Virtual Racing All The Rage

Virtual Racing All The Rage
Virtual Racing All The Rage
Virtual Racing All The Rage

AT TOP, Laurel Sheffield displays her finishing time on her Garmin watch after completing her 24-mile run two days before her 24th birthday. (Eric Sheffield photo) ABOVE, Iana Konstantinova and Jonathan Schwab take selfies on the Chessie Trail after completing the virtual Charlottesville Ten Miler.

Virtual Racing All The Rage
Virtual Racing All The Rage

ABOVE, UPPER Eric Sheffield runs along the Chessie Trail while his daughter Silvia follows him on her bicycle. Sheffield completed his virtual marathon, in place of the canceled Yuengling Shamrock Marathon, in 3 hours, 54 minutes and 36 seconds. ABOVE, LOWER, After finishing, Eric and his daughters Laurel (left) and Silvia (right) celebrate his sub-4-hour marathon. (Elise Sheffield photos)

Community Of Runners Adapts To Challenge Of Pandemic

With running races canceled or postponed due to the coronavirus, a number of local runners took it upon themselves to complete virtual races instead. This is a way to bring the running community together without being physically together in a race.

Several members of the Buena Vista Run Club were signed up for the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon, scheduled for this Saturday, April 18, in Roanoke and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. After that race was canceled, club members eventually decided to take on the COVID 19-Mile Social Distancing Run.

The course the group created was a hilly one, and runners could take it on whenever they chose to. They started at Camden Field, ran up Magnolia Avenue and onto Route 60, going west. They then turned onto Stuartsburg Road and took a right up Forest Grove Road, going 9.5 miles out before turning around to make it 19 miles total.

Buena Vista Run Club member Gregory Chittum said the purpose of the self-supported race was “to inspire a little competition among the club and keep our running fun.” The race times are to be submitted between March 28 and this Saturday, with runners using the Strava app to post their times.

Adam Williams did the 19-mile run on April 3, finishing in 2 hours and 38 minutes (8:18 per mile) and posted a video report on the group’s Facebook page afterward, saying, “It was a doozy, for sure. The first half is worse than the second half, a lot of rolling hills. The course is a lot tougher than I expected, but it was fun.” Williams said he paused a few times to stretch after he started getting cramps at about mile 14. He also ran out of water, so used the river to fill up his bottle. “Desperate times call for desperate measures, so it got me through, but awesome run. I wish you guys that are doing it good luck.”

Jason Mazingo, who ran the course in 2 hours and 30 minutes (7:54 per mile) on April 4, said it was a “tough but fun run.”

Les Gearhart, who also completed the run that day in 2 hours and 53 minutes (9:06 per mile), said, “As always, I’m thankful God still allows me to run! It was a beautiful day and a beautiful course.”

Chittum, who finished the course on April 4 in 3 hours and 14 minutes (10:15 per mile), said it was “a fun and challenging run.”

Another Buena Vista Run Club runner completing the COVID 19-miler that weekend was Chuck Seelke. He finished in 3 hours and 37 minutes (11:25 per mile), and his wife, Teresa, ran 15 miles.

Dave Gearhart, Les’s older brother, who was signed up to run the Boston Marathon, which was postponed from April 20 to Sept. 14, is planning to run Boston in September. “Although I’m not really excited about longdistance training in August,” he said. He said he is also thinking of running the COVID 19-miler this week.

A Chessie Challenge

Another group of runners did their virtual races on the Chessie Trail. Eric Sheffield, who organizes the Chessie Trail races in October, ran a marathon on the trail on March 22, the day he was signed up to run the canceled Yuengling Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach.

Sheffield finished in 3 hours, 54 minutes and 36 seconds (8:57), beating his goal of 4 hours. “I found the course to be very enjoyable and fast,” Sheffield said. “It was nice to have this opportunity to run a race on it, as I’m usually tied up when we have our regular races.”

Sheffield got his whole family involved in his race. His daughter Silvia rode her bicycle to lead him and opened gates, his daughter Laurel was his pacer and gate opener, and his wife, Elise, was in charge of logistics, photography and ringing the cowbell.

To encourage other runners to run virtual races on the Chessie Trail, Sheffield noted that members of the Friends of the Chessie Trail marked the turnaround points for the Chessie Trail half marathon course in late March. The course follows the trail except for the third-of-a-mile detour onto Stuartsburg Road where the South River bridge is washed out. The Stuartsburg Road section includes some brief hills.

On April 5, two days before her 24th birthday, Laurel Sheffield, ran a 24-miler from Lexington to Buena Vista and back, at a pace of 7:19 per mile, on the Chessie Trail and on the flood wall in Buena Vista. Eric biked with her, opened the gates, and gave her water and Gu to fuel her. It was the longest run of Laurel’s life.

Laurel Sheffield was the leading distance runner for Rockbridge County High School, graduating in 2013, before running cross country and track for Davidson College and earning Atlantic 10 all-conference honors in cross country. She graduated from Davidson in 2018 and is working at Lex Running Shop, mostly helping with social media since the store has been closed lately. Laurel is working toward a degree in physical therapy at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Katie Doar, a staff writer for The News-Gazette, and her husband, Michael, were signed up to run the Charlottesville Marathon, which was postponed from April 4 to Oct. 24. Katie said they both still plan to run the marathon in October, but they went ahead and ran their virtual marathon, mostly on the Chessie Trail, beginning at 7 a.m. on April 4. “It was beautiful,” Katie said. The couple ran a time of 4 hours and 20 minutes (9:55 per mile).

Ultramarathoner Helen Mac-Dermott was signed up for the Terrapin Mountain 50K near Big Island on March 21 and the Bull Run Run 50-Miler on April 4 in Clifton. After those races were canceled, she decided to go for 50 miles on the Chessie Trail on April 4. She made it 45.5 miles. The race director of the Terrapin Mountain 50K gave runners the option of earning a finisher’s shirt and mug.

“Many of us chose to run on the actual race day,” MacDermott said. “We dropped aid on our own and some folks were kind enough to come out to offer water/snacks, but we staggered our start times so we wouldn’t be in a big pack. I actually ran a decent time, not my fastest nor my slowest, though I didn’t feel motivated to race.”

Forrest Wheelock of Buena Vista ran the Personal Peak Ultra on April 4, running 4.167 miles each hour for as many hours as possible. With the help of his children to run with him and his wife for doing all the technical work with Zoom, Wheelock worked through foot problems to get in 33.5 miles. “Absolutely beautiful day to spend running, Wheelock said.”

Iana Konstantinova, professor of Spanish and Division Chair of Social Sciences at Southern Virginia University, did her virtual Charlottesville Ten Miler on the Chessie Trail in under 2 hours on March 29. Konstantinova is the social director of the Lexington chapter Team Red, White and Blue, which has a mission of enriching the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. On March 19, Team RWB suspended all in-person events but encouraged its members to continue following the mission individually and virtually.

Konstantinova had followed a training program provided by her running friends, Christine Blackshaw of Maryland and Katie Pugh, who coached the Western Albemarle High School girls cross country team to the Jefferson District and Region 3C titles last fall, followed by a runner-up finish in the Class 3 state meet. Last April, Pugh ran her first Boston Marathon.

Challenging Ourselves Several friends and I had signed up for the Charlottesville Ten Miler, scheduled for March 28. I had run this race when I was a freshman at the University of Virginia 20 years ago, and I was looking forward to the challenge.

After it was cancelled, I ran a 10-miler on the Chessie Trail on April 4, starting in late morning and finishing in early afternoon. My time was 1:42:30 (10:15 per mile) about 35 minutes slower than when I ran the Charlottesville Ten Miler 20 years ago, when I was leaner and my high school racing days were fairly recent, but I met by ultimate goal of completing the race.

Without other runners physically present, the true competition for those of us who took part in these virtual races was ourselves against the clock. As George Sheehan, renowned physician, author and runner, once wrote, “It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.”

Running is a voluntary exercise that is fun and keeps us healthy, but it also takes effort. We may not have won any medals for our efforts, but we beat that little voice inside of us who wanted us to quit – that little voice that said our legs were too tired or the breathing was too difficult. We persevered, and we can take pride in the accomplishment of completing these virtual races.

The News-Gazette

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