This entry is a cross post from my running blog Run Kimmy, Run!
There are many things about running I still don't know. I had no idea, in fact, how much there is TO know. I recently discovered a genre of racing I was previously unaware of. It's called virtual racing. It's wicked cool.
Here's the backstory: I first discovered it as a 'thing' a few weeks before I ran the WDW half marathon. I heard mention of the 26.2 with Donna: Marathon to End Breast Cancer virtual run on the Mickey Miles Podcast. I checked it out and was impressed with the concept of a virtual run and the organization, so I signed right up! It was an honor to run for such an amazing organization. I really, really wish I could run the actual race, it looks awesome! The bling was really the icing on the cake for that one although I can't wait to receive it!
I was intrigued by both the experience and the concept of virtual racing, so I did a little research.
At first glance, virtual running seems like a cheap and easy way to rack up race bling, without actually having to travel to or run in that specific race. This is fantastic as in the case of the Breast Cancer Marathon, because I really wanted to run it but it's over a thousand miles away and just not doable. Yet it is so much more than that. It's a tremendous opportunity to raise awareness, support charities, and motivate you to reach your running goals.
Don't get me wrong, I love race bling! Who doesn't? That said, race registrations can be expensive, even if you just enter local ones. Many local races don't even award medals for a less than half marathon distance, despite the entry fees, unless you place first or second in your age group. To travel, even just to a local race, let alone all around the country or the world chasing races and bling, involves a tremendous investment of time and money. Both are precious, and unless you are single and independently wealthy, a significant limitation to your ability to run all the races you might desire to.
For me, although the expense needs to be carefully budgeted, the fact that training for and running a half marathon is a huge time sink is a factor. Not to mention just driving to a race, even just for a 5K that is an hour away, because it eats up several precious hours of a weekend by the time the pre/post race eating and showering and everything in between is completed. It takes time away from family and other interests. When you add in the demands of work and life in general, there is little left for a serious distance runner.
Then there is the monotony of training. You get into training ruts. Especially in the winter months or the heat and humidity of summer. Mother nature can be less than cooperative (like she's been for MONTHS here in the Northeast!) You lose motivation or inspiration to put in the mileage and get your ass out the door, especially in the off season or if you've been running a long time and are just plain bored.
Virtual runs can re-invigorate your enthusiasm for running by giving you a reason to run. Even if it's just a training run. You can also virtually run races with friends, family, and members of running clubs that are all over the country or even the word, separately, but together. Encouraging and supporting each other toward your virtual race goal. Some virtual races even offer team challenges and medals.
So what's a virtual race and why would I run one?
Virtual races are just that. You run the race without actually running THE race, which is also often an actual race that you could participate in 'live' if you were able to. You do this by either a regular walk/run, or while training for, or running another race of a particular distance. Many allow you to run the required/pledged mileage over multiple training runs or while running other races, within a certain time frame. Others require you run on a specific day, like a New Year’s Day run. There is no official mileage verification. It's on the honor system for the most part. You don't get an 'official' time for your virtual run, nor are you listed as a finisher in the live race results.
I thought this was a pretty isolated opportunity when I ran for the Donna Foundation. Then, this week, I learned of the Boston Marathon World Run. OMG! Brilliant! After the horrible tragedy of the Boston Marathon finish line bombings last year, and the way Boston and the running community pulled together to become Boston Strong, was awe-inspiring. The One Fund has been wildly successful and beneficial to the victims and their families. What a wonderful way to involve runners from all over the world, even if they can't actually run the Boston Marathon.
The Boston Marathon was a historic and coveted race long before the events of 2013. It was, and still is, an honor to 'run Boston'. To qualify, even more so, but thousands run every year for a charity group and don't finish until long after the elite runners have recovered and are walking around for fun! They are the heroes. As a lifelong Massachusetts resident, Marathon Monday is a holiday and enjoyed by runners and spectators alike.
The BAA has decided to let the entire world have the opportunity to virtually 'run Boston' this year. To heal, to inspire, and to support. You pledge your distance (I pledged 26.2 m. How could I not?), you pledge to raise money/donate to the One Fund, you print your virtual race bib and you hit the road. You have until the day of the Boston Marathon which is on Marathon Monday, April 21st this year, to complete your mileage. It’s a good thing, because I cannot run a full marathon, nor do I want to. Not in one day! You will receive a finisher certificate and a virtual medal for your participation and completion of your race requirements and goals. More than that, you tap into the amazing energy that is the Boston Marathon. I don’t know if this is a once and done opportunity or if this will become an annual event, but it’s definitely a unique opportunity.
This all led me to a quick Google search to see what other virtual runs exist and it turns out this is a pretty popular thing and gaining popularity fast! There are several Web sites and Facebook pages dedicated to virtual runs. Many have prominent pictures of the medal you will receive to entice you. Yes, I admit, the medal is a factor in choosing a virtual race for me. I am certainly not alone!
With most virtual runs, you pay to register and the fees range from free to what a typical race registration might cost you. You often get to print, or are sent via mail, a race bib and finisher certificate if all the requirements are met. Some award you a virtual finisher's medal or even mail you a real race medal if you complete your virtual run and all the finisher requirements. Those requirements vary with the race, as does the cost of participating.
As with any race, there are pros and cons to virtual racing.
- You can run them from your front door or on a treadmill!
- You can run them at any time. No need to get up at O’dark thirty or on a weekend morning to drive somewhere to run an 8 am race. This can be a huge time saver!
- You can run them with friends or fellow members of running teams or clubs who live all over the place, even if you can't run together. This can be motivating and fun.
- Entry fees are often less than on-site races, but not always.
- You can often use another race or a training run (sometimes multiple races or runs) to achieve your pledged mileage. It doesn't always have to be all at one time.
- You often get fantastic race bling! For some races, you can opt out of a real medal and run the race for free.
- You can support a charity both financially and by raising awareness of their work through registering and your sharing of your results on social media. This is often required for completing the requirements to receive your medal by tweeting or posting pictures and finish times on Facebook. It is fantastic marketing for the race organizers, especially when it's offered as a simultaneous race/virtual race.
- Registering for a virtual race can help you get out of a training rut or motivate you to get out and run in less than ideal weather or if you are in a rut.
- They foster a sense of community with your fellow virtual runners and can connect you to the running community at large where you can both give and receive support.
- They offer a way to reward yourself for your hard work of training by tangible proof of goal accomplishment with a certificate, medal, or bib for your collection.
- It's a great way for people who can't get to or participate in races due to work schedules, school, or other obligations to still 'race' and receive a finisher medal.
- They are on the honor system, meaning you submit photos or 'proof of time and distance' via a Web site, Twitter or Facebook page. Unless you are using a chip timed race as your virtual run, this means there is potential that some people register, fudge their time/distance and still get the bling and finisher certificate. For some people, they may be tempted to 'skip' the 'race' since there is no outside accountability. While I would hope people would be honest, it is really hurting no one but themselves.
- The race bibs and finisher certificates are usually emailed and thus not as durable.
- The fees can be the same or even higher than a typical 5 or 10K race registration and do not include the swag or T-shirt you typically would get for these on site races.
- Some virtual races require you run on a specific day and for a specific distance all at one time, rather than a range of dates to complete your pledged distance. This is a great way to make yourself accountable to run or train on that day, no matter what the weather or your level of motivation. Kind of like a live race. :-)
- Some virtual races require fundraising or donation minimums in addition to the registration fees. When this is fully or mostly given to a charity, you approve of the charity and their work, AND it’s legitimate, I'm OK with it, but if it's not clear where all that money goes (like maybe into the pocket of someone who may never send you that medal), you might want to choose another virtual race. Trust your gut and be careful with your credit card information!
- Not all virtual races offer real medals. The ones that do, you often have to wait weeks or sometimes months to receive your actual medal in the mail.
- Your time for the virtual race is not recorded officially nor is your participation if the race you are virtually participating in is also a live race. They cannot be used as qualifying races or times for chip timed races as there is no way to officially verify your time.
- You miss the best parts of race day or a big race event. The excitement, the expo and vendors, the T-shirt and swag, the fun of running with other people toward the finish line, and the after party!
- It can be addictive in a way. You may end up spending more money to buy incentive for your training runs by filling up your medal rack!
So how do you find virtual runs?
Google is your friend, but to get you started, here are a few great sites:
Virtual Runs Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/groups/321617347930095/
Will run for bling! http://www.willrunforbling.com/
US Road Running http://usroadrunning.com/index.php
It seems the option to virtually run bigger races like half and full marathons and big events that raise lots of money for charity like the Boston Marathon are becoming more popular. It also seems the independent or smaller virtual runs are also gaining popularity. I think this is a growing trend. As more and more people get into running and run-walk-run, virtual runs provide wonderful marketing and fundraising opportunities. They also can inspire runners to accomplish their goals and reach for new ones. The flexibility in race participation that virtual running gives you is definitely a benefit. It doesn't replace the experience of a live race, nor would I want to exclusively virtually 'race', but I do think it's got it's merits.
If you complete all of the requirements of your chosen virtual run, you not only get the satisfaction of having run the miles, but also of potentially having helped raise money for a charitable organization. Not to mention, a tangible reward for putting in those training miles in the form of some sweet race bling for your medal rack.
You do have a medal rack, don't you?