Why I’m not interested in running a virtual race

With races this spring getting canceled left and right because of coronavirus concerns, many race directors are offering up an alternative to runners who still want to earn their T-shirts and medals: A virtual race. 

A virtual race allows participants to run their race, well, virtually anywhere they choose. For example, the Coastal Delaware Running Festival offered entrants a virtual option when they decided to cancel next month’s race. Had I chosen to switch my registration to the virtual race, I could have run my marathon at home and then gotten my T-shirt and medal in the mail in a few weeks. 

Instead, I deferred my entry until the 2021 race. I have really no interest in running a virtual race. 

Why? I just can’t see myself paying actual money for something that doesn’t seem like a real race to me. I mean, I can just run whatever distance that is for free (though I don’t see myself ever running 26.2 miles just for the hell of it, as I’ll explain in a little bit.) For example, the Across the Bay 10K offered a virtual option in 2019 when the road race was canceled due to Bay Bridge construction. I was super bummed — I was one of the race’s legacy runners, meaning I’d run it every single year that it took place, from 2014 through 2018. 

But at the same time, I also didn’t want to pay a race fee to run 6.2 miles and get a medal in the mail. I have enough medals, it’s not like I would have been able to run across the bridge (the whole allure of that race!) and I can run 6.2 miles any old day. Not interested! 

And I REALLY don’t see myself paying money for a virtual marathon. First of all, I may have run seven marathons, but every one is still a BIG deal to me. Marathons involve a ton of training. They involve a ton of commitment. They involve a ton of energy gels, LOL. And at the end of all those weeks of training and commitment and energy gels, the race is like a big celebration. I love lining up with other runners at the start line and seeing the crowds cheering us on and high-fiving little kids and reading the funny signs spectators hold up. I love hamming it up for the race photographers (when I see them — when I don’t, I usually look like I’m about to pass a kidney stone or something). I love the exhilaration of crossing the finish line and taking my bottle of water and medal from a smiling race volunteer. 

You don’t get any of that at a virtual race. 

And above all that, my goal for Coastal Delaware was to qualify for Boston. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure the Boston Athletic Association doesn’t accept virtual race times as BQs. So the last thing I wanted to do is race a marathon to the best of my ability, get a Boston qualifying time and know that I can’t use it! 

Yes, I realize I could just run a virtual race as a “fun run,” but why would I do that when I spent all those weeks training? 

So virtual races really aren’t my thing, but based on my social media feeds, a lot of my runner friends are doing them to make up for their races being canceled. 

If you’re running a virtual race this spring, which one(s) are you running? What do you like about virtual races?

Coronavirus and running: How COVID-19 spoiled my spring racing plans

About three weeks ago, Micah and I got into an argument over the Coastal Delaware Running Festival. 

“You know that’s not going to be happening,” he said. “Coronavirus is coming here and that race is going to be canceled.” 

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. (At this point, COVID-19 was merely a threat overseas, though I knew it was likely to show up in the U.S.) 

“No, it’s not. It will be here and we are not equipped to deal with it,” he said. “I would look for another marathon just in case, and soon.” 

I kept on training for Coastal Delaware, and news about the coronavirus continued to swirl. Doesn’t the flu kill more people? I thought. Why would this lead to cancellations of events like races? 

Micah and I kept arguing about it. “I’m in the best shape of my life and I know I can qualify for Boston again,” I told him. “Yeah, that may be true, but coronavirus doesn’t care,” he retorted. 

And last week, I started to get nervous. Speculation that the Boston Marathon would be canceled for the first time ever caused a ruckus in numerous running groups I belong to on Facebook. There were people in Maryland who were tested for COVID-19 infection. The first confirmed cases of the virus began to appear in my area, and the governor declared a State of Emergency. 

So, with a week and a half ago, I signed up for the B&A Trail Marathon.

And then this week, everything blew up. 

Public schools in Maryland are closed for two weeks beginning Monday. Restrictions were placed on visitors to hospitals across the state. Public gatherings of more than 250 people have been banned in an attempt to stop the virus from infecting more people in Maryland (as of this post, there are 17 confirmed cases.) The NBA and the NHL suspended their seasons. MLB’s Opening Day has been pushed back at least two weeks.

On Wednesday, the Annapolis Striders announced B&A was canceled. The next evening, Coastal Delaware followed suit. And so did just about every road race in the DMV and beyond. The St. Patrick’s Day 5K Staci and I were going to run in Allentown, Pennsylvania got canceled. The Get Pumped For Pets race on the Eastern Shore has been postponed. (I co-authored a story about the coronavirus and race cancellations for RunWashington, but it’s largely out of date now.)

I contemplated continuing to search for another marathon to save my hard work from going to waste — the Pittsburgh Marathon in May is still on as of this writing, but I feel like it’s only a matter of time until that gets canceled, too. There’s really no point in registering. I’m still registered for the Chicago and Philly marathons this fall, and I assume things will have calmed down by then — but that’s outside of the Boston 2021 qualifying window, so I’ll have to shoot for 2022. 

(As an aside, the Boston Athletic Association announced today that they are postponing the 2020 marathon until September. Totally the right decision — runners work way too hard to get there to have that just taken away from them!)

I’m bummed out, but I also recognize that these are steps that we need to take to hopefully prevent a major public health crisis. Am I worried about getting COVID-19? Not really. I’m very healthy and rarely get sick. I can’t even recall the last time I was seriously ill. I am pretty sure that if I got coronavirus, I’d be like the vast majority of people who get it and recover relatively quickly. Maybe I’d barely notice the symptoms. The bigger concern is passing it along to someone who is not as healthy and has a compromised immune system. I don’t want to get the virus and then pass it on to someone who could develop pneumonia and die. 

And is running Boston 2021 really THAT important? I ran the marathon last year. I loved it. Seriously, the day I ran the Boston Marathon is easily among my favorite days ever. But there are so many more Bostons to come and I know I have so many more chances to qualify and run from Hopkinton to Boston. 

Lining up at the start of the 2019 Boston Marathon
I was just so excited to be running the Boston Marathon!

It sucks, because I really thought a BQ and a marathon PR were mine next month. But I’ll dial back on my training (I’ll still keep on running a lot — I just won’t be following any kind of training plan at the moment) and then kick it back up again in June to prepare for Chicago. My calendar is now clear of races until the Get Pumped For Pets 15K and the St. Michael’s Half Marathon, both in May. We’ll see if things are back to normal then — I know there is a chance they won’t be. (Hence my hesitation at signing up for Pittsburgh.)

At the end of the day, it’s just running. I’ll keep on doing it because I love it and look forward to the day that I can race again. Because that day will come!