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?

Tackling the Get Pumped For Pets Virtual 15K

It’s May 3, 2020, and pretty much nothing about the future is certain right now — including when we are going to be able to return to life as “normal.” For myself and many other runners, that means we have no idea when we are going to be able to return to racing again — this fall? (I’m starting to doubt that.) Spring 2021? (I hope so!)

It’s a bummer, but it is inspiring to see the running community come up with many creative ways to make up for all the canceled events, including running challenges and virtual races. After all, #RunningIsntCanceled. So I decided to stop being a hater and participate in a few virtual events– including this morning’s Get Pumped For Pets 15K, which I ran around my neighborhood in Edgewater. 

The race, which raises money for local animal shelters and also includes a 5K and a 10K option, was supposed to take place on March 29 on Kent Island. I had signed up for the 15K because according to my training plan for the Coastal Delaware Marathon, I was supposed to run 10 miles that day (15K = 9.3 miles, close enough!) That was going to be my last run before I began my three-week taper. Well, coronavirus hit the U.S., my marathon was canceled and Get Pumped For Pets was rescheduled for May 3. When it became clear that the race could still not happen on that day due to social distancing guidelines and other restrictions, the Seashore Striders, who organized it, converted everyone’s registration to a virtual race. 

Since I was going to be getting a medal and finisher’s shirt in the mail anyway, I decided I was going to run the 15K the morning of May 3 at race effort. My goal was to finish sub-1:10, and I barely did it, with a time of 1:09:47. It’s a lot harder to push yourself when you aren’t racing against other people! But I was pleased with that time. I have only raced one other 15K before, about five years ago, and I finished in 1:12:xx, so I guess this was a PR!  

I decided to treat this virtual race like it was a true race. I even made a race bib:

5/14 is my anniversary.

And then last night, I got takeout from Urburger Edgewater so I could have my traditional veggie burger and French fries (already had beer at home, duh.)  I laid out my race outfit before I went to sleep and set my alarm this morning for 6 am, then got up and had my coffee and my bagel with peanut butter and half a banana. I ate, let my food digest for a bit, used the bathroom a few times and then was ready to go by 7:30. It was extremely humid out and I ditched the arm warmers I was planning to wear with my singlet (I’m so glad I did that– I would have been dying otherwise.) 

To be honest, things felt pretty tough from the get go. This could have been because yesterday, I did the second of five sprint duathlons in Rip It Events’ V5 Virtual Duathlon series (more to come on that later!) and my legs felt tired. But I was determined to push through. I saw a few people out and about either running, biking or walking. My friend Shannon was out walking her dog and I saw her twice while I was running my route around the hood. “I’m doing a virtual race!” I yelled as I passed her, to let her know that’s why I wasn’t stopping to chat. Haha. I kind of wondered if people saw my bib and wondered what the hell I was doing, but I didn’t notice any strange looks. 

I did one big loop around my neighborhood that was around 6.4 miles and then a shorter loop to get me to 9.3 miles. The “finish line” ended up being just a few steps from my house, so it worked out! I was pretty spent afterwards and just sat down in my backyard for a few minutes. I know I could have done this race any time of the day I wanted to, but I’m glad I made myself get up early and knock it out. I felt really accomplished! And as I said, I did want to treat it like it was a real race. 

I suspect I might have been able to go faster if I had been at an actual race, surrounded by other runners and spectators, and if I hadn’t done a run-bike-run the day before. Also, the race takes place on Kent Island’s Cross Island Trail, which is pancake flat. My neighborhood has rolling hills — nothing crazy, but it’s definitely hillier than the trail. But who knows.   

Either way, I’m glad I did it this morning. Next up is Rip It’s Cinco De Mayo Virtual 5K on Tuesday. I’m planning to get up early before work and run it. The 5K is my nemesis and I haven’t raced one since Thanksgiving Day, so I have no idea what I’ll run. 21:xx would be great, but I think 22:xx is more likely. 

Maybe virtual races aren’t such a bad thing after all

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I have zero interest in virtual races. Why would I pay money for that? What’s the point when I would just be by myself and unable to enjoy the race atmosphere? Can’t I just go on a regular old training run? 

I may have *slightly* changed my tune. I don’t see myself running a virtual marathon any time soon (or ever), but maybe I’m down with virtual versions of smaller races after all. 

My change of heart started when Rip It Events announced a Cinco de Mayo virtual 5K. I’ve been a proud ambassador for Rip It for several years, and I’m so sad to see their spring race season just disappear due to COVID-19. First they had to postpone the Clyde’s 10K, then cancel both the Bear Triathlon and the Columbia Association Triathlon. (That last one really stings, personally. Last year’s Columbia Association Tri was my first and only tri, and I was really looking forward to doing the super sprint again. Next year, I will be there!) 

So to make up for these postponements and cancellations, Rip It owners Danny and Suzy decided to organize the Cinco de Mayo virtual run. It sold out so quickly that they pulled together a second virtual 5K, the Donut Worry Be Happy Virtual 5K Run to coincide with National Doughnut Day in June. 

I registered for both, because as an ambassador I want to show my support. I figured that was probably it for me for virtual races. 

But then I got an email from Get Pumped For Pets, a race that I was supposed to be running on May 3 on Kent Island. The original race had been scheduled for March 29, but when coronavirus started blowing up, the Seashore Striders optimistically rescheduled it for May 3. I figured they would end up either rescheduling it again or canceling it all together, and earlier this week, they decided to do the latter. They also decided to convert everyone to a virtual race and mail out finisher medals and T-shirts (which apparently have a special quarantine-themed logo on them, LOL) afterwards. 

So, I’m already getting all the swag associated with that race, including a medal. I hate the idea of hanging up a medal (yes, I display every medal for every race I do) for a race I never ran. Therefore, I decided that I am going to race a virtual 15K on May 3. That way, I’ll feel like I have actually earned the medal and the shirt! 

And honestly? I’ve been struggling with feeling like I have nothing to look forward to. I’m normally a pretty upbeat person, but this is a challenging time for everyone, no matter your life circumstances. All of my races are canceled through at least the month of June. I can’t go anywhere. Who knows if I’ll be able to take my planned summer vacation. At least virtual races will give me something fun to plan for.

I doubt I’ll be seeking out virtual races to sign up for, unless they are Rip It races (update as of April 27: I’m now also registered for Rip It’s V5 Virtual Duathlon series! Check it out and sign up for one of four different distances), or unless my favorite A10 goes virtual this year. But I think if a race I’m signed up for automatically converts my registration to a virtual one, I might as well do it. If there’s a deferment option, I’ll take that instead, but if not — why not do the virtual race? This is our life for the foreseeable future.  

Might as well make the best of it.

As a Rip It ambassador, I received free entry to these races and other Rip It races.

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?