I had quite a few races planned for this year. From Tough Mudders, to a bunch of local 5k’s to my very first 10k, I was excited and had spent months training and preparing for each and every one of them. Well needless to say, 2020 did not go at all as we planned! One cancellation email rolled in after the next and with each new ding of “We are sorry to inform you…” the disappointment mounted. When I finally accepted the fact that race season 2020 wasn’t going to happen, I began thinking about what alternatives I had to capture just a little bit of that race-day magic and appease my competitive streak all at the same time. I had seen a few things on different social media platforms about these virtual races people were starting to do or had been doing all along and I just didn’t pay much attention to. Apparently virtual racing isn’t a totally new thing, but given the situation we currently find ourselves in, its popularity seems to have exploded overnight.
I was skeptical. How could running a race by myself, with no set route, or official time be any fun? Not seeing much other choice though, I decided to challenge my assumptions, give it a shot, and at least see what it was all about. At the end of May I signed up for my very first virtual 5k. I wrote about this race briefly before in another post, My Monthy Goal Intention: June but thought I would elaborate a bit more on my actual experience and how these things work. For anyone who isn’t familiar with how virtual racing works, it basically goes down like this:
- You can choose from a variety of sites out there that host virtual races. I just googled “virtual running” and ended up choosing VirtualStrides.com, mostly because this particular site includes actual medals with their packages!
- You can then pick a charity to run in support of
- You pick the length of the race you would like to run…anything from a 5k all the way up to a marathon (on some sites) and then register.
- All that’s left to do now is pick a day and time you want to complete your race on and off you go! That really is all there is to it….
In my particular case, I was pleasantly surprised that the site I signed up through very quickly mailed me an actual printed race bib complete with my name printed on it and everything! There was probably about 20+ different charity options I had to chose from, everything from supporting fire and rescue personnel and veterans to feeding the hungry, and even one dedicated to fighting the Coronavirus. I ended up picking a race that would benefit a cause I feel really passionate about which is helping animals. My virtual 5k supported a charity called the Puppy Rescue Mission. This charity aids our troops who are overseas in bringing back homeless puppies and dogs they find on the streets while they are serving. The charity enables the troops to get these animals back here to America safely and legally so they can be adopted and have much better lives. I am a sucker for anything to do with saving animals and dogs in particular so I figured at the very least this would be a really great way to contribute in some small way to a cause I feel so strongly about heck I was going to run anyway, why not do it for the puppers!
In the spirit of being totally honest, all the way up until I actually laced up my running shoes and threw my hair in a ponytail, I was underwhelmed. Race morning felt like any other morning that I was going to go out and get a run in, but I was committed and wanted to see it through and heck I had already paid the $35 race fee so it was happening. I picked one of my favorite routes to run which takes me through some really pretty paths into the woods and down around two lakes. When I arrived at this predetermined route, I got out of my car to begin stretching, and I suddenly started to feel a little bit of excitement. Granted not on the scale that I feel when I pull up to an actual race and there are hundreds of runners getting ready and really fun music playing and people cheering you on, but excitement, nonetheless. I took one final deep breath, hit the little start button my Apple watch to track my mileage and time, and off I went!
I have to say, my competitive side was alive and kicking during this run! Even though there weren’t people to actually compete against, I am plenty competitive just with myself so I ran the best race I could despite being out there all alone and no one actually caring how quickly or slowly I made it to my “finish line”. I was pleasantly surprised that it felt more like a race day to me than I anticipated and I was proud when I hit that 3.1 mile mark and anxious to submit my time to the virtual racing site to earn my medal. Just as an FYI, you don’t have to submit your time to get the medal or the bib, heck you don’t even really have to run to get those things in this virtual world, but that is cheating and even if no one else knew, I would! The medal, which again I got really quickly, within days, after submitting my time, is super cute in the shape of a little dog in a doghouse, and a nice addition to my slowly but surely growing medal collection.
Overall, my experience with virtual racing was really positive. Again, I am a really competitive person by nature, and equally if not more competitive with myself maybe than other people, so I still felt that spark of race day excitement even though I was the only one out there actually running. I would really recommend this as an alternative to all the actual races we are missing out on this year if you are like me and can find the joy in just going out there and competing for a PR and earning a cute medal. If it is all about competing in a big group to try to beat other people, virtual racing most likely isn’t going to be for you.
I, however, enjoyed it enough that I signed up for another one. My next virtual 5k race is coming up in about a month and this time I recruited a group of friends to run it with me, in a socially distanced pack of course! I am really excited to see how this one feels compared to my solo race because now I will have a at least a few people to keep pace with and little more added competition! I am hoping to also complete a virtual 10k before the end of Fall which has been one of my goals since I really started consistently running again about a year ago. Although not how I envisioned my 2020 races taking place, I am glad to still have a way to “race” at all. Hopefully one day real racing will come back, at least in some capacity, but until then I give virtual racing the thumbs up for a semi-close second.
Happy running everyone!