Since the pandemic began, race organizers have reluctantly cancelled in-person events in favor of virtual races, but this new phenomenon has runners around the country feeling confused and hesitant to join in. Newbies and marathoners alike have questions like:
- What exactly is a virtual race?
- How do I participate in a virtual run?
- Why should I sign up for a virtual race?
- What is it like to run on race day without experiencing the energy and camaraderie of other participants?
This helpful guide will break down everything you need to know about successfully training for and running a virtual race when traditional running competitions are temporarily postponed.
How Virtual Races Work
A virtual race requires each participant to sign up online to run a specific distance. Virtual races can be 5K runs, half-marathons, or even full marathons. Once the participant registers for the event, theyâ€™re responsible for choosing their own route, timing themselves, and submitting their results to the event organizers. The participants will then typically receive a medal or a t-shirt in the mail shortly after their results are confirmed.
Virtual races are great for beginners and expert athletes alike. New runners can go at their own pace without feeling insecure or intimidated by other runners, and seasoned runners can work on challenging their personal records without being distracted by others. Furthermore, virtual races allow each person to select a time that works with their schedule, and by eliminating the need to travel to a specific starting line, anyone can participate from wherever theyâ€™d like. Generally, virtual races tend to be cheaper, less stressful, and more eco-friendly than traditional races!
Main Challenges of Virtual Races
However, virtual races can have some potential drawbacks for participants. The lack of structure and the freedom to choose any day within a certain time period can make it all too easy for runners to slack off during their training sessions or to keep putting off their race day until itâ€™s too late. Runners are also responsible for motivating themselves during the actual race, as they wonâ€™t be able to feed off the energy of an in-person run. Water stations, cheering crowds, route markers, and other little benefits of running a pre-organized race sadly wonâ€™t be available for each virtual race participant.
The mental challenges of running a virtual race are often more difficult to overcome than the physical difficulties of a training program. Luckily, there are plenty of ways for runners to connect, support one another, and hold each other accountable while continuing to practice social distancing protocols. If youâ€™re feeling alone or discouraged about your training progress, you can often find Facebook groups for runners in your area (if you canâ€™t find one, make one!) or you can use a fitness app like Nike Run Club or MapMyRun to find running buddies!
Training Tips for a Successful Race Day
- Create specific goals for yourself. Months before the actual race deadline, consider what goals youâ€™d like to reach during your training. For instance, if your goal is to lose weight, aim to reach small milestones each month (losing 1-2 pounds per week is reasonable for most people). Other goals could include running a mile in under 9 minutes, running a 5K without stopping, or simply getting outside to walk 3 times a week.
- Choose a route that works best for you. One benefit of running a virtual race is that you can have total control about where and when you run. You can choose to run in a repeated loop around your block, use a treadmill, or run to and from a halfway point to reach the required distance. There are all kinds of apps to help you calculate the right kind of route for you, such as Strava Routes, MapMyRun, and RunGo.
- Make sure you record your run time correctly. When you sign up for a virtual race, be sure to take note of their accepted forms of time validation. Some organizers let you input your time directly on their websites, whereas others will require you to send proof of your run time.
- Run for a cause. Since virtual races donâ€™t require you to travel or take time off work to participate, you can use the time you save to raise support for a charity youâ€™re passionate about. You can set up a GoFundMe account or create a fundraiser on Facebook to inform others about your race day plans and ask for donations. Not only will this be a positive way to impact your community, but it will help you stay motivated and committed to reaching your race day goals!
- Create a support team. Even if there wonâ€™t be massive crowds of people cheering you on towards the finish line, there are all kinds of ways to get your friends and family involved during your race! You could plan your run past a friendâ€™s house, call someone during a portion of your race, ask your partner to make your favorite post-race snack to enjoy after you cross the finish line, or use social media to start a conversation among your supporters. Christine Burke, a virtual event coordinator for the New York Road Runners, says, â€œYou may be more out of breath during a race, but you can check in with people every mile or call when you need some motivation to pick up the pace.â€
If youâ€™re ready to join in the virtual race craze, sign up for the Big Dam Run 5K and participate anytime between April 10 and April 17!