by Alyssa Godesky
I can’t quite believe that it’s been a month and a half since I wrote this blog for the Smashfest Diaries about maintaining a sense of adventure and challenging yourself in the time of COVID19. I wrote about how the planning for a big adventure can take place now even though we may not be able to actually execute the adventure at this point. I also wrote about how oftentimes adventure can be right in your own backyard, and how that can lay the foundation - both mentally and physically - for the epic things we want to tackle down the line.
Last week, I tackled a project that met the definition of “adventure in my backyard.” I got my inspiration from a woman, Lael Wilcox, who created her own challenge on Mt. Lemmon - a training gem and popular cycling route in Tucson, Arizona that I have become well acquainted with over the years. I took the spirit of her adventure and put it in my backyard: a little place called Jarmans Gap.
Jarmans Gap is a gravel road that climbs 2.8 miles, with over 1,500 feet of elevation gain over those miles. For the locals, it’s a pathway to the Shenandoah National Park, the Appalachian Trail, Skyline Drive, and some of the other most beautiful gems our area has to offer. It’s also a heck of a training ground. You can’t hide on Jarmans Gap. Its second mile is always unrelenting. The constantly changing gravel conditions mean one day you might be sinking into soft surface and the next day slipping and sliding on dry, dusty dirt. You might get chased by some dogs. There are no rewarding, breathtaking views to look forward to at the top. Jarmans Gap is straightforward, tough, and raw - I knew it would be the perfect place for this type of challenge.
Thus, “The Five Days of Jarmans” was born, and I picked a date. Starting May 4th, I’d run up and down Jarmans Gap once on Monday, twice on Tuesday, three times on Wednesday, four times on Thursday, and finally, five times on Friday. Over the course of five days I’d end up with 88 miles of running and over 23,000 feet of vertical ascent (and descent!).
In many ways in this challenge (as with life), the waiting was the hardest part. The first few days of the week, I knew that the hardest days were going to be the final two. I was stuck in this weird limbo of trying not to burn matches on those early days with the efforts, but also not selling myself short with what I could do! I’ve grown more accustomed to multi-day challenges, but they really do add a whole new layer with fueling and recovery across multiple days rather than just one or two. I knew that out of everything, setting myself up to feel as best as possible for those last two days would be key!
In the end: I did it! I pulled together a bit of the data on the project because as much as the data wasn’t a focus for me, I know that for many people that information is inspiring and can stir imagination of what would be possible for them. I combined that data with some other details on gear and nutrition and you can read it here.
But those details, those numbers of minutes and seconds and calories aren't what I got out of it. I got a week where for the morning each day, I was away from the news circuits and any mention of COVID19. I got a week where I randomly ran into friends, because Jarmans is a popular training ground. I got minutes, seconds, and hours where life felt normal again. I got time where I wasn’t worried about the future of my career as a professional athlete. I got time when I doubted myself and had to use all my tricks to turn my mental state around, reminding myself that I can do it - something I have missed oh so much from the races. I got time when I discovered that I can move faster than I ever knew, flying downhill for the last three miles of the final day. I had five days of investing in myself, so that I can be a better athlete, coach and overall human being.
I do believe racing will return, and eventually things will be more “normal,” but I don’t want to lose out on the time to be creative in my backyard and invest in making myself a better person during this time. Races aren't the end-all-be-all to what defines us and shapes us, and The Fives Days of Jarmans helped solidify that for me.
Alyssa Godesky is a Smashfest Queen-NUUN Pro Team Member and professional triathlete & ultrarunner. She owns the FKT for the 274-mile Vermont's Long Trail and works as an endurance coach at TeamHPB. You can read more about her here.