled exactly what I needed. It fueled me with inspiration to join the worldwide running community, to find joy amid the current crisis and to contribute to the worthwhile cause. In the end, it was an amazing experience and one that I am thankful for.

Time to fly indeed

I treated the day like I would any other race. Well, if any other race would have started on my driveway.

After waking up at 5:30, I enjoyed my pre-workout fuel, got my gear together, did my dynamic warmup and took the obligatory pre-race gear photo. Around 6:30, I headed out for my planned — key word, planned — 14-mile run.

As my Coros Apex signaled it was ready to go, I set out with a smile on this journey. I felt at one with the running community, as we sought out adventure from our own communities around the world. (In addition to Coros, a special shoutout to some other brands that supported me during the race: Honey Stinger, which I fueled with; Squirrel’s Nut Butter and Drymax socks, which kept me blister-free; and I wore a Bocogear-manufactured UltrAspire hat and carried one of their water bottles. Learn more about my partners here.)

My planned route would take me to the downtown area of the city where I live, Lafayette, before crossing the Wabash River and heading to West Lafayette and the campus of Purdue University. I planned to pause briefly at what I figured was about 7 miles, the statue featuring Neil Armstrong, the most famous of Purdue’s two dozen astronauts.

Inspired by Armstrong, it was indeed #TimeToFly. After leaving the statue area for a different route back home, I did three miles of speedwork.

I had miscalculated the distance to the statue, which was closer to 8 miles. But no matter. I thought I would be able to finish up around 15.

Solitude, smiles and joy

During my journey, I noticed few other runners, walkers and others. On Saturday mornings in April, the Purdue campus is usually waking up and preparations are under way for one of the special spring weekend events.

But not this April. Not with the coronavirus creating appropriate mandates for social distancing and staying at home.

The solitude was fine for me. I smiled deeply when thinking about loved ones. I soaked in the calmness of the morning. I found a state of flow as the miles wore on, barely paying attention to my watch.

It seemed that the miles ticked by quickly. At Mile 14, I knew that this would be a much longer run than planned. But the virtual race was not about the distance. It was not about the time. It was not about staying on course.

The virtual race was a lot of things. It was a rallying call for runners, proof to the coronavirus that the running community is stronger than it and illustrative of the community's support of WHO’s efforts with thousands of dollars of donations.

As I neared my home, I hit Mile 16 and decided to cut through my back yard instead of going through our subdivision. My final stats: 16.2 miles, 2:24:57 and an overall sub 9-minute pace.

Most importantly, however, was the joy, inspiration and strength I found on the run with my running community.

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