In a world where everything has gone virtual, it can be pretty easy to become disenchanted by the idea of signing up for an online road race. Take away the cheering crowd, being shoulder to shoulder with other anxious runners, and that feeling of crossing the finish line and receiving your medal, and what’s left?
But before you consider those 10ks and marathons a complete write-off, we’d like to make a case for embracing the idea of a virtual race, and help you get ready for the next one. After all, this could be your opportunity to run the races you’ve always wanted to attend but could never commit to due to costs, travel, or a conflicting schedule. Virtual races can be run from anywhere and on your time (usually giving you a generous timeframe in which to upload your results). Plus, you could still score the sweet swag and memorabilia since most virtual races are still providing bibs, shirts, and medals by shipping directly to your home.
But don’t just do it for the medal. Signing up for virtual races (maybe even your first race ever) can be the motivation you need in a time of uncertainty. It may just be the best run of your life.
Six Tips for Running a Better Virtual Race:
1. Choose a smart, lapped route.
Along with being a participant of your virtual race, you also have to take on the role of race coordinator, meaning, it is your responsibility to find a safe route. Since virtual races can be run anywhere, you should be extremely strategic about how you plan your race route. If you are looking to run a fast route look for long straightaways, good downhills, running friendly roads and parks without high foot traffic.
To ensure your safety and the fastest route possible, avoid areas that have a lot of traffic lights and consider creating a lapped route so you can easily store water or have access to a local public washroom. If you are running alone, looping your route is a great way to ensure you have access to washroom and water throughout the race.
“I do loops in order to take in adequate fuel and fluid. I tell my husband where I will be running and take a mask if I need to use a washroom along the way,” says Canadian Olympian and marathoner, Krista Duchene, about her virtual races this year. Krista was scheduled to run both the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon this year.
2. Record your race stats.
While virtual race times aren’t official, having a record of your run is still extremely valuable to monitoring your overall progression as a runner—plus the audio cues on most running apps announce your pace after each mile or kilometer, helping to act as your virtual pace bunny so you can stay on track with your race goal.
Many virtual marathons that provide apps to help runners record their race have audio pacing cues and track where they are on the actual route in live comparison to other runners. However, if your race doesn’t have an app, you may record using your smart watch or favorite running app. Need some app recommendations? Try out a few of our faves: Runkeeper, Strava, Charity Miles, and Map My Run.
Before starting your virtual race, check in with the race guidelines to see what they require to upload your results.
3. Invite your crew! But keep it small.
Having friends or family along the route will provide you that extra moral boost and safety. Without the hydration stations or medics of traditional races, it is important to have supporters who will check in with you along the way. Just ask Sarah Rogerson, who after a year of training ran a personal best during the virtual London Marathon, placing 11th in the overall female category with a sub-three-hour marathon. “As I stood at the start, I had expected to feel disappointment not to be in London—among the masses, to feel the atmosphere, to see the landmarks,” she says. “But I didn’t feel that. I felt part of something different, something special."
Sarah ran with four other runners around a local cycle track and was grateful for the spectators who supported and timed the event.
Invite friends and family to support you virtually by posting the date of your virtual marathon on social. Sometimes a few comments or likes can help keep you accountable to finishing the full run.
4. Bikers are your best friends.
See if you can convince someone in your household or social bubble to ride the route with you. That way, they can ensure you have enough water and gels along the way. If possible, ask them to also carry a first aid kit and cell phone. While this may seem excessive, there is a reason why you’ll find a medic tent at every marathon and race!
Photo istockphoto.com/Jacob Ammentorp Lund
5. Treat it like a real race.
Yes, virtual races feel completely different from the race day that we’re accustomed to, but in order to achieve results, we must treat them the same. That means resting the day prior, wearing your favorite race gear, eating the same race-day breakfast, and doing the same pre-race warm-up. While virtual race times aren’t official, do not underestimate the distance and risks that come along with it. “If you’re running solo, maintain your pre-race routine. You want to get excited and feel mentally prepared to perform,” says Kim Brown, who ran her first virtual race earlier this month alongside two teammates: One running the London Marathon and the other running the Chicago Marathon. “Fuel as you normally would during the race. Wear the new shoes if you bought them, and put on the bib if the virtual race provided you with one. You will get support from other runners, and that really helps a lot. I also like having something to look forward to after a race, even if it’s a special beer and pizza.”
6. Celebrate at the finish line.
While you may have to wait a few weeks for your medal to arrive in the mail, you can still celebrate at the finish line. Ask a friend to take your photo as you cross the finish line, then plan to have your favorite post-race meal at home, take a bath, and share your results to social media using the race’s official hashtag. One of the best parts about racing is connecting with other runners as passionate as you, so c in on Instagram and see where others completed their race and give them a virtual high-five.
“There were 45,000 runners that day. All in different places, some in groups, some in organized events, some alone, all running our own race, for our own reasons,” says Rogerson. “But all of us ran together in solidarity.”
Upcoming Virtual Races
Still haven't signed up for a virtual race? There’s still time before the end of the season, and we’ve rounded up our favorites for you!
October 15 - November 8
5k, half-marathon, full marathon, combo crusher
Run from anywhere for the OC Marathon 2020—even your treadmill! Submit your results and check in with the virtual leaderboard. #RunTheOC
November 22 - December 1
5k, half-marathon, full marathon
Rock your finisher medal and “Running Apart While Together” hoodie after completing the Route 66 Marathon. #RT66Run
November 26 - December 10
5k, 10k, half-marathon
Make room for the festivities during the Turkey Trot 2020 virtual race and receive a long-sleeved tech shirt, Thanksgiving bib, and limited edition finishers medal. #MetalDash