Who Square Wins, by Andy Evans

Tring running during lockdown
Some squares are easier than others to reach. This one is at the edge of Wilstone reservoir – maybe I need a boat?

Lockdown was announced, and I’d run in 2020 just 58km. Given this included 8 parkruns, my non-parkrunning was averaging 1.5km per week. Working from home it was time to visit the trainasone.com training app that Andy Collings had recommended. I’ve used this before and would definitely recommend it. The schedule demanded that I should build up much more slow paced mileage.

Running for me has rarely been for the running itself, usually it’s for the side products such as the social chat, maybe exploring an area, Strava drawing or playing games. Several such games can be found on the excellent running website fetcheveryone.com. For those of you who haven’t come across fetch before, it’s well worth a look. It can be used as a repository of training data and analysis, and there are plenty of running blogs and forums, information about running events and route planning capability

One Fetch game is Who Squares Wins. Each chooses a home point anywhere in the world, the centre square of a 15 by 15 grid of 225 mini-squares. The main game is like a squash ladder and you play against another runner and if you win the week (win, by visiting, the most mini-squares) based on a points system then you go up the table. If that all sounds a bit complicated, here is a link to the instructions.

Every 2 months there is a multi-player match for the top 128. The most recent one started in mid-April and as I was running more, I joined in. In the past my working has meant a commute and a lunchtime away from my home square but with the covid situation I’m working at home and able to exercise more in the same square. The scoring method is the same for the multiplayer but all players compete in one grid and all scrabble around for a few squares each week. Every round half the players get knocked out i.e. 128 players – 64 – 32 etc. In the early rounds, a simple tactic of running/cycling/walking along nearby roads each day should see you through however the mileage increases in later rounds.

My square stretched from the new housing at the west end of Tring to the New Mill roundabout in the North East, to Wigginton, Tring Park and Stubbings Wood in the South. I had intended a flatter more northerly square, but the canal and reservoir paths were out of bounds due to the covid situation

Most of the others taking part, run much further and much faster than me. To make up for this I was going to have to score points through cycling and walking and also spend more time route planning and the tactics of guessing where you think your opponents may run by looking at which squares they are scoring points in. The game is a tactical battle of knowing whether to cover more squares thinly or repeatedly doing different activities in the same squares.

3 weeks ago, I’d battled through to the last 16 and to get through that round I was running on average 6k before work each day and then a 10k cycle after work. A week later in the last 8, this increased to 8k runs per day and still the 10k evening cycle. I ran 55km in the week, the furthest I had ever run in a week

Looking at my opponents in the semi-final, it was going to be a tough week. The recommendation when increasing mileage is to add say 10% but that wasn’t going to be enough to reach the final. So I settled into a routine of getting up early for a 14km run each morning before work, a 3km walk at lunchtime and a 20km cycle in the evenings before getting home to plan out the 3 routes for the next day.

By the end of the semi-final week I had stepped up my previous week’s record running kms from 55km to 100km and even had the unusual sight on Strava of beating Tom Sawyer to the top of the distance (and time taken!) TRC Strava tables. In all previous years I have never run more than 6 13km+ runs in any particular whole year and yet now I had to run 7 of them in one week.

Tring Running Club Strava results
A very rare sight on the TRC distance leaderboard

It’s odd with an event like this, how it grows without it meaning to. What started off as a cycle, run and walk along the local road and back was now turning into an event that was taking all my free time and just accepting as normal the increased daily running amounts

The end of the semi-final week saw a late push by a couple of the other competitors and so  late runs had to be recorded on London Road between Tesco and Cow Lane, an area of the map that had turned in to a particularly hot battleground but I managed to make it through to the final (although part of me would have been quite happy to stop at this point)

Straight into the final week which I knew was going to be another distance increase. Monday began with a half-marathon before work, a few lunchtime miles walking and 40km cycling in the evening – it’s amazing how much distance you can squash in a small square! Tuesday was a repeat, another half-marathon, walking and cycling, Then on Weds, it was cold and wet, part way through a 3rd half marathon, one of my quads decided it had enough and I had to phone Ann-Marie for a lift home. However, a bit of warmth inside meant that I could walk and cycle later in the day. Checking the scores on Wednesday evening I was still in the lead, but my opponent had upped his running mileage with a 30km run and was closing in. A bit fed up,  and resigned to the fact that I would now lose, on Thursday I set off with the plan of using the rest of the week for just running and cycling to rest my leg until mathematically  I could no longer win and then I would  announce on the forum that I was dropping out. On Thursday evening I waited and waited for my opponent’s file to be uploaded. Then late in the evening he announced that unfortunately his mother had been taken ill and he would have to stop and that victory was now mine. My legs have never been so happy!

A typical Strava route – Probably not the fastest Half-Marathon course

Although repeated daily exercise like this is not usually recommended, the interesting thing for me has been proving that I was able to achieve repeated running  of these distances, admittedly at a much slower pace. Comparing to typical running events it also means that you are never far from home if things go wrong, or you need to refuel or get changed between activities. You also know most of the streets, although the battle when you are tired is remembering which street combination you are doing that day/activity. It’s great to see people that you know during the activity but in the last couple of weeks it’s hard fitting around normal work/home life and so a big thanks to Ann-Marie and the family for putting up with me doing this over the last few weeks.

So after hours and hours of pounding the streets of Tring and having built up an in depth knowledge of the streets and alleyways of Tring, I get a virtual badge to say I won! By the time you read this it will have all started again with a new 128 players and if you want to follow progress then the multiplayer can be found here I play as “Snail” although I’m not sure how long I will last in the game this time.

At least if you now see my Strava wiggling around Tring you will know why or if you live in a Tring cul-de-sac and yet you see the same person cycling, walking and running daily along it, now you know why!