How to Run Your Best Virtual Race

I have never been the type of person/runner who would be willing to shell out money for a virtual race or event.

Turns out, it’s not because I’m frugal, which I am. It’s because I feel that without the thrill of competition, the excitement of seeing friends and competitors, and the buzz of other runners around, I’m just not that interested in paying to run by myself.

Running Your Best Virtual Race

For context, I am not the type of runner who signs up for races just for the medal. That may be you, and that’s fine. But it’s not me. If races had an option to be cheaper and not give out a medal, I’d take that option. Again, that might not be you, but I’ve never been the person who races for the medal.

Since practically everything is virtual now, I’ve found it liberating to choose when and where to “race”. Prior to this year, I’ve shied away from racing if I wasn’t in good shape. I never saw a need to pay to run a race I wasn’t ready for. Every race I run, I like to have a goal and a purpose. If the race doesn’t help me move my training along or help me achieve some kind of goal, chances are, I’m not going to race it.

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Reasons I Pay to Race:

As I said above, I’m probably not going to be paying for a race just because. There needs to be a reason or a goal as to why I’d lace up for a race.

Tips to Run Your Best Virtual Race

Here are some reasons why I absolutely pay to race:

Competition:

I thrive off of competition. The best is brought out of me when I need to compete for (a win, a podium spot, etc). I will always pay for a race if I know that I’m going to give my best effort.

PR:

If I’ve been running my butt off and I’m in good shape and can potentially score a PR (personal record), then I absolutely will pay for a race.

The Journey:

When I ran my marathon in 2019, I thoroughly enjoyed training for the race. I knew I would enjoy every part of the race day because I loved training so much.


Now that we’re in a pandemic and there are. no. races. at. all. It’s a bit of a different story. I believe all of these virtual runs have a place and are great motivators for all runners (myself included). However, they just don’t appeal to me like an in-person race would. Like I said, a medal doesn’t do it for me. I need something more for me to pay and do a virtual race.

Reasons I don’t like virtual races:

Accountability:

Or really, a lack of accountability. When I ran my lone virtual 5k this summer, there was no one there to push me. No one cared if I ran 18:34 or 17:33. Personally, while I wanted the 17:33, I just couldn’t run any faster than the 18:34. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter because I didn’t race against anyone!

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Motivation:

I did my very best to treat the virtual 5k I did like a real run. I cut my mileage, I warmed up and did drills, but I just could not get psyched up to run hard. Personally, I’d rather do a workout or go for a longer run.

I run hard and fast when there are people there to push me. I get the most out of myself when I’m competing with others. I’m competitive with myself, yes. But with others? Absolutely!


Running Hard By Yourself:

Know Your Course:

Create a course using mapmyrun.com or a loop you already know the distance of. For my 3rd mile race, I used a measuring wheel and put cones down every 400 meters.

I found that when I knew exactly where my finish line was, I was able to push myself accordingly and as a result, I got a “dad PR”.

Coach Marc with his Dad PR of 4:50

Timing:

3 things to note about timing of your virtual race:

Pick a start time of your race and stick to it.

Pick your day when you’ll be doing the run, but be flexible. If the weather isn’t ideal, be okay with moving the date.

Make sure your watch/GPS is charged and ready to go. Nothing like getting to a virtual race and you don’t have enough battery life for your run that you have to measure!

Tips to get the most out of your virtual run
Get the Best Out of Your Virtual Racing Experience

Bring a Friend

I know that I run harder and faster when I have company or someone “watching me”. That’s not to say that I can’t run fast by myself, but I can definitely find another gear if I have someone pushing me. That being said, I think virtual racing is easier to do well when we have someone near us while we are running. Whether that other person is also running with you, or supporting you from a bike, having a pacer is crucial for me (and probably you, too) to run up to my potential.

Pros of Virtual Racing

Virtual racing is clearly a much cheaper sport than physically going to a race. Not only are entry fees considerably less (they are often going to charities now), but travel time has been cut down as well.

Virtual racing can be done any day of the week, as most races are saying their race is 7 days long or a long weekend. Either way, you can tailor your running to meet the requirements of these virtual runs.

The Pros and Cons of Virtual Races
How to Hack a Good Virtual Race

Now that races happen on your terms, in your area, you can run routes that you handpick. You can find loops that cater to your strengths and this is a really big benefit to virtual running.

Virtual runs are SO much cheaper/affordable than their physically-present counterparts. There are no more porta-potties and road closures/police needed. Some races aren’t doing medals or shirts either. The cost of entry has enabled many new runners to feel what it’s like to be a part of a race without emptying their wallets.

Virtual running requires much less time and fits into running schedules much easier. Virtual running requires less time commitment and as a coach, I find it very convenient for my runners to pick a day, time, and course for their own virtual runs.


On the fence about virtual races? Me too. I break down why I’m ‘eh’ about them and what we can do to enjoy a race if we choose to race a virtual run.


Recap

Knowing that I do not have a choice in the year 2020 whether I can have a physically-present race or a virtual race, I certainly have made the most of my virtual racing days. I know that I don’t truly like a virtual race, but I absolutely see their worth. I’m very glad that prices for these virtual runs are quite low and much of the price then goes to a charity.

While most of us would prefer going to a race and racing other people, today’s climate suggests otherwise. We can benefit from having someone to support us on “race day”, picking a start time and mapping out a course beforehand helps make your time spent meaningful and worthwhile.

Did you find this article helpful? Let me know by leaving a comment below or join the conversation on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.


Need a running coach for your next race?

A coach will create the training plan so you can focus on your running goals!

Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT & USATF Certified Running Coach
Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT & USATF Certified Running Coach

Marc is a USATF Track and Field & Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT O2 certified running coach. I have more than 19 years of experience running and more than 10 years of experience coaching runners. Click for more information!

Marc is a middle school teacher and coach but also works with distance runners online. I help distance runners around the globe by providing support, writing customized training plans and designing workouts to help them reach their racing goals. I write for my blog every Wednesday morning and newsletter every Friday morning.

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