Many runners would agree that one of their favorite things about the sport is the races. Signing up, training, and then showing up to run with a few hundred or thousand other people to receive a medal is strangely rewarding.
But what about virtual running? Do virtual races bring the same level of satisfaction?
Virtual running has been on the rise in popularity over the past few years, but has really taken off these past few months now that virtual races are essentially the only option.
With in-person race events being put on hold for the time being, many runners are finding that their races are cancelled, postponed, or have suddenly become a virtual run event.
What is a virtual run event?
A virtual run event is essentially exactly what it sounds like: a running event that takes place virtually. You sign up online for the designated distance, complete the run, and usually receive a medal or shirt in the mail.
Although it’s nearly impossible to Skype or video conference with every other runner completing the race, these events strive to cultivate the same level of community, camaraderie and pride as regular races.
How does virtual running work?
Signing up for a virtual run is basically the same as signing up for an in person event. There are tons of virtual run options to explore!
Choose from unique running challenges to 5ks, 10ks, half marathons, marathons, ultra marathons and everything in between. There are many virtual races with a specific theme, some that benefit a certain cause, and others that are just for fun with the reward of a medal.
Some virtual runs take place on a specific day and attempt to mimic in-person racing as best as possible. These virtual runs are full events with a social media platform, requiring you to submit proof of your finishing time and waiting to mail you a medal and/or shirt until you complete the run.
Other virtual races are available at any time of year, and mail you the medal and/or shirt upon sign up. These virtual runs are completed on the honor system, with the hope that you will complete the designated mileage at some point in the near future.
How do you complete a virtual run?
Completing a virtual run is simple: sign up, train for the distance, and then complete your race on your own. If required, you’ll then share your finishing time to earn your place in the records.
While many runners are experiencing a bit of loss with the cancellation of goal races this year, the option to run virtually provides some much-needed motivation to keep training.
Related: 6 Ways to Recover from a Missed Race Goal
Virtual running requires even more determination and perseverance than regular road races, as the accountability decreases significantly when we run our “goal race” alone.
However, these virtual run events provide the perfect opportunity for us to prove our dedication to the sport, get creative, and harness our intrinsic motivation.
If you find yourself unexpectedly training for a virtual run, it’s natural to find this change a bit unsettling. Remind yourself of your reason for running – why you chose to start and the purpose behind your goals.
Channel that motivation and purpose as you continue training, and make the most of this virtual running season. Here are seven ways to set yourself up for success and make the most out of any virtual race.
7 Tips to Train for a Virtual Race
Set a specific goal.
It’s tempting to scale back the intensity with virtual running knowing that there is no one around to hold you accountable. However, training for a virtual event provides the perfect opportunity to really crush your goals for the season.
Take advantage of being in control of the course, day, and time of your virtual run. Set a specific goal for yourself – more than just completing the actual race.
Narrow down a specific goal you’d like to accomplish during your virtual run. You could train for a specific finish time, aim to run your first solo distance run, try to complete the race without walking, or anything else you can think of.
Find a virtual running partner.
While running groups and large gatherings might be on hold, supporting other runners doesn’t have to be. Use this training season to find a virtual running partner.
This partner could come in the form of a friend, family member or complete stranger. Keep in contact with each other throughout training – check in after each run, support each other, and help keep the other person accountable.
You might even try chatting on the phone during your runs. This is a great way to stay in touch while making the time fly by!
Follow a training plan.
If you’ve signed up for a virtual run event, be sure to take training seriously. The distance of the race won’t be any less challenging just because it is virtual.
Make sure to gradually build up mileage and train for a few months leading up to race day. Following a training plan will help you avoid injury, improve your fitness and stay motivated and excited for virtual running.
Find a training plan that best fits your own schedule and physical abilities. Set yourself up for success by doing the daily work to achieve your long term goals. Race day will feel much more meaningful knowing you have put in the work to get there.
Create a mental strategy.
Virtual running requires even more mental strength and fortitude than regular, in-person races. During normal races, you’re able to rely on crowd support and the camaraderie of your fellow runners to keep you going when you’re struggling.
However, during virtual running events, you’re usually alone or with much fewer people. While running by yourself might sound a lot less exciting, it provides the perfect opportunity to test and strengthen your mental strategy.
Prepare your mental game ahead of time. Develop a personal mantra, revisit your reasons for starting, and remind yourself of your goals. Virtual run events require a well-developed mental strategy.
Map out a route for race day.
One of the biggest benefits of virtual running is the fact that it allows you to run a route of your own choosing. You’ll be able to run through your neighborhood, on a local trail, or in the woods.
Completing a long distance virtual run requires a bit of planning ahead of time. Map out your run and be sure to drive or bike it beforehand. Scope out the area for bathroom stops, plan for water and fuel breaks, and anticipate where you might be able to check in with any spectators.
Take advantage of this unique opportunity to run through your neighborhoods or favorite trails. Have your family and friends meet you at a few stops along the way, and enjoy the familiarity during your virtual race.
Choose the best time.
Another advantage of virtual running is that you usually have the flexibility to choose the date and time of your event. Plan your race to take place on a day where your family and friends are free to stop by for support.
Larger, in-person events are often much more difficult for spectators to observe. In virtual run events, your family and friends will be sure to see you along the way.
Plan to run at a time of day to which your body is already accustomed, and enjoy getting to sleep in a bit later than you would with an in-person race.
Tell friends and family.
Finally, tell your friends and family about your virtual run. This is the perfect opportunity for those who might not be able to travel to come see you in a local area. Having friends and family along the way will make race day even more meaningful.
Make sure to celebrate your accomplishments, and remember that completing any virtual race, no matter how far, is a worthy cause.
Virtual running is a great way to stay motivated and maintain a sense of normalcy when everything else seems to be changing.
Participating in a virtual run event is a wonderful way to reward yourself for all of your training endeavors, and gain some precious memories of the season. You’ll likely learn more about yourself during a virtual race than you would at any other time.