Recalling Quarantine Ultra

I hadn’t forgotten about it. At the time it was just a goofy online race. But I was there.

This morning I was flipping through the digital pages of the December 2020 issue of Outdoor magazine. A sentence on an article titled “Unprecedented” caught my eye.

Something something backyard quarantine ultra something something.

Sunday Runday, and I was reminded of a chilly Saturday morning in early April 2020. I logged into a zoom meeting on my iPad. I laced up my shoes, pulled on my mitts and running toque, and swiped through screen after screen after screen of thumbnail video feeds from around the world.

The Quarantine Backyard Ultra was the idea of someone in Calgary, a few hundred kilometers south of where I live. It was this Alberta thing, we’d invited the world, and a bunch of my running crew signed up. Along with about 2,400 other runners.

Sure. I’d thought. A nice way to do something, anything, now that we were a couple weeks into a fresh pandemic lockdown.

We’d figured we were quarantine veterans then. Little did we know that nine months later I’d be sitting here, pondering yet another solo run on a Sunday morning, and thinking nostalgically back on the early days of social isolation.

I quit after a mere two laps. About fourteen kilometers of running. Not because I couldn’t have done a third, but because the Kid had made pancakes for me and they were steaming hot and ready to eat when I’d finished my second lap. Had I known how big this thing would be, I would have pushed for three or four laps I think.

Days later — yes, really days — a small subset of runners were still clocking laps. One lap every hour on the hour. I would log into the feed to watch for a bit, but livesteaming a stranger racing on a treadmill is only actually interesting in the abstract sense. The winner logged 63 laps and four hundred and some kilometers.

Nine months later I’m reading about this race in a magazine. I’ve heard it’s been written about all over the place. It was a thing.

The Quarantine Backyard Ultra sparked imaginations because of many things; the notion of it, the lengths some people went to push themselves, and the sheer goofiness of running a race around your own neighbourhood with a video conference as a finish line. But it also gave people a bit of hope. That’s what I got out of it, at least.

Cracking Woods

(serialized fiction)

My watch had just chirped marking thirty minutes into my run, so it must have been about half past six in the morning.

A gust of wind shoved its way through the wooded ravine. The trees responded in a wave. A roar of a hundred million rustling leaves built in crescendo puncutated by the groans and cracks of old tree limbs straining under the percussive bassline. A tiny bird erupted from the undergrowth and startled me. The waxing dawn light filtered through the stand of trees and lit the trail with an ambiant glow that cast shuddering shadows on the rough and twisting path. I was wearing my red shoes and there was a grape-sized splotch of mud on the left toe.

These are my memories.

The mind is funny and selective about the things it recalls.

In fact, I felt the punch of the branch hitting my shoulder and back even before my mind registered the noise of the nearby cracking wood.

Does sound actually travel faster than shattered chunks of wood, or did my mind prioritize the events of that moment?

I tasted the acid bite of mud mixed with my own blood simultaneously to understanding that I was face down on the narrow path.

The moments after that were even more ethereal. These memories of those fleeting seconds before I lost consciousness were a mix of curiosity and frustration. The gust of wind had passed. The trees were creaking as they swayed with residual momentum. My arm seemed to be nailed to the ground by a splintered piece of tree. And I couldn’t seem to reach up to pause the tracker on my GPS watch. The last thing I remember was thinking that the pace on this morning’s run was going to be shit.

(cracking woods - part 01)

Gaige Gildon is a fictional trail runner who lives and trains in Edmonton. After a trail accident, he quit his tech job in 2019 to focus on his recovery and his passion for outdoor adventure. In 2021 he partnered with The Cast Iron Guy blog to write and post about his upcoming pan-Canadian multi-sport trip.

Single Track Somebody

Sunday Runday.

Still locked into my solo routine from an abundance of pandemic lockdown caution, I veered from my planned course yesterday. I left the house thinking of a simple suburban streets run, my typical get-er-done route. Instead, I turned ninety-degrees at the trail access, and trotted into the river valley to tackle a stretch of weaving single track.

I lamented last Sunday at the frustration of solo training. Friends who I usually spend multiple hours with every week, exploring local wilderness and who would have followed me (or vice versa) into a sketchy, frosty route through the wooded miles, are also sticking closer to home and training alone.

Yet I had some company on my single track trek.

A pair of fatbikers appeared and then followed a few dozen meters behind me at and into the trailhead.

The choppy snow was grippy enough for my modest pace, up and down and weaving through the forested valley terrain. We call this type running rollercoasters because its never flat, never straight, and never for the feint-of-heart. My pace always reflects on conditions and how I’m feeling.

But for a pair of fatbikes, I guess, it meant ride just slightly faster than a slow guy in sneakers. They paced me and crept closer and closer up behind, calling out some hellos and convo about the conditions, until about halfway along the kilometer-long route I felt it wise to pull left and let them pass.

Then I kept pace with them for the last three hundred meters, give or take, until we dodged back into the nearby neighbourhood.

In short, training alone is lonely, but temporary training friends are never in short supply if you know where to look.

I Would Do Anything for Run (But I Won’t Do That)

Sunday. Run Day.

It’s lonely out there on the trails these days.

I laced up and logged a quick eight klick run through the locals this morning. The snowy paths were worn down with thousands of footprints. The crisp air was calm but dry. Stragglers from another universe were out walking their dogs.

For the last decade I have run almost every Sunday morning.

For the last year, company on those runs has been sporadic or limited at best.

The pandemic gave us a summer of cautious gatherings. This was followed by an autumn of wary runners. In turn, that was followed by a strict lockdown with little tolerance for mixed company.

So I run alone lately.

Others bend the rules. Only a little, true. But bending is bending.

Running solo is lonely, with just the trail, your thoughts, and maybe some tunes. Eight klicks is well under an hour of action, but as the year presses on and the prospect of actually training kicks into full gear, those eight klicks are going to need to stretch to ten … fifteen … then over twenty. Twenty klicks is an easy two hour run.

Two hours of solo running is lonely.

So lonely.

And my motivation is fueled by good company.

But bending is bending.