A Virtual Reality Story
By Coach Grant Fletcher
"Due to the coronavirus..." It seems everything we read and hear lately starts this way. For a runner, the next sentence usually goes, "the race you have entered has been canceled, postponed, or become a virtual race." A virtual race? What is a virtual race? Do I make an avatar and run it on a computer? That would be cool, I could finally run a 5-minute mile or win a race. A virtual race is the same length as the one you entered, only run it wherever you would like.
I was supposed to be running the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon event in mid-May in Fredericksburg, Virginia. But now it was a virtual race. It would have been easy to run 13.1 miles on the numerous training routes I had covered in preparation for the race. But the fun of the training is traveling to new locations to run the race. How could I turn this virtual event into something meaningful?
The event name is the Historic Half. There are all kinds of history in this area, I just need to make it personal. The very first race I entered and completed was the Marine Corps Marathon in memory of my father, James Fletcher, who served in the Marines during Viet Nam. This was another Marine Corps event; I should return to my hometown to run a family history route. I would run a route past my family landmarks. I started on County Road 32 outside Canandaigua on land that has been in the family since the 1800s.
I would turn down East Hollow Road/Rosier Road to head towards Cheshire. I turned on to Route 21 passing the home I would spend most weekends at when I was young while my father was in the Marines.
This was home to my father’s parents, Burt and Helen. Grandma Helen was one tough woman. Some might say the stories about her were urban legends, but we all knew they were true. At the other end of Cheshire, my Mother’s grandparents lived. I was extremely fortunate to grow up with most of my Great Grandparents. What made going to see Great Grandma Allen cool was the fact, in her backyard was an outhouse! This explains why on race day, I have no problem using a port-a-potty.
I would run to the Pine Bank Cemetery where my Mother’s parents and grandparents are buried. Not only to pay my respects to them but for servicemen buried in the cemetery.
One mile of every Marine Corps event is called the Blue Mile. There are photos of service persons who died in the line of duty. It is the most poignant mile of any event. It makes us pause to remember how fortunate we are to be running these events.
From the cemetery, I would continue south on Route 21 to Goff Road. I would be able to stop at an Uncle and Aunt’s house for water and snacks before I trekked up the hill towards the 4-H camp.
I spent many summers working at the camp in several roles. The one I enjoyed most was directing the adventure ropes course. I still remember the mission statement. “To improve individual self-esteem through a series of group and individual initiatives”. We used the statements “challenge by choice”, “freedom to fail”, and my favorite, “push yourself one step further than you feel comfortable”.
After running past the camp, I head up Montanye Road past another Great Grandparent’s homestead. My father’s grandfather was a carpenter, but he loved to tell jokes which might explain why I have been fortunate enough to perform at Gilda Radner’s Laugh Fest and Caroline’s on Broadway.
As I turn back onto County Road 32, there is a member of Harmony Circle and her husband the Supervisor of the Town of Bristol, which is very fitting because at the bottom of the hill going into Bristol Center is this home.
This is where my father’s, father’s parents lived. I told you I grew up with my great- grandparents. My Great-Grandmother Fletcher was a founding member of Harmony Circle. Harmony Circle will be celebrating 100 years of giving back to the Bristol Valley community.
I am just approaching the 13.1-mile distance, but I am not quite finished. As I was creating the route, I knew there was one more stop I need on this odyssey. So, I added 5 more miles to finish at the Baptist Hill Cemetery and complete the Marine Corps Devil Dog Double event. It was the perfect spot to reflect on the family history I have in the surrounding communities.
It is amazing how lonely I have felt standing at the start line of a marathon. There are thousands of people around, but no one knows my story. Why am I doing this...what did it take to get me there? I knew why I was on this journey, but it is what I got from this experience which means the most to me.
All I did was use social media to get the word out, a high school classmate rode their bike to cheer along the route, co-workers I hadn’t seen since the last campfire greeted me with high fives, athletes I coach brought their cowbells to let me know I would finish this race because I had set a goal, and did the work to cross this finish line.
Thank you to everyone that made this race truly a “Historic Friends and Family” event. It’s your turn to make a virtual event into something more.
What virtual race will tell your story?