The Outside Rail

Run. Rest. Run. Rest. Run. Rest. Run. Rest. Run. Rest. Run. Rest. Run. Rest. Run. Rest. Run. Rest. Run. Rest. Run. Rest. Run.


That’s how I spent my Saturday. It started with a text from my oldest son Ryan early in the week. “A guy has been running four miles on the hour for almost 48 hours now.” It came with a link to Michael Wardian’s Strava feed where the Arlington, Va. resident was indeed running four miles at the top of every hour as part of the Quarantine Backyard Ultra that linked up runners from around the world. They ran 4.167-mile laps in their neighborhoods, homes or businesses (coronavirus rules) and logged each lap via Zoom. More than 2,000 runners in 60 countries took part. Wardian won the thing by lasting 62 1/2 hours and running 262.5 miles.

Wardian is an ultra-marathoner. I’m not. But over a dinner at home during this weirdest of times, I asked my 18-year-old son Nolan about doing some other running challenge. We laughed. He made a suggestion. I made a suggestion. We laughed again. Like there is everywhere, there’s a quarantine/stay-at-home order in our area because of the coronavirus. You can run in our neighborhood without getting too close to anyone. We have time. We’re bored. We can run. Somebody checked the weather for Saturday. Partly sunny, breezy, high in the 50s.

What if we ran two miles every hour for 12 hours? Start at our normal spot up by the old bus stop, go through the neighborhood, around Woodbine Circle past the Gangemis house and back home. That’s about two miles. Start at 8 in the morning, finish before 8 at night.

Nobody said no. Well, Sam (my wife and his mother) might have said no because she’d rather not hear us talk about running even more than we already do and this was surely going to spur discussions.

Saturday morning came, and off we went at 8:03. Sam, with Katie the Labrador, was with us at the beginning – at the start of a five-mile walk. Katie whined and yiped and otherwise acted like a nut as Nolan and I jogged away. The first mile of this out-and-back circuit we created is uphill, seriously uphill, which we probably should have thought about a bit more. Of course, that makes the second mile downhill, and 17 minutes and 21 seconds later we finished the 2.02-mile circuit and walked back to the house. We talked, laughed. That was easy.

Back at the house, I switched laundry, ate half a bagel, drank water. Nolan sat on the floor and group-chatted or whatever it is college freshmen do with free time.

At 9:02, we started the second leg. This one went 2.03 and lasted an identical 17:21. I did some more laundry, shed the running jacket, hat and gloves I started with and we launched into the third round at 10:01. Two miles (flat) in 16:53. Katie did that one with us, cheerfully, and was certainly responsible for the pace increase.

At some point, fellow Strava head Tom Law sent a text: “What is this madness running you’re doing?” He ought to get some sort of prize for being the first to notice. Nolan’s brother Ryan chimed in shortly thereafter. “When do you stop the 2 miles on the hour?”

Round four came at 11 and lasted 17:17 for 2.01 miles. Again, no real problems. I changed into shorts, talked on the phone, ate some peanut butter toast, got ready to go out again.

Each round brought about 40 minutes of down time at home. Smarter runners probably would have stretched, done some yoga, something to ameliorate the effects of all that running. We kind of hung around.

Starting the fifth lap, we made a mistake (which cost a guy a disqualification in Wardian’s run) and started before the top of the hour. The Strava clock says 11:58. Dummies. Oh well. We ran 2.03 in 17:21. Well, I ran 2.03 in 17:21. Nolan started out running the first laps with me, conversational and happy. Then he started throwing wood on the fire. I didn’t get much slower. He simply got faster. And that’s the difference between an 18-year-old runner and a 55-year-old runner.

We corrected the next round and started at 1:01 p.m. (our first Afternoon Run in Strava-speak after three Morning Runs and two Lunch Runs). Buoyed by half a turkey sandwich, I turned in a 16:53 for 2.03 – going 8:48 on the way out and 7:46 on the way back. At 2 it was more of the same – 16:53. Not bad for the 13th and 14th miles of this excursion. I’ve run a half-marathon, some 10-milers, once ran 14 miles with a guy named Adventure Man and tackled a 25K trail run this winter but nothing farther.

And I soon found out why. The 3 o’clock leg was brutal – 17:33. The second mile felt OK, but I was stiff, sore and slow for the first mile. I barely saw Nolan.

We did manage to see a few neighbors, some repeatedly because everyone is at home. All day.

“Another run?”

“What, are you gonna run all day?”

“You need to catch up, your son is way up there.”

“Which son is that anyway?”

“Wait, what are you doing?”

“How many is that?”

“You want me to leave some water out?”

I tried to explain, while running. “Two miles at the top of the hour every hour for 12 hours . . .” I panted to my friend Derek who was gardening, tending his lawn or otherwise doing things I should have been doing. He had a simple response, “Why didn’t you just do it all at once?”

I don’t know, man, I don’t know.

The 4 p.m. bell sounded and it was the worst yet. Stiffer, sorer and slower, I ran the first mile in 9:25. Strava tracks your heart rate and mine averaged 163 for that leg. Hard work. With Nolan waiting for me and looking fresh, I finished in 18:06 for 2.03 miles (the GPS watch seemed to vary a little and it’s not like we had precise starting and finishing lines).

I stretched, changed socks, changed shorts. No idea if I ate anything – maybe more peanut butter toast.

And at 5:02, we set off again. Another first mile in 9 and change but a lower heart rate and a final of 17:57. Better. Strava switches to Evening Run at 6 p.m. and I went to a dark place ­– 18:23 – though it felt better knowing the end was near. The Marra family, whose house we passed about a half-mile in and with about a half-mile to go over and over again, gave us a cheer. “Almost there. Keep it going.”

And then came the finale. With a “We’re not going over 18 minutes this time,” from my running  partner, Nolan and I started at 7:01. The first mile went in 9:07 – have I mentioned it’s uphill (106 feet in elevation change to be precise)? – and the second in 8:20 for a 17:35 to put a wrapper on the day. Sam, the Marras and two other neighbors cheered us on with honks of a truck horn, claps, photos and video all at the correct social distances.

Added together, we ran for 3 hours, 29 minutes and 33 seconds. And covered 24.22 miles. Just before the final leg, Ryan texted with a “Don’t quit now. It’ll feel like a totally different route when it gets dark.” And then, “You have to find out what you’re capable of. Don’t throw in the towel just yet.  You have nothing else to do.” And, just for good measure, a “24 hours is possible. You can take 4x .5 hr naps in a couple hours.”

That last one came at 7:52. I’d just gotten out of the shower and opened a Guinness. But, technically, there was still time . . .


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