When I first wrote about virtual races a few years ago, they were still fairly obscure.
I’d done a few virtual races with niche fandom running clubs for Harry Potter and Dr. Who. A few of the major running series like the Rock n Roll and RunDisney had virtual options. But generally, the response I got when talking about virtual races was either a blank stare or questions about why you’d do a virtual race when you could do an IRL race.
Times have changed, and virtual races are having their moment.
What Is a Virtual Race?
Each virtual race is set up slightly differently, but they generally are races you complete at any time, at any location, at any pace you want.
While some races will have you submit proof of race completion (via Garmin, Strava, Fitbit, or treadmill readouts), most are done on the honor system.
Why You Should Add Virtual Races Into Your Race Calendar
The cynical answer is you should try a virtual race because as I write this (April of 2020), they are the only kinds of races happening.
But that isn’t the only reason to give a virtual race a shot.
Some runners thrive on the energy of race crowds. Others (myself included) are not fans of huge masses of humanity.
Virtual races are blissfully free of cramped starting chutes and other over-eager runners who will elbow you in the tight first few blocks of a race.
Running a race obscenely early on Sunday morning doesn’t work into everyone’s schedule.
Fighting race day street closures and finding parking can be stressful.
Although some virtual races are tied to a particular date, most are run whenever, wherever.
Schedule the race at a time convenient for you, not vice versa.
Cheaper and Charitable
Virtual races are usually way cheaper than real life races since they don’t have to pay for permits, insurance, road closures, food, porta-potties and the million other things that make up a ‘real’ race. As of this writing, the Disney virtual 5Ks are $40 (compared to the $80+ for IRL races).
Many virtual races also have a charitable component. For example, more than $20 of the $27 entry fee to the Harry Potter races go to charity (and is tax-deductible).
If you are doing a ‘real’ 5k and you have a bad race, that’s it. That was your chance.
If you aren’t happy with your virtual race, just do it again.
Keep doing it until you are happy with the results.
Virtual races can be great for beginning runners.
There is no sag wagon and no course time limit. In fact, you will always be the winner of your virtual race.
Congrats on winning your virtual race!
Making The Most Of Your Virtual Race
Part of the fun of a virtual race is it makes an otherwise normal run special. How can you make the most of your virtual race?
Create An Awesome Course
Virtual runs are done when and where you like, so why not make it awesome?
Choose a scenic or thematically appropriate route.
Choose the type of course you like.
Love hilly, out-and-back races? Create your course accordingly.
Hate hilly, out-and-back races? Create your course accordingly.
One caveat for our current environment: Be aware of, and obey, CDC and local restrictions on physical distancing and park and street closures.
There’s a reason there have been so many stories of runners doing virtual marathons or ultras on treadmills, balconies, or in backyards. If that’s the only safe option, that’s what you should do.
If it’s contrary to current CDC or local guidelines, delay your virtual race until you can run it safely.
Have Virtual Support
One downside of a virtual race is you won’t have IRL spectators cheering you on (at least spectators who don’t live in your household).
But that doesn’t mean you’ll be alone.
For obvious reasons, there is more support than ever online for virtual racers. Most virtual races have Strava groups, Facebook groups, or Instagram hashtags.
- Connect with other runners doing your race in the online race forums.
- Let your friends and family know when you are running so they can (virtually) cheer you on.
- I’ve seen photos of neighbors putting out supportive lawn signs when they knew someone would be virtually racing in the neighborhood.
- If you are so inclined, Facetime or call friends (or let them know they can call you) during your race.
I once ran with a guy who changed his phone alert sound when he ran – whenever anyone texted him or liked his posts on facebook, his phone would break out in a round of applause.
While that alert noise would generally be super annoying, it was oddly inspiring (not to mention amusing) to have his phone randomly break out in applause.
Make It Different
Make your virtual race feel different from every other run.
- Wear a race bib. Some virtual races offer bibs, or you could make your own or wear one from a prior race.
- Wear something special – something tied to the race, location, or race theme.
- Make finishers ‘medals’ or finishers certificates. If you have kids, this would be a great assignment for them.
- Have a crepe paper or toilet paper (if you have any to spare, of course) finish line tape. You may never get to break the tape at an IRL race, but you can at your virtual race!