Virtual races have risen in popularity since the pandemic, and some in-person races are still going virtual for this spring. We all miss in-person races and all that’s associated with them, especially race expos and vendor tents. Virtual races can be more convenient in that they usually offer a range of dates, so you can plan around weather and life obligations. And they can be just as fun if setup well.
Virtual races do present more challenges than a traditional race as you have to make all of the decisions for yourself. You just show up and follow the course. This post will cover three steps to take for a successful and fun virtual race.
Review the Rules
Before deciding where you’re going to run your virtual race, make sure to read all of the rules associated to ensure you are complying with them. You have to consider both location and tracking.
Some virtual races can be completed anywhere. For those, you can run laps in your neighborhood, hit the local parks or trails, or even complete it on your treadmill. For others, like our Polar Bear Grand Prix series that is traditionally in-person, you have to run the marked course to qualify for age group awards and rankings.
Note: Reviewing the rules is just as important for tracking. Some races will only accept Strava or Racejoy results, others will have you upload the results from whatever GPS watch you use. Make sure you know what technology to use to track your virtual race and don’t pause it.
Set Aid Stations
Once you’ve decided where to run your virtual race, you have to figure out how to simulate aid stations, if needed or desired. Consider the time of year (you’ll want to have more water available when it’s hot, of course), the distance, available facilities, and your own body.
For shorter distances, you may just carry what you need or stash an extra bottle of water at the halfway point. If you’re going through a park with water fountains, you may be able to refill there. Consider if you want to lose the time to refilling or whether grabbing an extra bottle stashed ahead of time would suit your goals more.
For longer distances, you may want to set up an aid station at your car, stash water and fuel at trailheads, or plan a neighborhood loop with a table set up in your driveway. The good thing about designing your own if that it will always have just what you want. You want M&Ms? You got it! You want only a certain gel or chew? Done. No surprises, no guess work.
Note: Don’t forget aid stations can be for more than just fuel. If it’s hot, you may want a change of shirt or sweatband. If it’s cold, you may want an extra pair of hand warmers or gloves as well.
Recruit your Friends and Family
Once you’ve set the logistics, it’s time for the fun, recruiting friends and family for support. Don’t be shy! Ask them set up a finish line, help pick a playlist, make signs, take pictures, or work your aid station.
For longer virtual races, recruit people to join you for some or all of your miles. It can make the time go by and bring back a little of the race day feeling. Just because it’s virtual doesn’t mean it has to be totally alone.
Note: If you know you’ll need encouragement at a certain mile or hill, recruit friends to be a cheering section or place signs for you.
Virtual races can’t completely replace the in-person experience, but they can allow you to race on your terms, just the way you want. Review the rules, pick your course, set your aid stations, recruit your crew, and have fun! Who knows? You may set a personal best or awaken a desire for a new, further distance. Above all, just keep moving forward! We'll see finish line hugs again soon.