If you are like me, you resisted the virtual race trend for a long time. Many runners are understandably not as keen to running a virtual race as a “real” face-to-the-start-line race. There are many things you can’t experience, like race jitters and standing elbow to elbow with fellow runners waiting for that announcer to let you run across the first timing mat. The excitement of the day isn’t the same and the thrill of seeing the finish line is certainly not there either. Lastly, the biggest draw of doing a race for me was always getting to run somewhere different, and why would I want to pay money to run in my own neighborhood?
Then COVID-19 hit us. It hit us hard, because despite the fact that there were more important things in the world to worry about than races getting canceled, it was still something that mattered to runners. We wanted to run, because it was our sanity-saver, our sense of self and normalcy. And if we didn’t have a race to train for, where was our motivation to keep going? I personally struggled as I watched my first scheduled race get canceled, followed by a second and a third. Before long, we all began to realize our entire year of racing was quite possibly going to be gone forever. Right now, we need a reason to lace up and get pumped up for running, and this IS IT.. The Virtual Race. And it’s not just nothing.
I signed up for a small no-frills (and free!) virtual race first. There was no risk and I could schedule it for a time and day that worked for me. It was a reason to run. I set out a “flat me” before this virtual half, trying to get excited about it. And it helped. I can’t say I ran as fast as I would for a “real” race, but it got me outside. So I signed up for another. Before I knew it, I was signing up for three virtual Spring Classic races with Why Racing to get my 3 Headed Beast Medal and the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee which entails running 1000k in 4 months. These races not only got me going, they got me on a running streak. Though race goodies hadn’t really motivated me in the past, I found it exciting to get medals, shirts, and other swag in the mail. What I found was that running virtual races was really enjoyable.
If you’re on the fence about virtual races, here are 10 reasons why you should give them a try.
- You get to race on YOUR time. You don’t HAVE to run a virtual in your neighborhood. You could go explore any spot that you want to run that’s safe. And the best part is you can do it at whatever time that works for you. You want to run at the crack of dawn? Go for it! Want to wait until sometime after lunch but before dinner? No one’s stopping you! And no worries about parking and race day logistics. Just GO. Many virtual races will even offer you a window of time so you don’t even have to commit to a specific day. You might get a three day weekend, you might get a week, and you might get two. Pick the time and the day that works.
- There’s no pressure. When I see the fast people in front of me at “real” races, I sometimes, despite my best efforts, tear myself down inside for being slower. It’s kinda stupid, but I’m reminded of my faster days, which are behind me now. These days, it really doesn’t matter, and it really shouldn’t. But the benefit to doing a virtual race is that no one out there knows how far you’re going, how long you’ve been out there, or why. They don’t know what your finish time will look like either, and they likely don’t care. There’s no finish line, which maybe seems anticlimactic, but there’s NO FINISH LINE so you can do what you want at whatever speed suits you. Sometimes I run the same route once a week and try to beat my own time. And if I don’t, who’s going to know? I’m only competing with myself. You can do whatever you want to. If you’re going to submit your results for a virtual race, you have no idea going in how fast or slow anyone else is, and you don’t know where your place will be in the list of participants until the final results are tallied. I came in 2nd in my age group in a 5k and didn’t even know it until I got an email later. It was a pleasant surprise. Though in hindsight, if I’d known I was that close to 1st, I might have tried harder. That “fast girl” mentality never TOTALLY goes away.
- The race swag is often better. Many races are upgrading their race swag to motivate people to sign up. Why Racing Events and Foot Traffic are both giving away awesome upgraded swag for their virtual races that weren’t previously available for the in-person ones. You’ll feel very loved when you get that package in the mail. Sometimes there are even virtual award ceremonies. Companies are trying to make this virtual races opportunities for our community to come together, even when we’re all apart.
- The cost is generally cheaper. This isn’t the case for all races, but many companies are giving runners a nice price break for virtual runs. The 2020 Foot Traffic Flat 5k/10k/Half/Full Marathon, for example, is only $40 for all distances, (even for the half and full marathon) and you’ll get TWO shirts instead of just one, not to mention a medal and some awesome coupons. So the upgraded swag AND the better price make it SO worth your time.
- Support your local running community. A lot of businesses have been impacted this year. There are many companies you can support, so why not make one or two of them your local running and racing companies? Everyone wins in this scenario.
- Do it with friends from afar. As I’ve already mentioned, you can do these races from anywhere and with anyone. Make it fun. Compete with a friend for the best time or compare notes on how you’ll prepare. Run together if it’s safe and you feel comfortable with it. You can plan to do it with friends at a social distance or from your Bluetooth headphones from different locations. There are many options here, and you don’t have to be alone.
- SO many options, so many places. What I love about doing the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee 1000k is it’s a race I’d normally never get to do if not for our current situation. This race even has a mapping tool so I can see where in Tennessee I’d be if I were out there doing it. There are several other races that would require travel, money, and time which is fun in itself, but admittedly more difficult.
- It’s your only option right now. What else are you doing? If you’re running already, why wouldn’t you want to do it for some prizes? I’m also participating in the Oregon Brewery Series June Challenge, where you make a mileage goal for June and win prizes the closer you get to your goal. They even have Zoom happy hours on Saturdays and raffle off fun prizes. What’s not to love about that?
- You get to double-dip. If you want to do more than one event at once, no one is stopping you. I wanted to do the Goggin’s 4x4x48 Challenge so I decided to log my miles from that for Go Beyond’s Favorite Places 50k Virtual Race. I was the first finisher (thank you 49 mile-winners during quarentine.)
- Because you can. What else are you doing? Working? Taking care of kids? Yes, but you’d be doing that anyway. All you gotta do is leave your house and go, so what are you waiting for?