CALGARY -- A 50-year-old Calgary man is proving that he’s still in the best shape of his life after becoming the first in the world to finish a 1,033-kilometre virtual race.

It only took Varden Morris 10 days to complete the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee (GVRAT), which began May 1 and gave participants until Aug. 31 — a full four months — to complete the ‘virtual route’ across the U.S. state.

Morris ran an average of 103 kilometres every single day to secure first place out of more than 5,000 runners who signed up worldwide.

“It was definitely a relief when it was all done, I pushed my body very hard,” he said. “It was mentally challenging, especially at the start of each run, just to know I have 100 kilometres to complete, it was very taxing on the body."

Morris credits his wife, Tania, and 18-year-old daughter Makeda — who is also competing in the race — for supporting him all the way to the finish.

The final day was the toughest as he was in so much pain, he had to walk the final 70 kilometres.

“I couldn’t have done it without their encouragement,” he said.

It’s especially inspiring for Makeda who only started running one year ago and has already completed 200 kilometres of the virtual route.

“Watching my dad compete was really an inspiration, to see him go after his goal and actually achieve it, because he’s been training so hard for this the last year,” she said.

Meanwhile, another Alberta man finished the GVRAT in second place.

Matt Shepard, 33 from Valleyview, Alta. completed the race Thursday evening.

He’s happy with his result and thanked race organizer Laz Lake for creating the event, which has inspired many of his friends to compete as well.  

“You put a lot of time and effort in your training, you’re constantly working on some sort of technique or trying to get ready for a race so having a race like this and having that goal in mind really helps,” Shepard said.

“When everything shut down all the races we had planned were being cancelled so this drive to do something was ripped out of people’s hands and this gave people something to work for.”

PANDEMIC CREATES ‘RUNNING BOOM’

In a survey of 3,961 runners in 100 countries across the world, 28.76 per cent said they first started running during the pandemic. 

That’s according to the latest research results completed by RunRepeat, which also found that new runners are 115.37 per cent more likely to compete in a virtual race than pre-pandemic runners.

One of the greatest findings according to RunRepeat Fitness Research Director, Nicholas Rizzo was that 72 per cent of new-pandemic runners stated physical health was their primary motivation for taking up the sport.

“Over the past year, everyone’s been forced to stop and take stock in what they’re doing and whether or not health is a part of what they’re doing,” Rizzo said.

“A lot of people that haven’t been exercising are saying for the first time, ‘I need to get serious about this’ because you know when a pandemic is happening you realize how important your health is and if you don’t have that, you don’t really have much else.”

The surge of interest in running is also being seen at local running shops.

Despite the initial struggles of the pandemic, Gord’s Running Store in Calgary actually posted higher sales in 2020 compared to the year prior.

“A lot of the existing runners we had in the store that were our typical customers were wearing out their shoes faster, they had more time on their hands so they ran more,” said store owner, Gord Hobbins.

“We also had a lot of people who were brand new to the sport so they started walking outside, they thought they would step it up and start running as well so we got a lot more new people into the sport because of the pandemic.”

Hobbins adds that during a typical year he would only normally have to replenish his stock on select shoes once or twice. 

However, his store has had to order several of his core shoe products upwards of six different times because of an increased interest in the sport.