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When the Fontana Days Run Half Marathon got canceled due to the pandemic, I chose the virtual run option as a way to stay motivated and keep up the exercise. I feel a million times better physically and mentally when I am on a training plan and working out about six days per week (three days of running, two of biking, and one strength training only, plus an extra strength workout on one of the biking days). I switched a lot of my training to indoors on the treadmill and spin bike and I started using the free trial of the Peloton app to do guided strength workouts in my bedroom with hand weights.

Race day on Saturday June 6, 2020, quickly approached at the end of 14 weeks of training. It surprised me how real this “virtual” race felt. I had major race jitters the day before the race and the morning of, just like any other race. I had worked hard on the training and I wanted to push myself on the race course. I went to bed early at 9:30 p.m. the night before, and woke up with my alarm at 3:45 a.m. to have a banana, whole wheat peanut butter toast, and coffee. I packed a bottle of UCAN to drink on the hour-long drive. My husband and two of my kids got up at 4:45 to take me to the race start in Fontana. They were so awesome to support me that way. I couldn’t have done it without them and their presence at the start, water drop at the half way mark, and pick up at the finish, all made the day extra special.

The race normally starts on Lytle Creek Road near Applewhite Campground. We arrived around 6:20 a.m. and one of my kids hopped out of the car into the sprinkling rain to take a photo of me.

Fontana race before

I walked around the entrance to the campground to “warm up” — I put that in quotes because it was in the low 50s and windy and rainy, as you can see from this photo they took of me from inside the car:

Fontana race warm up

After a short jog, I decided it was better to simply get going and warm up on the course. Race day adrenaline felt exactly the same — I couldn’t help going out too fast, even without anyone else around me! I consciously worked to slow my pace to my goal pace of 7:43 or so. The course is downhill and those first miles felt easy. It sprinkled lightly for the first three miles or so, and my race bib disintegrated in the wind and rain. I stuffed it in my fanny pack and kept going. Here is a video clip of me somewhere around mile three or four I think? It’s not riveting stuff but I think it’s fun to demonstrate what the weather was like, what it felt like to be out on the course alone, and how great my cheering section was (“Let’s go Mama!”):

The rain had stopped by then but the wind kept blustering until I left the San Bernardino National Forest around the 6-6.5 mile point and started approaching the town on Sierra Avenue. Then it was perfect racing weather (low 50s to 60s and overcast). I ate a Trader Joe’s organic fruit strip, my new favorite race fuel. My family met me just after that so I passed them my water bottle and trash and got a new water bottle. It was getting harder to keep up the pace at that point. I worried about dealing with traffic in town. In the hills there were many cars on the road but they were very respectful of me and most pulled into the center of the road to give me room. In town, I would have to cross major roadways including freeway on ramps. At the first one, I held up my hand to ask cars to stop, and they did! I was so grateful. I didn’t want to have to stop my Garmin and deal with the ethics of that. I mean, it’s a virtual race, and we’re on our honor, and it doesn’t really matter, but it mattered to me. Luckily I never did have to stop my Garmin. I hit one red light and turned left for a short out-and-back until the light changed. And I waited three seconds (my Garmin tells my “moving time”) at another light. Other than that I kept right on trucking until I hit 13.1 on my watch. My pace had slowed to the low 8s by the last miles and I ended up averaging 7:50 pace for a finish time of 1:42:43.

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I love to geek out on the numbers after a race. I find that cadence and stride information particularly interesting.

My family met me in downtown Fontana with an open single-serving size of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream.

post race cookie dough ice cream Fontana

How did they know that was the perfect post-race food?! It truly was. I was sweaty but happy, and relieved and proud.

Post race face Fontana

I had finished in a time 45 seconds slower than my half marathon PR from six years ago at the old (no longer in existence) REVEL Canyon City Half Marathon. I am happy with the result. (Fun fact: my unofficial half marathon PR is somewhere around 1:37:09 when I ran the first half of the REVEL Canyon City Marathon at 7:25 average pace — no wonder I hit the wall at that race! That’s a super downhill course but there’s no way anyone should hit their half marathon PR in the first half of a marathon. Oops. I’ll take it though!)

It took me a week to write up this recap because — full disclosure and too much information — I woke up the day after the race with a kidney infection. Ladies, change out of your sweaty running clothes immediately after a race! And hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Nothing like going to urgent care in a coronavirus pandemic (actually, it was eerily deserted). Later in the week I broke out in a rash from the antibiotic (not hives, not an allergic reaction, just my body’s way of saying, “You idiot, stop poisoning me with bacteria and extra-strength antibiotics”).

On a happier note, I have settled on my next challenge! Anyone, anywhere in the US, want to join me in the virtual Run Across California (my referral link)? You get to count all running, walking, biking, swimming and paddling miles toward the 1,000 miles from San Diego to the Oregon border (or there are 150, 260 and 345 mile options) from now through December 31, 2020. The event is put on by a long-time, reputable SoCal race organizer so you know you’ll get your t-shirt and medal if you complete the race, and it is fun to log your miles each day and see your progress on the map. I ran 6 miles on the treadmill plus walked 0.5 miles for a warm-up and cool-down, so I am a whole 0.7% of the way done, haha!

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I hope any readers of this post understand that in this crazy world of racial injustice, political unrest, and the COVID-19 pandemic, running remains one of the things that helps my mental and physical health, and that’s why I am writing about such a seemingly trivial thing as a canceled race and my plans to run a virtual race instead. I mean it when I say Black Lives Matter. Please vote. Wear a mask or face shield where appropriate, socially distance, and wash your hands. And in general, make good choices that support your own mental and physical health and the health and safety of others.

I raced in the Brea 8K on Sunday, February 28, 2020, probably one of the last handful of races to proceed in person before such events shut down due to coronavirus.

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The race was hard — it felt uphill the entire five miles even though it wasn’t — but it went well. I immediately looked for the next challenge (and registered that afternoon! Runner’s high at work!) I debated whether to go for full marathon #10, but couldn’t see myself committing to the training just quite yet. In retrospect, thank goodness for that! Instead, I signed up for the Fontana Days Run Half Marathon, scheduled to take place on Saturday, June 6. I had enjoyed this race when I ran it with my husband and eldest daughter in 2016.

Three weeks into training in mid-March, as all the local schools in Southern California went to distance learning, it became clear there was a chance the race would be canceled or postponed. I had to make a decision whether or not to continue with the training. I enjoy being on a training plan. It keeps me accountable and helps me commit to exercise when I might not feel like it some days. I was seeing results and feeling good, and decided to stick to it. That’s why, when the race organizers e-mailed the cancellation announcement on April 20, I had just completed a 10-mile tempo run on my treadmill at home. Yes, a 10-mile tempo run. On the treadmill. I had never done such a long tempo run before (I am following a training plan that calls for three runs a week – a tempo run, a speed workout, and a long run – along with two days of 20-30 mile bike rides, plus two days of core work).

The race organizers generously offered three options: (1) run a virtual race, (2) defer entry to the 2021 race, or (3) get a full refund. I sat on the decision for a week. In general, I don’t run races for the bling. I treasure a few of my medals for the memories they represent, but I would rather organizers put that money into ice-cold chocolate milk and warm cookies and potato chips and trail mix at the finish line, ha ha! In the end, though, I decided that I wanted to support the organizers by choosing the virtual race option. They get the money, and I get a chance to challenge myself with a virtual race. And as it turns out, the medal and other swag they mailed to me in a box turned out to be pretty fabulous!

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I love the socks especially, and the lapel pin, and the stretchy workout band. I am glad I chose the virtual race option, even as my race jitters are starting to kick in two days before the race. Participants can run the virtual race anytime from June 6-21, but my plan has primed me (so to speak) to run on June 6 and there’s no reason for me not to do it that day. The weather is looking relatively good for SoCal with starting temperatures in the mid-50s and a high of 73 for the day (given that we’ve had a day in the 90s recently, that’s pretty darn nice). My husband has agreed to be my support crew. I have a race plan and goals but I have no idea how it will be out there. I am a little worried about crossing roads that are open to traffic (both for safety reasons and for having to stop. Question: Pause the Garmin at stops? Keep it running? I think pause it.)

Were you signed up for a race that was canceled? If you had the option of a virtual race, did you choose that? How did it go? And did you pause your running watch at any forced stops?

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