Virtual races are not a novel idea, but these events have exploded in popularity and variety since the start of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. The widely used race promotion platform, runningusa.org, estimated that over 18.1 million people registered for a race in 2018. Of those races, the 5K is the most popular distance making up 8.9 million of those runners. The boom of virtual races began as a great alternative to in-person races that had to be cancelled, but now we are seeing multiple new virtual races offered every day. Runners love the hype of a race starting line and the cheers from sideline fans, but virtual races can absolutely fill that racing void during this time of social distancing.
So, what’s the big appeal of virtual races? Why should you participate in a virtual race?
First, what is a virtual race?
A virtual race is a running race that can be completed anywhere and anytime as the participant is not required to complete the race at a certain location or route. A participant simply registers for the race online, completes the required distance during the specified timeframe, and then uploads their finish time. Races can be completed with or without fellow runners.
Virtual races can be a variety of distances and themes. The traditional distance classes, the 5K, 10K and Half Marathon, are the most commonly offered virtual races. Race directors have been creative offering nontraditional races such as longer or shorter distances, themed races surrounding holidays, trail runs, accumulated mileage goals, charity runs, and many more.
Virtual races range in price depending on the organization and prizes offered. Some races are totally free but do not offer a prize such as a medal or T-shirt. Many races that were cancelled due to pandemic regulations kept their prices the same as the in-person race. Other races, such as the Rutgers Virtual Big Chill 5K offered in December 2020, costs runners a small fee which accounts for the race incentive knit Rutgers hat and then all additional proceeds go to the student food insecurity fund.
8 Benefits of a virtual race:
- Convenience: Whenever you want and wherever you want!
- Affordability: Most (not all) virtual races will be less expensive than in-person races. Plus, there’s no travel or parking cost involved
- Comradery: Just because a race is virtual doesn’t mean you are alone. Invite your friends and family to complete a race with you or join a virtual training team with the race. Running friends are some of the best friends!
- Motivation: Setting a specific goal greatly impacts the chances that you will train for that goal. Training during the pandemic can be monotonous but setting a goal of completing a virtual race can add motivation and excitement into your training.
- No Scheduling Conflicts: All our schedules are jam packed, especially on the weekends. Most virtual races allow you to complete the race during a time period of a few days to up to a month. No excuses to sign up and complete!
- Charity Support: Registering for a race that supports a charity is a great way to inspire others and raise money for organizations in need, especially during the trying times of a pandemic.
- Choose your own race time: Not a morning person? Not everyone is, but most races start at the break of dawn to avoid road issues. When you participate in a virtual race you can run at any time during the day that is best suited for you!
- Reduce Race–Day Stress: Eliminate the stressful race-day parking situations, risk of poor weather, and standing in long porta-potty lines!
Rutgers Recreation Fitness & Personal Training Coordinator
RRCA Running Coach; NASM-CPT