As a runner, we participate in races for a variety of reasons. For fun, for fitness, for competition, for swag. With mass participation races not on the table for the foreseeable future, the challenge remains for runners to find their opportunity to still get the race experience. Virtual races or time trials are a great way to do this, safely.
So what is a virtual race? A virtual race is a race that runners complete by themselves, at time of their choice. Most virtual runs encourage you to choose your own course (or complete the run on a treadmill) as long as it is the same total distance as the race you are registered for. The Ottawa Marathon, Vancouver Marathon, Tennessee 1000K, Calgary Marathon, and Sportstats Virtual Triathlon are all hosting variations of the virtual run, and if you have a favourite race, check out their website and see how you can participate.
It’s just you against the clock!
When my goal race, the Boston Marathon, was deferred until September I created my own virtual race, the BOSTORONTO Marathon to race 42.2Km solo. Even a distance that far can be done on your own. Today, Canada Running Series just launched their virtual Spring Run Off, and the country’s largest race series will also host virtual events in Vancouver and Montreal.
Here’s my tips for a successful virtual race:
1. Course. Find a course that is safe and be sure to check the conditions prior to “race” day. A course with the ability to stay appropriately physically distant from other pedestrians and runners and out of traffic is key. Like a typical road race familiarize yourself with the course—road conditions, elevation and turn—in advance.
2. Support. Unlike a road race, you will have to run unsupported. That means you need to consider your own fuel and hydration needs. Depending on the race distance, you may want the ability to place “aid” stations for fuel or hydration along the route to pick up along the way. Dropping bottles in the bushes along a looped course can work well depending on the location. (Plus, what a fun, strange thing to do).
3. Be social, solo. Post about your run in advance on social media. Many virtual runs provide digital badges and hashtags you can use to help promote your effort and engage with other runners. Post a photo of your race kit lay down the night before the race and tag the race.
4. Cheers. Have friends send you virtual cheers. They can send a photo of themselves with a sign or record a video message for you before or after the race to help you get that “race day feel.”
5. Race! To get the full race experience, treat your virtual race like a real race. Set a date and time in advance to start. Follow your usual pre-race routine, including meals, stretching and warm up. Before starting give yourself a countdown (no need for an air-horn!) and then go!
Racing solo is a lot harder than your typical race experience so adjust your goals. Your results may not be what they would be under ideal, normal race conditions. But so what! You got out there and did something and that’s all that matters. After you upload your results to the virtual racing platform, check the rules—some virtual races allow you to race again within the qualifying period and upload new times.
You can race against yourself and see if you can better your time and that’s something that almost makes it even better than the real thing.
Richard Kuchinsky is a 2:50 marathon runner and Owner/Principle of The Directive Collective. He is Consulting Creative Director for the pride & remembrance run and has designed race kits including the 2019 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, and more.