In the midst of a global pandemic, race directors from all over the endurance industry have been scrambling to find some alternative for their “normal” event. So far, only a handful of ideas have emerged. Some are going to a full-day “multiple event” format where participants are sent out in waves in the morning, afternoon, and evening to avoid overcrowding. While this idea is great for smaller-capacity races, it doesn’t necessarily hold up when thousands of athletes are involved. When this is the case, event coordinators have come to the conclusion that “virtual” events are the way to go. Virtual events were around even before COVID-19 times. They were geared towards people who lived far away from the physical event, but wanted to participate and get recognition for their achievements. There is a cool NY Times article about the rise of virtual events that you can find HERE.
In the eyes of a serious competitive athlete, virtual events suck. There are very few people to cheer you on, there is nobody competing with you and pushing you to keep going, there are no aid stations, and the atmosphere is that of your average training session. Why would anyone pay a substantial amount of money for a t-shirt and a bib along with the opportunity to put your name on a results list where you KNOW some of your competitors lied about their times because, really, who is going to know if you ran a 5k in 17:30 or 17:15?
Yes, virtual events have their downfalls and certainly don’t live up to the actual event that would have taken place in “normal” times. Well, these times are anything but normal and athletes will have to adjust just like everyone else. In fact, there are actually some upsides to having your favorite event take place in an online setting. Here is a list of the top three reasons why a virtual event can be fun:
While some races may have you do the event on a set course and force you to submit a Strava segment, most events will allow you to race anywhere you want! As long as the distance is correct, you can run/ski/bike/inline skate wherever you please. You can avoid hills, do point-to-point, do laps around a track, whatever suits your fancy. You can also do events that take place all over the country, or even the world! If you live in Texas, you can still do the Twin Cities Marathon. If you live in Vermont, you can still do the NorthShore Rollerski Race (*cough cough wink wink*).
Have a wedding on the weekend of your favorite marathon? Don’t worry about it! You can watch your cousin Chad get married and drop a 2:45 marathon on the same day and in the same place (if you so desire). Virtual events usually have a certain period of time where you can submit your results. This time period usually ranges from a day to a few weeks depending on the event. Furthermore, you can pick a time early in the morning or late in the evening when the weather is perfect.
If you are a recreational athlete who is competing in your first half-marathon, you can enjoy the event with people who are willing to do the race at the same pace as you. There would be little, if any, intimidation involved as well as minimal pressure. You just go out with your friends and be active. If you are an elite athlete looking to break Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon record, you can compete with like-minded athletes without worrying about being slowed down by citizen racers. Grab your “quaran-team” and keep the grind going!
As virtual events have risen in popularity, so has the endurance athlete’s drive to do them. With more and more racing summer and even fall races being canceled, participants are looking for new outlets to showcase their hard work and dedication to their craft. Virtual events provide that outlet. In a new world full of restrictions and guidelines, one thing has not changed: the ability to push yourself to your limits. You can be completely isolated, but still run the Boston Marathon. You can social distance, but still accomplish your goals. The options are there, the question is… are you ready?