This year, as the pandemic put a damper on just about every organized running event, runners were forced to go virtual. And from May 1 to August 31, more than two dozen Steeplechasers went virtual in a big way by running 1,000 kilometers (or more!) over the course of those four summertime months. They racked up the miles, as well as photos and inspiring stories along the way, in a time when we all need some inspiration and encouragement.

From the famous (or perhaps more commonly considered infamous) ultrarunning race director, Laz Lake, the same guy who created the Barkley Marathons, came the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee, or GVRAT, to challenge runners in a new way amid this weird year for running. The concept of the virtual race is pretty simple: run 1,000 kilometers (roughly the length of Tennessee from East to West) by August 31 and “beat the buzzard,” as Laz says.

Steeps’ GVRAT stories

In total, 26 Steeplechasers completed the GVRAT challenge and “beat the buzzard.” The FSRC contingent was a diverse one, from road runners to trail junkies; folks who run at all paces–a good snapshot of our club as a whole! So let’s get to know a few of them and hear some of the stories they created along the way.

Bill Susa led the Steeps’ GVRAT charge, completing the challenge in just 38 days! Not only that, but he earned his “BAT,” (“back across Tennessee”) and then some. At the end of the challenge timeframe, Bill shared the following on the Steeps’ GVRAT Facebook group: “My ‘next threshold’ was to hit 1,635 miles – the original 635/1022K plus 1,000 miles. Passed that last week and am now trying to claw my way up the leaderboard and not lose any places.”

Bill and a buddy of his also accomplished another cross-state challenge this summer and won the two-person team division of the Virtual Colorado Trail Challenge (500 miles) in 14 days. Incredible stuff, Bill!

Genice Rill was another BAT completer, and she completed the GVRAT (one way) in 50 days. When she finished her journey on June 19, she shared the following upon beating the buzzard: 

“I think this is Day 50. Today was my hardest day. In order to finish I needed almost 17 miles. I did 17.24 miles today and it was NOT FUN! I have not taken a rest day since the start. Highest distance 26.40. Shortest 4. I walked, ran, hiked and backpacked my miles. So please don’t think I ran all these I did not. Today my feet hurt, my hip hurts and I am drained. 

Genice Rill shared the following photo upon completing GVRAT and “beating the buzzard” – a fitting picture!

“In order to finish today, I had to put 84 miles on me in 5 days. I know many of you don’t know me but, I really want to stress this is NOT worth an injury that will set you back weeks or months.. stay healthy! That’s the most important thing here…Hope to see you guys soon. I am going to log some 5-milers for a few days and hope to make my way back across Tennessee [editor’s note: she did!], but if not it’s OK because it’s just a goal.”

Genice’s story really helps put the GVRAT in perspective, as she noted that it’s not all about running every single mile or doing so much activity that you hurt yourself. There were many ups and downs along the way, but the satisfaction with completing the challenge and the connection with fellow GVRAT-ers were the main attractions.

Anne Shubert, who was also joined by her dog, Ollie, for more than half of GVRAT, persisted to complete the challenge despite dealing with an injury and got it done in 121 days–with just two days to spare to beat the buzzard. Call that one a “buzzard-beater!”

Anne not only took the time to complete the challenge against the odds, she kept everything in check on the “Steeps Crossing Tennessee – GVRAT1000K” Facebook Group and tracked the results of all of the Steeplechasers participating in the challenge. She provided weekly (or more frequent) updates, as well as motivation, capped off by her comment as the challenge came to an end: “Way to grind it out, everyone!! What a great way to spend the COVID summer, it was a wonderful distraction and motivation to track the stats. Seeing all of you out there getting it done was really a great motivator. I’m not sure I would have kept at it without seeing your miles pile up and I am humbled and inspired by your kind heartedness and badassery. Ever proud to be a STEEP!”

The Finishers

Here are the names of the 26 Steeplechasers who completed GVRAT, with their finishing time (in days) and a quote from them where applicable. Join us in giving them a hearty congratulations!

  • Bill Susa (38) – BAT
  • Genice Rill (50) – BAT
    • “Thanks for having me on one of your teams, I am grateful for the support and the weekly updates. I loved to see everyone finish; I think that’s my favorite part.”
  • Wendy Weigant (59) – BAT
  • Patrick Key (65) – BAT
  • Wendy Martin (68)
  • Ruth Taylor (77)
  • Christine Stafford (85)
    • “Congratulations everyone! What an accomplishment for us all.”
Christine shared the following upon completing GVRAT: “Max and I finished RAT this evening! Max joined me for 345 miles and is ready for some down time. Keep at it peeps!”
  • Meredith Crow (90)
  • Katie Malone (91)
    • “What a fun summer challenge this was.”
  • Nikki Martin (91)
    • “This has been a wonderful challenge. I will so miss logging my miles.”
  • Roxanne Kircher (94)
  • Farrah Douglas (95)
  • Oksana Lightfield (96)
  • Barbara Meely (97)
    • “Way to go everyone!”
  • Ellen Saint Onge (100)
  • Rachel Ridgway (101)
  • Art Gregory (102)
  • Stephanie Harvey (107)
  • Eric Eller (111)
  • Heidi Novak (114)
    • “Congratulations everyone. It’s been awesome keeping up with everyone’s progress each week. I’m going to miss the weekly updates. Here’s to more miles and lots of smiles.”
  • Heidi Schiller (114)
  • Steve Dobson (114)
  • Chris VanSant (115)
    • “Nice job everyone! As glad I am to be finished, I’m a little sad I don’t have a run to log on the site nearly every day.”
  • Carl Pritchard (118)
  • Amanda Golden (119)
  • Anne Shubert (121)

What challenges–virtual or otherwise–will the Steeps take on next? If GVRAT was any indication, it’ll definitely be epic! Stay tuned for more stories, and if you have a story you’d like to share, just submit it to Stay safe, and happy running!