How to Run a Virtual Race (and tips to enjoy it more)

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During 2020, virtual running races made a name for themselves. When the world had to pivot, most races were canceled leaving many runners without a way to perform after training for months. Pretty quickly, most race organizations decided to go virtual. One of the things that wasn’t canceled was running. In-person races, yes, but running in general, nope. In fact, running had a boom. I live on a popular running route, and I started to see faces that I’d never seen before.

While lots of races are set to resume, or have already happened throughout the spring and summer, there are still lots of options for virtual races. Even without safety concerns, virtual races may be the perfect alternative if you’re new to running and want a race train for without the pressure (and logistics) of an official race-day. Not only this, but virtual races also allow you to enter races and run indoor, on a treadmill, or even in a completely different country from where the race is being hosted!

There are so many perks to virtual racing, but there are a few challenges such as the lack of fans cheering you on, no packs or pacers to help you set your pace, and no official race teams to create a race environment with water stations, mile markers, road closures, etc. So today, I’m sharing how to run a virtual race and tips to enjoy it more!

afoodiestaysfit running in boulder | How to Run a Virtual Race

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How To Run A Virtual Race

1. Choose your race

A great thing about virtual races is that you can pick ANY race in the world. This means you can choose to support a cause you love, even if it’s a race happening in another state. I love this aspect of virtual racing. I love the idea of having a few friends around the country run with me in the same virtual race. Such a cute idea and great way to support a cause you believe in. All you have to do is register and pay your entry fee, and you’re in! Some races will even send you a shirt, medal and bib to make race-day feel more real.

When you choose your race, see if you can recruit some local friends to do it with you!

2. Pick a great course

The best part of virtual racing is that you get to be the race organizer/race director and choose your course. All you’re bound to is the race distance requirement (5k, 10k, 1/2 marathon, even a full marathon), but everything else is up to you! If you were preparing for a specific race that was canceled, you can try to make your course as close to the original as possible, or you can plan a completely different route. You can add hills, keep it totally flat, run on a trail or on pavement, it’s up to you. You could even run the whole thing on a treadmill!

When choosing your course, decide on what type of race you want: an out-and-back loop, a pre-planned route that meanders, or a one-way course (so you’ll need transportation to the start and/or finish. Also think through how you’ll track your mileage, whether through a GPS watch or via Strava so you’ll know how far you’ve gone and how fast (if you care about speed!).

matt lopiccolo zap running | How to Run a Virtual Race

3. Factor in weather

If you’ve been forced into going virtual for a race, keep it as similar as possible to the real thing if you can! If you trained for a late fall race, plan to run late fall virtually. This will help your training plans stay consistent and you’ll be prepared for the elements. If you’re deciding to run a virtual race for fun, then the world is your oyster! Fall running is likely my favorite time of the year to run. The cooler weather and the crisp air just make me so happy. You can’t go wrong with a virtual fall race.

If you live somewhere where the weather is unpredictable, you always have the treadmill as an option. Or, embrace the conditions like I did for the 2018 Boston Marathon, knowing you trained for it! Heat, you got this. Cold, you’re prepared. Rain? Game on.

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4. Tell some friends

One of the best parts of racing is seeing those you love (and heck, even strangers!) along the route, cheering you on. So, create that same environment! Tell your friends and family where your route is and where you’re finishing. Invite them to cheer you on and perhaps even some will cheer you in at the finish line. Tell your friends who aren’t local about your race and ask them to text you during the race – it’ll be fun to read them afterwards! Plan brunch with friends afterwards. Treat yourself!

american fork canyon half marathon start line photo
How to Run a Virtual Race

5. Pick your fuel

Another fun part of planning your own race is picking out your fuel stations (or skipping that part if you want to carry your own). This could mean asking some friends to leave a water bottle at their driveway for you to snag when you pass, or having a water station near your car for an out and back, etc. You’re in the driver seat, so you get to choose this part, which can be really nice! Gatorade wrecks my stomach, so I always had to plan other fuel sources during race. But with a virtual race, I can choose what hydration and fuel is out for me (just like the elites get to!) and you can train with those exact items leading up to your race day.

And don’t forget to eat a pre-race day dinner with carbs (not as necessary for shorter races, but helpful for longer ones!). If you’re running a half marathon or full marathon, be sure to factor in time for your pre-race breakfast to digest.

6. Be safe

Since in person races are usually blocked off by policemen, or at the very least, signage to alert drivers to runners on the road, you’ll want to be very careful during your virtual race without those things. You’ll need to pay closer attention to your surroundings. If you’re planning to run in the road, make sure you’re running a time of day that isn’t busy and has plenty of visibility. Head to the sidewalk if traffic is bad. Let someone know when and where you’re running, and take a phone with you if possible. If you’re running in the dark, here are tips to do so safely.

7. Upload your results

Depending on the race, you may have the option to upload your results to the race website so you can see your overall place and age group place. The website will likely require you to provide verification of the time (no cheating!) via a Garmin or Strava link.

Even if you don’t upload your results to the race website, I still recommend putting your race stats and finishing time on Strava after your run so that you can have them recorded somewhere. You’ll want to remember this race!

8. Have fun!

Make a whole morning out of it! Have a fun brunch afterwards with friends to celebrate, create a real starting line and finish line, make your own race bib, post about it on social media, etc! If you can get a friend or two to run with you (or even run one part of it with you), that would make it even more fun. I love starting my runs with Thomas and Tommy before I get into the harder part of my workout.

And remember, it’s just a race so don’t sacrifice safety and don’t get discouraged if things don’t go exactly as planned. Race day never goes exactly as planned and that’s true for virtual races too! But honestly, after writing this, I’m excited to go find more virtual races to run. You really can customize the experience!

Running a virtual race can be just as fun (and way less pressure!) than a normal live race. I hope these tips encourage you if you’re thinking about signing up for a virtual race. There are lots of virtual options out there, and I’d love to hear if you’ve participated in any.

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    One response to “How to Run a Virtual Race (and tips to enjoy it more)”

    1. Great tips for running a virtual race! It’s amazing how this trying time has changed our social landscape. I commend you for viewing it as a positive thing and not dwelling on the negative. May have to run a virtual race now!

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