Virtual race success is up to you to make the most out of your race.
With most of the United States under Shelter-in-Place direction, spring races are nearly all canceled, postponed, or turned virtual. Virtual races are rapidly rising in popularity as many runners turn to them instead of giving up on their spring race goals.
Before the COVID-19 situation causing many races to be cancelled this spring, I had never actually run a virtual race before. When the 10-Miler for my Winter Race Circuit series turned virtual, I decided to give it a shot. A few weeks later, I ran the half marathon in the series virtually as well.
What is a Virtual Race?
In a virtual race, you register through the race and complete your prescribed race distance. Anywhere, anytime within the window the race specifies. It might be within a month, weekend, or even a specific day. With some registrations, they will even mail you your medal and t-shirt.
Basically, you run wherever you want to, and clock the distance prescribed. You can run it at a race effort or at a normal run effort, as long as you complete the distance. You can even run farther than the race distance, and it still counts.
Many races have you submit your results via email or post a “sweaty selfie” on social media to celebrate with others who ran the same virtual race as you.
Why Run a Virtual Race?
Runners are goal oriented and well…we can’t give up on our goal or postpone it indefinitely. Our brains just seem to short-circuit without a goal or race on the calendar. In the midst of uncertainty and not knowing when you will be able to sign up or run your next race, a virtual race can act as a light in a seemingly endless dark tunnel.
Benefits of Running a Virtual Race
- Focus on something positive
- Stay motivated
- Keep yourself accountable to your daily nutrition and training schedule
- Push towards a new distance
- Test your fitness
- Practice your race day routine
- Opportunity to hit a new Personal Record (PR)
- Connect with other runners on social media and cheer each other on
- Still get the t-shirt and medal!
8 Keys to Virtual Race Success: How to Get the Most Out of Your Race
Now that you know why running a virtual race can be a great decision to keep you motivated, let’s look at a few ways you can make your virtual race awesome.
Train for Your Race
That’s right. Stick to your training plan. Don’t start slacking now.
One of the benefits of having a virtual race on the calendar is the motivation to stick with your training and nutrition plan. Just because it’s virtual doesn’t mean that you can’t treat it like a real race.
Train for your race and show up ready to run the distance at your best.
Plan Your Route Ahead of Time
You could just run one of your normal training routes, which is totally acceptable. Another option is to have some fun with it and plan out a different course that you don’t normally run.
With my virtual 10-miler, I planned a one direction course along my normal long run route, except I had my husband go out and drop me off at the starting point, and then I finished near my house.
For my virtual half marathon, I looked up the course route online and actually went out to run on the same course the race would have been run on if it wasn’t virtual. My husband was amazing and dropped me off at the starting point, then met me at the finish area.
How do you know if your route will be the right distance?
If you have a Garmin, you can go in the app and click “Training” from the drop-down, then “Courses”. You can create a new course by dropping pins along a map, and Garmin will calculate the distance for you.
I recommend creating a course slightly longer than your race, just to make sure you get the full distance in even if you run on the inside of a curve or cut a few corners. You can always walk to cool down at the end of your race.
You can also use this to know where your turn-around point is if you do an out-and-back run. It’s helpful to know mentally where your start and finish will be.
Wear Your Race Bib
Print it off, laminate it with tape, and wear it when you complete your race. This will make it feel more “real” and if you pass any runners on your route, they’ll know you’re racing!
Treat it like a real race
One of the most satisfying ways to get the most out of your virtual race is to act as though it is a real, in-person race. Set a start time for yourself. Plan your pacing strategy. Go through your race day routine. Eat your pre-race breakfast. Use the fuel you would normally use on race day. Wear your favorite running outfit. Practice mental toughness and self-talk in the final miles of your race.
Treating your virtual race like a real race is truly key to getting the most out of the experience. At the end, you’ll be glad you did. You still get much of the satisfaction that comes with finishing a race when you give an all-out effort.
For my virtual half marathon, I went through my entire race day routine, used the same fuel (although I was self-propelled rather than relying on aid stations for hydration—because there weren’t any), and set a goal to break 2 hours on this half. I did break 2 hours AND set a new personal record of 1:59:14!
Here’s what my race day nutrition routine looks like:
- Wake-up and eat breakfast 3-4 hours before start (Oatmeal with peanut butter and nutella)
- Hydrate 2-3 hours before start (Nuun Sport)
- Top-off fuel 30 minutes before start (Honey Stinger Waffle)
- Hydrate during race (Nuun Endurance and Herbalife24 Cr7 Drive)
- Fuel at miles 5 and 10 during race (Honey Stinger Gels)
- Hydrate post-race (Nuun Sport and Nuun Rest)
- Drink post-run recovery shake (Herbalife24 Formula 1 Sport + Herbalife24 Rebuild Strength)
Aim for a New Personal Record
If you’ve been training for a spring race and you planned on beating your personal best, why not do it anyway?
Just because it’s not a sanctioned, Boston-qualifying course or whatever doesn’t mean you can’t shoot for the moon. After all, if you have a GPS running watch, it’s tracking your distance. Use the virtual race as an opportunity to go through the motions and race for real.
Shoot for negative splits to challenge yourself mentally since there isn’t a crowd to carry you to the finish. Work on your mental game and push through.
Do Your Best
On the flip side, take your time if you need it.
Many of us are stressed to the MAX right now. Our nutrition and training is suffering because of it. If you’re not in the peak condition of your life, don’t sweat it. Take the time you need, remove the pressure and expectations, and just run.
Completing a race in these times is more than good enough. It’s good for your mental and physical health. The biggest thing to remember is that a virtual race is personal. YOU set your intention for how YOU want it to go. Don’t let anyone else set the expectations for you.
Just get out there and enjoy your run!
Bring a Friend With
Nothing breaks up the monotony of a run like brining a friend with to help you push through!
If you’re doing a virtual race in the midst of coronavirus social distancing though, you might need to imagine that friend is with you or run on opposite sides of the road.
Laura at 262.run shares her favorite tip after she just ran a virtual marathon: “Another thing I’ll do is imagine I’m running with someone, I usually imagine one of my sister’s, and I say encouraging things to keep them going. So those encouraging words you’re saying to your imaginary buddy helps keep you going.”
Enlist a family member for your course support if you need it
Huge shout-out to my husband! I mentioned earlier that he would drive me out to my starting point and drop me off. During the half, he dropped me off along the road at my starting point AND hung out for 2 hours at the finish area to pick me up. His help made it possible for me to break out of my normal training routine and make the virtual race special.
Is there someone in your family you can ask for help?
Maybe your kids can make a finish sign for you and be ready at the finish line. Or you might need an extra water or hydration fill-up mid-route. See if you can get a close friend, neighbor, or family member to cheer you on towards the end. Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Have you tried a virtual race yet?
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About Me: I’m Alexis, Founder of RunningMyBestLife! I am an avid recreational runner, half marathoner, wife, dog mom, busy professional, downhill skier in Northern Utah. My mission is to help new enthusiasts fall in love with the sport of running. I believe that running is a catalyst to taking control of your life and living your best life by design. Learn More –>