The Virtues of Virtual Races
Updated: Dec 4, 2020
With all of the uncertainty in the world right now, it is nice to have something that provides meaning, clarity, purpose and a sense of certainty. Short and long term goals, routines, daily priorities and objectives create order in an otherwise chaotic world. Races have long served as benchmarks to work towards in training or as social and tangible rewards that inspire us to eat better, sleep better, and become better versions of ourselves.
Connection and Community
Although races across the globe have been cancelled or postponed, virtual races make it possible to use the training, motivation, fitness and enthusiasm developed going into a goal race to test ourselves while simultaneously pushing, encouraging and inspiring one another.
Similarities and Differences
As virtual races become the new normal, it’s important to note the differences between traditional races done in person and some of the virtual run models to determine which of the many virtual options might be a good fit for you.
Process vs. Outcome
Some virtual races focus less on a single date or distance and more on the day to day grind and the cumulative mileage that one covers over a set period of time. For example, the Great Canadian Crossing encourages runners to put in the time regularly to eventually cover the total distance required to cross individual provinces or the entire width of Canada over the course of one year.
Not all process based virtual races require that you cross a state or country, however. For example, some race organizations like Aravaipa Running, 5 Peaks Adventures, and Peak Run Performance offer individual races that can be done as stand-alone events or as a series with a total accumulated distance over the 3-5 races.
Go the Distance
As virtual runs and races become more and more the norm, they offer aspects of in-person races: bib numbers, race swag, and perhaps a medal or belt buckle for covering a set distance. However, in addition to some of these similarities to traditional in-person races, there are a few virtues of virtual races that set them apart from their in-person counterparts:
Flexible date: Many virtual races offer a range of dates rather than a specific date and start time which allows people with inflexible schedules (including those working in on the front-lines) to complete the distance or duration when it works with their schedule. Another perk of a flexible date or date range is that sometimes you simply don’t feel up to the task on "race day" or life happens and you get detoured with something beyond your control. Say, for example, a work project demanded much more time and energy than expected or a child was sick and up all night and you simply don’t have the energy to push on a given day "race day". No problem. Hit refresh and reschedule the run for a later date - sometimes a week or two later. Similarly, sometimes race day comes and the weather is awful. After all that training, it is clear that due to the elements (wind, sleet, snow, ice or heat) - whatever it may be - it is likely that you won't get a true test of your physical fitness while combatting the elements. With a traditional in-person race there aren't many options. You either show up and face the elements or you don't. With virtual races, you often have the option of postponing your "race" effort to another day within the allotted timeframe.
Recently, Peak Run Performance athlete, Tom, had his goal race cancelled. As an alternative way to test himself he signed up for the Aravaipa Strong Virtual Race with the goal of running a marathon. He went on the day we had selected and planned to run a marathon, but after a demanding week of work and all of the recent life changes due to COVID 19, he simply wasn’t feeling good and had to cut it short a little over half way through. He took the necessary time to recover and then selected another date within the allotted window and completed the marathon distance. Success!
Flexible cut-offs: Another perk of virtual races is that they aren’t designed to have race organizers, volunteers, and land managers on site to ensure your safety. For better or worse, these limited resources as well as time limitations for land use permits are often what dictate time cut-offs at aid stations and on the race course. By eliminating these essential race services, self-supported runners have more time to complete a given distance.
Sherri Donohue (featured in the documentary above) and I have been working together for a number of years with the goal of completing a 100 mile race and earning a 100 mile buckle. She has been close in the past, and we had plans of her racing a flat, fast 100 miler with a generous cut off in late 2020. Unfortunately, as has been the case with most races, her goal race was cancelled. Rather than shut down her training and call it a season, Sherri signed up for the Aravaipa Strong Virtual Race and set the goal of covering 100 miles within the designated timeframe. Without the pressure of a strict cut off, Sherri set out to cover the 100 mile distance over a certain number of days, but perhaps due to the flexibility of the race format she was actually able to complete the distance in less time than we had anticipated. She got in a groove and just kept rolling. Not only was this a positive, affirming race experience for her - it served as a really solid week of race specific training that we can build upon for future challenges later in the year. Additionally, Sherri's finish inspired others to believe that they, too, can do hard things. (See Sherri's finish in the highlight video below).