Last weekend, elite marathoner and all-around badass Des Linden decided to spice up her pandemic running routine. Like the rest of us, she'd been doing nearly all of her running in isolation, so when what would have been the 2020 New York City Marathon weekend approached, Linden decided to leave her home state of Michigan and cap off this miserable COVID-tinged October with a little run around Central Park.
Perhaps she did this because of a previous contractual obligation with the New York Road Runners (who own the marathon), or maybe it was just because she loves the event so much. Regardless, it was very on-brand for Des Linden to roll her own private New York City Marathon. So, on Saturday morning, she ran loops of the Park, retracing the original 1970 course, from the days before the event ballooned out to touch all the five boroughs and became the 50,000-runner extravaganza it is today.
But oddly, Linden didn't wait until Sunday morning to set out on her virtual marathon. She also didn't settle for a mere 26.2 miles. Instead, she soldiered on for 31 total miles on the day, with a New York Times reporter in tow to chronicle her stoic pursuit, making it sound like a low-key jaunt and a very Linden-esque chill accomplishment.
But wait a minute — a marathon is only 26.2 miles. Why, then, did Linden run 31 miles instead, and why did she opt to take on this unorthodox ultra on Halloween, instead of the more obvious Marathon Sunday morning time slot?
The New York Times piece briefly explains:
Without races, Linden was on the same playing field as other mere mortals who were missing road races. She was bored and in search of a challenge. And so this was the month Linden decided to create a “calendar club” — running as many miles as the date on the calendar.
So Linden didn't so much want to run 31 miles on Oct. 31 as she had to in order to complete the most Pandemic-y of all running challenges. This got me thinking about how the "calendar club" works, how best to strategize the running of it, and unpacking just how dumb/brilliant it is, especially for a seasoned running nerd.
The calendar club was popularized by an Instagram explorer-influencer named Colin O'Brady back in April, just as we were hitting peak lockdown madness. A couple thousand of his followers went down the mega high-mileage rabbit hole with him — an impressive feat for a seasoned distance runner, but absolutely bonkers for anyone who had not previously run a marathon before beginning this month of so many lost toenails.
Running nerds may have encountered similar boredom-induced feats before, particularly collegiate types — the most infamous of which is the "bicentennial": run 100 miles and drink 100 beers in seven days. It's like the film Groundhog Day if you were stuck running a beer mile for one hellish week straight. That's 14ish miles per day, washed down with 14 cold ones. Day 1 actually sounds fun, and like a very debaucherous goal-race day — a hardy athletic effort followed by an afternoon (and evening) of a few too many refreshments. But have you ever run 14 miles hungover? Now try that for seven days in a row. Sounds awful, doesn't it? It's got nothing on the calendar club.
As is the case with all running streaks, the first week of the calendar club sounds almost too easy, even for an absolute beginner:
Day 1: Run just 1 mile; Day 2: run 2 miles; Day 3: run 3 miles, and so on.
By the seventh day, you're tackling 7 miles, with the week's worth of mileage adding up to just a measly 28 miles. For the vast majority of runners, there will be a deep temptation to run more. After all, running just one mile seems like a waste of a clean pair of running tights. Why not get a good run in? And hey, you get to look like an even bigger mileage monster by tacking it on to the total at the end of the month.
Week 2 is a bit more tricky. It starts with a legit 8-mile jog. By midweek, you've crossed over the 10-mile mark, the typical distance many elite marathoners target for a single easy-day run. By the week's end, your mileage has more than doubled to 77 respectable miles. Not bad, right? You're now motivated to finally start running every damn day, which you've been struggling to do for months now, so it seems like the calendar club is just what you needed during these challenging times.
But things start to get nuts very quickly in Week 3.
By now, you're knocking off a half-marathon or more a day, every day, whether you feel like it or not. On the Tuesday, your ego takes over and you feel invincible, and you'll no doubt show off for all your Strava followers by pumpin' out a brisk half-marathon on the a.m., followed by a chill 5K jog after dinner. This is when the vast major of those who try this challenge will no doubt embrace the art of the double, splitting runs into strategic chunks. It's also when us mere mortals get to experience what it's like to train like Eliud Kipchoge, who typically runs somewhere around 10-12 miles in the morning, and then dusts off a little afternoon shakeout run, just to get the blood moving through the leg muscles again before bed time.
Wednesday, you wake up instantly regretting that spry half-marathon. Running legend Bill Rodgers once said, "the marathon will humble you." The back-to-back 20 (and 21) mile long-run days that await you at the end of this week crush your will to live.
Week 4 is just stupid.
If you're somehow able to average 8-minute miles (5:00/km — good luck with that), you'll be investing between 3-4 hours per day into your runs. So, chances are you're now committing a good chunk of your waking life to this meaningless pursuit. Four hours a day — you could have read Anna Karenina (hell, it's only 864 pages) — or finally learned how to bake sourdough bread. Instead, you're sitting on the floor in your kitchen, eating a fourth bowl of Mini-Wheats because you're burning more than 2,000 extra calories each day. You've also started taking 60-minute naps each afternoon, because otherwise you'll fall asleep during your daily second run, and that wouldn't be good. All of this is beginning to feel like the running version of I'm Thinking of Ending Things. You fear/suspect you'll encounter an animated maggot-infested pig on your next run, and that you are not you, but you are in fact an elderly janitor, cleaning up after a high school cross-country meet, and this calendar club bullshit is just a momentary daydream as you mop up a porta-potty.
Alas, you sadly remain you — and you must get up and run, a lot more.
Day 26 is a special day. Let's be honest, you've been eyeballing this day since you started this bullshit. It's your first opportunity to take your idiocy to the next level, and attempt an entire marathon during this bananas calendar club thing. You knew this day was coming, so why the hell not.
The only catch is, You've got five more marathons — in a row — coming up from Day 27 - 31, including a little 50 km ultra to top it all off on that final day. The idea of running an entire marathon "just for fun" on your own will no doubt get old fast, and the strategic calendar clubber splits these final days into "manageable chunks" of, say, 20 miles in the morning and whatever the fuck you're stuck doing in the evening. It might even make sense to try tripling, if you don't have much else going on in life that week. By this point, you'll have distanced yourself from all loved ones anyhow, as you're now sinking four-plus hours a day into this endeavour. You could have repainted your entire house, or dug into a goddamned PhD thesis, or at the very least finally watched most of The Wire, but instead, you are dragging one sad leg over the next at weird hours, and staring at your Garmin is your new part-time job. On the upside, you can now say you've tried running with your eyes closed for shockingly long stretches, you've inexplicably cried tears of joy (twice!) upon realizing the meaning of life mid-20-miler, only to forget your life-changing epiphany by the time you got home. Oh, and you've now shit yourself while waiting for a light to change. That was life changing in its own way.
Day 31 — 31 godforsaken miles. Do you divide it in two, or do you do as Des Linden did and take on the full enchilada in one go — a heroic 50K ultra to wrap up what has now (perhaps sadly) become one of the great accomplishments of your otherwise miserable life?
Of course, you go for it.
And it's not pretty. For the first 25 miles, you check your watch roughly 500 times, fully expecting that seeing "26.2" one last time will feel vindicating, or something. It does not. Instead, you feel completely dead inside, as you realize you're moving only slightly faster than you could walk during the "before calendar club time." You've also got five fucking miles left.
Finally, the moment comes. Your Garmin rolls over 31 miles. For the briefest of moments you contemplate continuing, as we all know that GPS watches are notoriously short, and quite frankly, you now only know this — running all day, every day. But reason (and fatigue) take over, and you shut that shit down. A grand total of 406 miles (and that's if the month of your choosing happens to fall on a Monday). Not quite what you imagined at the onset of this adventure, but... you did it, right? With no New York Times reporter in sight, it's time to begin drafting that IG post.