Why I stopped hating on virtual races — and 4 reasons you should run one this year

When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit the United States earlier this year, most of the races that I had signed up for were canceled. Many were converted to virtual races, meaning the planned event wouldn’t happen but registered runners could still choose to run the distance wherever they wanted. Just not with a large group of runners! 

I wanted nothing to do with it. One of the best parts of racing is the atmosphere, I reasoned. A virtual race just sounded like an expensive training run to me. 

But then Rip It Events announced a series of virtual races this spring. I’m in my fourth year on their ambassador team, and I wanted to do what I could to support them, so I registered for these events. (As an ambassador, I get free registration.) 

Then, a 15K that I had been planning to do went virtual. Race organizers announced that all registered runners were automatically entered into the virtual race, and our T-shirts and medals would be mailed to us. Since I was getting a medal regardless, I decided I needed to earn it, and I did! 

After that, I decided maybe virtual races were OK after all. 

If this Dumpster fire of a year has you bummed out and you really miss racing, you should consider signing up for a virtual race! Here are four reasons why.

  1. You pick the day and time that you run! If an in-person race starts at 7 am, you gotta be up at the crack of dawn and ready to race at 7 am. And if the race happens to fall on a day with horrible weather? Too bad! But if you sign up for a virtual race, you generally have a time frame during which you can complete it. So you can look at the weather forecast and choose which day you want to run. And if you’re not a morning person, no problem! Feel free to start the race whenever you want. 
  2. You pick your course! For an in-person race, you are at the mercy of the race directors. If they hold the race on a flat and fast course, cool! If it’s a hilly, difficult course, well, that’s another story. I’ve been running all my virtual races around my neighborhood. I know the area and it’s nice to have the start line right at the end of my driveway. I don’t have to drive anywhere!  
  3. You can use virtual races are an alternative way to test your fitness. Sure, you could look at a virtual race as a training run with a medal. Or you could push yourself and find out exactly what you are capable of. That’s how I have approached my recent 5Ks, which I’ve always felt are my weakest distance anyway. Prior to May’s Cinco De Mayo Virtual 5K, I hadn’t raced the distance since Thanksgiving. So being able to race a 5K, even a virtual one, allowed me to see how fast I could do it! (And I had a great race that day, one of my fastest 5Ks, actually!) 
  4. You can use virtual races as mental strength training. The point of all of these virtual races is to practice social distancing and avoid crowds of people to stop the spread of COVID-19. You’re supposed to race them alone. And that’s not easy! It’s much different when you are racing in person against other people and there are crowds cheering you on. Pushing yourself when you are all by yourself is quite a challenge. But that mental toughness will come in handy when in-person races return and it’s near the end and everything is hurting.   

As for me, I’m racing the Quantico Virtual Duathlon and the I Just Kept Running Half Marathon this summer. The latter is a race my friend Staci saw advertised on Facebook. She wanted to do it for the Forrest Gump medal and convinced me to do the same. I’ve decided to race that virtual half the weekend of Aug. 9, when I have a half marathon on my training plan anyway. 

Then in September, I plan to race the virtual Market Street Mile. I ran the real thing in Frederick, Maryland last September and finished in 6:11. But this past May, I ran a mile in 5:56, my fastest ever and first time breaking six minutes, so I’d love to see if I can do that again! I can run the mile any time between Sept. 1 and Halloween. 

Rip It Events is also holding the Run Dirty Trail Challenge through the end of September. You can choose to run 25, 50, 100 or 150 miles on local trails. They also just announced a real, live, in-person race: The Bear Trail Half Marathon and 10K at Lums Pond State Park in Delaware on Aug. 23, which is super exciting. 

I probably won’t do either of those because I’m not really a trail runner. I’d love to be, but I am too damn clumsy. I almost fell and twisted an ankle numerous times during the Bigfoot Endurance 10-Miler in March (the last in-person race I did before COVID!). But if you are into trail running, you should check out these events.

What virtual races are you excited about running?

A 5K on 4th of July weekend: Another virtual race in the books

I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about racing Rip It Events’ 5 on the 4th Virtual 5K when I woke up this past Friday morning.

Classes have resumed at my kickboxing school, so I went Thursday night and got absolutely destroyed when we had to do about a zillion and one weighted squats — I knew my legs would be feeling that workout for days. Plus, I knew it would be hot (because July 3) and since I had the day off work, I planned to sleep in a little (not too late, but later than I would normally be up for a race). My “A” goal for 5Ks is always to be in the 21s (it rarely happens) and my “B” goal is to be in the 22s (which happens pretty often.) I figured I’d be lucky to clock somewhere in the 23-minute range. 

But I actually ran this virtual 5K three seconds faster than last month’s Donut Worry. Be Happy. Virtual 5K, finishing in 22:15. Just goes to show you how unpredictable racing is! There were times when I wanted to stop so bad, but told myself to just keep pushing and that it would be over before I knew it. I did actually stop once, because my phone was ringing. I let it go to voicemail, but it caught me completely off guard so I did stop for a few seconds. Wish I hadn’t, but whatever. 

I’ve been really happy with my recent 5K times. Especially because they were during virtual races. It’s undoubtedly a lot harder, at least for me, to push myself to run my 5K race pace when I am all by myself. I’m pretty curious to see what I can do when real races resume. I actually have gotten a few emails recently about some smaller 5Ks, but none have been very close to me, and I don’t love the distance enough to drive an hour-plus to run it.  

This was Rip It’s third and final virtual 5K, at least for now. I ran the same course around my neighborhood for each one, which makes comparing my times easy. The 5K loop I run has some rolling hills, so it never feels like a PR course. But then I run it all the time, which gives me an advantage. 

Although this was a 4th of July race, I ran it on July 3 because we had plans to go hiking in Shenandoah National Park on the actual holiday. I also ran a one-mile warmup and a 1.9-mile cooldown to make it an even six miles, per my marathon training plan. 

 And then on July 5, I did a long run of 13 miles in 87-degree weather (the heat index was well into the 90s.) Needless to say, I was exhausted by the end of the weekend and was happy to spend Sunday afternoon at my neighbor’s pool and Sunday night on my couch binge-watching The Babysitters Club reboot on Netflix. (Calling all my fellow children of the ‘80s and ‘90s — it’s fantastic!) 

Though there are no more 5Ks on Rip It’s virtual race calendar, there is the Run Dirty Virtual Trail Challenge, which runs, no pun intended, through the end of September. Participants can choose to run either 25, 50, 100 or 150 miles on local trails. It’s not a virtual ultra — the runs aren’t meant to be completed in one day. You can learn more and register here. I’m not doing it, only because I am marathon training and I am not sure-footed enough to run very fast on trails. In other words, I am klutzy. But it sounds fun! 

The Clyde’s 10K, originally scheduled for April and postponed until September, has now also gone virtual due to COVID-19 and the sudden closing of Clyde’s Restaurant of Columbia. I would do this one, but I am supposed to be running the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon on Sept. 13, if it still happens. Learn more and register here

As a Rip It Events ambassador, I receive free entries to all of their races, including their virtual races. 

Running through a global pandemic: Staying motivated in uncertain times

I miss racing. It’s such a small thing in the grand scheme of all the awful things that are happening in the world, but man, I can’t wait until I get to do it again. 

First both the B&A Trail Marathon in March and the Coastal Delaware Running Festival in April got canceled. The West End St. Patrick’s Day 5K that Staci and I were going to run together got canceled. The Get Pumped For Pets 15K, which was supposed to happen on March 29, has been rescheduled until May 3, but I assume that will be either rescheduled again or canceled all together. 

Then last week, I learned that the St. Michael’s Running Festival on May 16 had been canceled. I had wanted to do that race for years and was registered for the half marathon, so I’m disappointed, but again, not surprised.  

Even though I just wrote about my disinterest in virtual races, I’m now starting to change my tune … a little. 

I’m an ambassador for Rip It Events, which, like many other race companies, has suffered the effects of the pandemic. Their Clyde’s 10K, originally supposed to happen on April 26, has been postponed to the fall, and they had to cancel the Bear Triathlon in May. 

So, to fill those gaps, Rip It Events pulled together two virtual 5K races — the Cinco De Mayo Virtual 5K and the Donut Worry Be Happy Virtual Run. I signed up for them because I want to support Rip It and at least with the Cinco de Mayo race, we’ll probably still be under a stay-at-home order and so I won’t be going out for Mexican food and margaritas like I usually do! People responded really well to the Cinco de Mayo race and it sold out in less than a day. I’m expecting the Donut Worry run to fill up fast as well, so sign up here if you want to join in on the fun

After that, I don’t have a “real” race scheduled until Rip It’s Columbia Association Triathlon in June, which is still happening as of today, but if I can’t get into a pool to train before, well, mid-May at the absolute latest, I might as well defer. (I haven’t swum since last year’s Columbia Triathlon — my first and only tri — last June!) And who knows what things are going to look like this summer. I was going to register for the Seashore Striders 5 Mile Run in Rehoboth in July again, but I’m holding off on that for now. I hope things will be back to normal and I’ll get to enjoy a vacation at the beach like I do every summer, but I really don’t know. 

I don’t know what the future holds. No one does. 

I’m still running at least four days a week, including a long run on the weekends. I’ve backed off on the speed work and tempos, and haven’t been paying much attention to my pace. Two weekends ago, I ran 15 miles at an 8:06/mile pace. If I were still officially marathon training, that would probably be way too fast for a long run, but that was the pace that felt good to me that day so I went with it. It was bittersweet because I really feel I would have met my goal and then some at Coastal Delaware. But things happen.

I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff on social media about how to stay motivated when there are no races on the horizon. Honestly, habit is driving me more than motivation these days. I run. That’s what I do in my free time. And aside from that, if I couldn’t run (and take kickboxing classes via Zoom! Yes, we actually punch invisible targets!) I feel like I might go crazy.

I’ve been working from home for three weeks now, and I am fortunate that I have the ability to do this. I also work in communications for a hospital, so to say things have been stressful lately is an understatement. I’ve been busy with work, and of course I’ve been following all social distancing requirements. Going outside to run — which is allowed, as long as you stay six feet away from others — is really the only time I leave my house/yard. 

It’s really tough. And it’s hard not to know when the end date is going to be. I try to remember that I’m pretty lucky. My job sure isn’t going anywhere, and my husband is still able to work, too. He works in the marine industry and has been physically going into work daily, but it’s just him and two other coworkers and they wear masks and keep their physical distance. We are OK financially. And so far, we are healthy and everyone in our families is healthy.  

How is everyone managing in these crazy times?