Tips to Make the Most of a Virtual Race
While virtual races have been around for several years, 2020 became known as the ‘Year of the Virtual Race’. For those unfamiliar, a virtual race is an event that can be completed anywhere in the world. For most, that means completing it in your neighborhood or treadmill. Most virtual races have a set distance like a 5K, 10K, half marathon, etc. and usually ship your race swag to you. Other terms include virtual run, virtual challenge, hybrid race, and the list goes on. Whatever you want to call them, they are great options to add some fun into your schedule throughout the year!
Given that 2020 was a banner year for them in terms of proliferation, we’ve seen some standout ones while also grimacing at some not so great ones. As the virtual run niche continues to grow in popularity, we decided it was time to write some tips on what to look for when searching for your next virtual race and also how to make the most of it.
Find Your Theme
“There’s always a theme!” -Kelly Kapoor, The Office
There’s a virtual race for nearly everything out there: run to Mars, race to the beer, climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, dash through fall while carrying a pumpkin, and so many more. A quick Google search of ‘(insert theme) virtual race’ will likely yield results.
Check for Credibility
With all the virtual races that have popped up over the last year or so, you’re bound to run into some rotten apples. Just like the time you bought that snazzy shirt you saw on Instagram that ended up looking nothing like the photo (or never even arrived), there are remote instances where the virtual race isn’t up to snuff.
Luckily, there are some easy ways to check for credibility. The most convenient is checking the race’s social media pages. Do they have a solid following? Do they have an established history (i.e. more than a couple months)? Look at comments, likes, and reactions. See mostly negative comments that go unanswered? Maybe that’s not the virtual race you should go with.
Another way to spot check credibility is to check their results page (if they have one). A results page is an online page where participants can upload their results and post photos, typically held on a registration platform such as RunSignup or Active. If you browse the event’s previous year’s results page and see a bunch of uploaded finish times and photos, it’s likely a good sign!
Understanding How it Works
Now that you’ve found a virtual race that sounds fun and you’ve done some quick research to check the credibility, you’ll want to make sure you get all the details. These include:
- When. Some virtual races are a single day, held over a weekend, or even the span of months. Make note of the dates and check that it fits your schedule.
- Where. Can this be done anywhere including a treadmill, or must it be outside and tracked? Can it be done in any state (or country for that matter)? Most are pretty open but some do have specific location requirements, so be sure to check.
- How. Can I walk it instead of running? Do I need to record my time and submit it online in order to be considered a finisher?
- Shipping. If your registration includes swag like a hoodie or medal, when do those ship? You’ll see a variety of methods, but most will ship right before the start of the virtual race or maybe even after it’s over. Knowing these details helps set your expectations.
Training for Your Run or Walk
By now, you’ve found your virtual race and have signed up. Great! Depending on the distance and your current ability, you may need to train a little or train a lot. Just like a regular, in-person event, you sign up early so you allow yourself time to develop a training plan and execute it.
Let’s say you’ve signed up for a 5K, which is considered the ideal distance and most attainable for new runners. You will want to spend some time researching training plans. Trust us: there are tons out there! Many will have handy calculators where you can enter the race date and they’ll spit out a calendar for what days to train leading up to the event and the distance.
If you’re a seasoned runner, take this virtual race as an opportunity to shave some time off your PR. As you likely know, there are also guides online to help you become a little faster or even more efficient when running. A virtual race offers the perfect time to really hone in on your goal in a stress-free atmosphere.
Wherever you are on the spectrum, set a goal, train hard, and crush it. It makes the medal you receive that much better!
Planning Your Race Day
Let the fun part begin! This is where virtual races really shine! As we go through this section, we are going to assume the virtual race you signed up for is flexible in the sense that you can choose what day you complete it and can do it anywhere. With those assumptions in mind, here are some tips to make the entire experience even better than a traditional in-person event:
- Where. Are you going to rock your virtual race in your neighborhood? Head to a nearby park and hop on the trail system? Head into town and zigzag through the streets with the finish line being your favorite brunch spot? Use online tools like MapMyRun to easily plot a course ahead of time.
- When. You can do it on a Saturday morning like most traditional races. But guess what? You don’t have to! Run or walk it before work to kickstart your day. Head out on Thursday evening with the family during golden hour, which is perfect for photos! It’s your race. Do it on your time!
- Who. You, of course. But, invite some friends along, as running is always better with friends! Whether it’s those living in your house or getting your friend group together for a nice outing, the flexibility of virtual races mean it’s way easier to coordinate a date with a small group.
- Pre-race fuel. Back to The Office, don’t be like Michael Scott and eat endless amounts of fettuccine alfredo moments before you start your run. Depending on your distance and training plan, have whatever you need on hand leading up to race day. Food requirements vary, but we always like to stay hydrated and have a little caffeine. Cold brewed coffee during the warmer months and a pumpkin spiced latte come fall, your pre-race caffeine fix shouldn’t be an afterthought 🙂
- Post-race celebration. Traditional races typically involved a PA system playing music and a light beer paired with a banana. While it’s usually a fun time, there’s definitely room for improvement, and since you call the shots at your virtual race, you can make it better! We’ve seen people celebrate their victory at a nearby winery, local ice cream shop, and one family created a huge Italian Sunday dinner feast once home. The options are endless!
- Backup plan. What if you’re feeling under the weather come race day? What if the weather itself is crap? Once again, virtual races shine in this regard as you should be able to push it to another day. For this reason, we suggest planning your ideal date earlier in the virtual race period (as opposed to waiting until the final day). If something comes up, it gives you a cushion to reschedule.
Most virtual races also have social involvement, albeit online. Usually optional, it does make the event more engaging overall. When signing up, you’ll likely learn all the ways your race offers social engagement. We suggest following their advice, as a lot of the social involvement begins prior to race day. Here is what to expect:
- Instagram. Great way to stay up to date with the virtual race and see other participants’ photos by searching the official hashtag.
- Facebook Group. Many also have an official Facebook Group, which is a space participants can engage with each other directly.
- Mobile app. Some virtual races have their own app. Features range from informational apps with outbound links to richer tools, like the ability to record outdoor runs and interact with fellow participants.
- YouTube and other media. Videos to podcasts to blogs, virtual race organizers are posting content more and more. A good virtual race will have all the ways to get involved on their website.
To round out your experience, you’ll want to see if your virtual race allows for time submissions and photo submissions. Most allow either one or both, which helps memorialize your participation in the event.
Time submissions are simply a way to enter your finish time and view it on the results page. While you can technically see where you ranked amongst your peers, it’s imperative to understand that you likely ran a different course on a different day at a different time under different weather conditions than the person above or below you. Therefore, don’t take the results page too seriously.
When you submit your finish time, you might also receive a digital finisher’s certificate. Customized with the race logo, your name, and time, you can proudly display this on social media or hang it on the fridge!
Lastly, if the virtual race offers it, you can upload photos you took on your run. There should be an online album where you can see all the other runners photos, which offers a unique look at who all participated and where they ran.
Virtual races are not meant to replace in-person events. Rather, we love them as they are easy to sprinkle into your calendar throughout the year and are also great for those new to the sport.
While this is the finish line of the article, we hope this is the start line for you. Find a virtual race that interests you, that’s credible, and that motivates you to get moving. Sign up, start training, then plan your virtual race. We hope to see you out there!
Looking for a virtual race to add to your calendar this fall? Check ours out! Gourdy’s Pumpkin Run has become a fall tradition for 100,000+ runners and walkers since 2016. Get the details and sign up here.