Virtual Racing… The Next Big Thing?
Ever needed extra motivation in your training? An addition carrot to get those miles in or an added way to hold yourself accountable? Welcome in virtual racing, a new craze, fad, or revolutionary way of racing possibly. In our digital age of computers, busy schedules and crazy work hours, a race which you pick the time and the place was something that definitely appealed to this racer.
I first found out about virtual racing when a friend posted about a virtual race in a group. After a couple hours searching the web I found a couple half-marathons that seemed interesting, the first one run by an Altanta based race organizer called RunningNerds. It’s race was called Running Nerds Winter Blast Series – Virtual Half Marathon and 5K Treadmill Challenge. The second virtual race I found was Moms RUN this Town: Winter Runnerland 5K/10K/Half Marathon. Always one for something new I immediately signed up for both race, actually signing up for both races with RunningNerds. Race entries were affordable and you get some cool stuff, who doesn’t love stuff!
My initial thought was well if nothing else I had committed to logging some miles early on in the year and end 2012 with a few more races. Not everyone around me was as enthusiastic about a virtual race as I was but my inner computer nerd, Facebook addict self won them over. You may be asking what exactly is a virtual race and how does this work.
HOW IT WORKS
How a virtual race works is much like a typical race, up until race day. The first step is to sign-up for the race online, through Active or one of the other race sign-up sights. You choose the distance you plan to race, distances vary from one-mile mini runs to full marathons depending on the organizer, still waiting for that virtual ultra marathon to pop up, 5K’s and half marathons are popular. Race entry fees are normally from $20.00 to over $40.00 mostly depending on the swag. Most of the races have a charity partner. Once you register you then are all set to race. Normally a couple weeks before the race you receive a packet in the mail with your bib (yes you get a bib sometimes) and your race t-shirt or other swag if it’s being awarded. These packets can vary some filled with items from sponsors like the RunningNerds race or just a simple medal shipped to you like I am waiting on from Moms Run This Town, it is completely dependent on the race organizer. Final instructions are given and then it’s time for you to run your race. The races are given a window of time in which you can complete the race, it varies from a weekend up to over a week or more.
Running Nerds also featured a Virtual Race Expo on their Facebook Page the day before the race in which every couple of hours another “booth” would be revealed with information on sponsors and deals for gear and such. A really unique way to create a buzz and community without having to tire legs out the day before a race.
The unique part of virtual racing is you pick your route, your terrain, and your timeframe. For the 5K Treadmill Challenge since we don’t have a treadmill at Ute CrossFit, where I train, I used the Concept2 SkiErg, which was a whole other experience in itself. For the half marathon I ran on deep snow-covered trails on terrain I liked. Definitely not the fastest way to complete 13.1 miles but it was my race on my terms so I picked my favorite terrain, the woods. The Mom’s Run This Town half marathon I completed during my New Years Revolution Run a 5-hour indoor track race I ran on January 1.
Once you run your races and the distance you set out to do, you log-in online and post your time. RunningNerds has an advanced reporting system where the results are constantly updated and you can see where you stand as others report in their results. My race results even showed up on Athlinks, we all love Athlinks! Mom’s Run This Town had a less advanced system where it seemed like it was reported through a Google doc. I am not sure if they post results as that race ends January 31st. When it’s all done you can put the medal around your neck and feel accomplished. Race organizers encourage competitors to post photos of themselves racing, or with their medals after the race is over. Basically, it looks exactly like a traditional race other than the fact there isn’t one set race venue. Some running groups race together and turn it into their own mini race and others trudge out on the road and trails solo, it’s your race, you decision how to run it.
Virtual Racing offers competitors a great way to challenge their friends and family in remote locations to all compete against one another. Many of my racing friends are scattered around the US, Canada and beyond and this type of racing let’s us all have a shared experience. Virtual Racing is also a great way for those in remote areas away from racing hotspots to still feel part of the running community.
It’s a great way to give yourself a timed training day that you will have to be held accountable to. Who wants to have to post a 5K time that’s over an hour or a half marathon that took over a day to complete? It’s the kick in the butt that many of us need especially in the winter training months where a hot fire is more enjoyable!
Virtual Racing is not without it’s disadvantages. There is a high propensity to have the urge to shave a minute or two off a race time. As the individual submits their results everything is based on the honor system, when the honor system is around there are always a few who look for the short cuts. The other major issue are the people who sign-up get the swag then never run the race, submit a false time, and then act as they did. These are the two major drawbacks of Virtual Racing but then again if you are going to sign up for a Virtual Race, spend the money, why not actually race, at least run or walk the distance! I prefer to think that people are honest and this doesn’t happen but there is always the chance.
The final thing is you miss the race day excitement, the nervous energy. I know when I did the 5K and first Half Marathon, when I finished no one was there to congratulate me or put the medal around my neck. I simply finished in the gym and then drank my post workout drink, after for the half got back in my car after the trail run and went home. No huge fanfare, just the inner satisfaction of finishing. However race organizers try to combat this with online encouragement and posting race photos and such.
Since completing both these races, I have gotten hooked on Virtual Racing. Personally, it’s the added incentive in my training, and as most racers, I love medals, we all do. It’s run to be able to hold that training run to a higher standard and push a little harder than maybe you would on a normal day. Whether virtual racing is a fad or the next step in racing is yet to be seen. I know that it’s fun, it’s a way to connect with the greater running community, and a fun way to burn a few calories. For more information about virtual running check out the Facebook group, Virtual Runs! they have a great listing of races and such. Otherwise a google search will give you a pretty good place to start searching for some virtual races.
A few other Virtual Races…
Clearwater Marathon – January 12 – 27, 2013
Will Run For Beads 10K – Jan 19 – Feb. 12, 2013
Chilly Cheeks 5K – Feb. 1 -3, 2013
Running In Sanity: The Sweet Cupcake Race 10K – Feb. 16, 2013
Frosty 5K/10K/Half Marathon (Half Marathon) – February 21-25, 2013
Virtual Half Marathon & Treadmill Challenge 5K Summer Heat Series – July 20-28, 2013