What do you think about when you hear the words “virtual race”? The term virtual is somewhat misunderstood in this case as it suggests only treadmills or maybe even virtual reality solutions. However, virtual races are a lot like in-person road races. The main difference is that you are not racing in large crowds. Understandably, this may deter some, but I see a lot of value for people looking to ease into 5Ks or up their running game by supplementing in-person road races.
There is a large community of runners who participate in virtual races. The number of runners and races is increasing due to the growing popularity and COVID-19 pandemic. In a recent survey that I conducted of runners, 24% of respondents ran virtual races. Out of that group, 22% did not run at in-person events. Despite the increasing demand, many people are unaware of virtual races and do not know how to participate.
Virtual races are also terrific events for charity. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) hosts a live 5K run and walk every year across the United States. The PanCAN program, PurpleStride, is a national fundraiser to fight against pancreatic cancer. I run this race every year with my family in memory of my mother-in-law. What is usually a live race in designated areas, changed to a virtual race this year resulting from the pandemic. The organizers used their typical process for registration and email and Facebook for communications.
The way that virtual races work is quite simple:
- Find a virtual race online. There is an abundant selection of virtual races online. Usually, it has a theme and timeframe in which you can run. There are many well-known national brands, along with more regional/local ones.
- Sign-up for the race. 5K is the typical race distance, and the organizer may promote longer distances – 10K, half-marathon, and marathon. The prices range, and many organizers will send you an actual race medal or t-shirt.
- Run the distance! You choose the day and time that is convenient for you. Map out your race route and run it. Road or treadmill – it’s up to you! You can run it alone or with friends and family (of course, following social distancing rules). You can also use an activity tracker to verify your distance and time.
- Post your results and pictures. The virtual race host most likely will have a method for you to post your results online. They may even have a leaderboard for a little competition.
- Share the experience with your friends and family. In the absence of the race day excitement, you can still tell others about your accomplishment. You earned it!
Finding and signing up for a virtual race is easy. Also, the choice is yours, whether you like to run on a treadmill or pavement. Remember that virtual races are a low-risk way of easing into racing for beginners. Follow Inspire Virtual Runs on Facebook and Instagram and share your experience!