Date: 1 – 19 April 2020
In the weeks leading up to the Level 4 lockdown in New Zealand, when everyone was stockpiling on toiletpaper and flour, my thoughts were focused elsewhere – to come up with some sort of physical challenge that would reflect a small part of the pandemic. And since running and walking is my preferred exercise, the plan would have to involve one or both. With 2019 being the year that the virus was first detected (hence COVID-19), nineteen had to have prominence. To just run/walk 19km is no challenge. Any abled body can do that, even if it takes you all day. The logical next step was to try and repeat the 19k for 19 days in a row, and just like that, the challenge was set. To make the challenge just a wee bit more challenging, I decided to try and do every day’s 19k in under three hours. That is rather swift walking if you are not a speedwalker, or a couple of kilometres had to be jogged.
To give us some time to get our heads around the prospect, we opted to start on the first of April, instead of on the same day that the lockdown started (26 March). The lockdown was set for a month, so this challenge would fall in the middle of that timeframe.
We live on a lifestyle section, a small-holding if you like, just outside Palmerston North in the foothills of a windfarm. The location is important to note as, with the windfarm literally in our backyard, we not only have hills, but we also have a fair amount of wind. Not necessarily always gale force winds, but persistent wind. Our tiny house of 45 square metres is right on the corner of the property. Our property is also located on the corner of the dead-end road, that leads to the other properties in the area, and a right-of-way (ROW) housing three neighbours next to us. Being on the corner, it is a ninety-degree angle with the one leg leading to the Pahiatua Track, a road that connects the east and west sides of the Tararua Ranges, and the other leg that runs down the ROW.
The corner is at a high point with regards to the elevation. In either direction there is a little valley, before an uphill at the end of each leg. It is therefor a case of starting high, go downhill and up again, before turning around, and repeat. Both these legs are the same, both going through a dip and up again. The one leg is 350 metres and the ROW about 400 metres. To keep within the government’s rules to stay local, we opted to do only this stretch in our area, 750 metre in length which we had to repeat 26 times every day.
Since we have not been running all that much over the past six months, we had no intensions of trying to run everything. We have, however, walked lots since the beginning of the year, with only the occasional kilometre or two of jogging thrown in just to feel what it is like. My hips are still on the edge, often in the dumps, and while I still try to get a handle on things, I figured that walking is a good idea. We covered six to seven kilometres most days since the beginning of January. In order to utilise this challenge to make the transition back to running quicker, we tried to jog the downhills and walk the uphills. The first day we did exactly that, and jogged about 9km, but I was somewhat sore the next day. The second day ended up being a walking day. As was the day after that. Quickly both Gerry and myself had shin issues from all the fast walking. To combat these sorts of aches and pains, we spent 15 minutes every other day in an ice-bath. This is really just a 200 litre drum in the vege garden, where we store some of the overflow water from our small hothouse tanks. These ice-baths seem to have done wonders. Although, one could argue that it was perhaps my imagination and the belief that it had to magically help relieve sore muscles.
As you can imagine, every nook and cranny of the road quickly became intimately familiar. But every day there was still something new to notice, or someone new to meet. Most days we had to explain to someone what we were doing. Most of the time, their reactions said everything about what they thought of the challenge, and us!
Every day brought its own challenges. Sometimes it was the weather, other times you just don’t feel it, and still other days you have a headache or something else that adds to the challenge. But that is the whole point. Mental challenges are often far more difficult than physical challenges. The will to sit on the couch and watch movies far outweighs putting yourself voluntarily through hardship. Especially if the discomfort is self-inflicted. To stop at 19k every day, was mentally another challenge altogether. If you cover 19k, you may as well do 21.1k. It will sound so much better if you do 19 half marathons in a row. But 19 it was, so 19 we did.
Over the course of the 19 days, we covered the 750 metre stretch 494 times. After a few days of mostly walking, we started running the downhills again, and managed that most of the time. We got rained on three times, once completely drenched. In the final week we had a lot of wind, often a head wind down the ROW (the prevailing Westerly). But mostly the weather was near perfect. Autumn truly is New Zealand’s best season.
The 19 days went past so quickly, and in the final few days I couldn’t help but wonder if we should set ourselves another challenge before the lockdown gets lifted. As is always the case, once you achieved something you need something new to fill the gap.
It is the curse of an endurance junkie.