Back when we were all racing in person, a virtual race could feel like a lesser option. But when in-person racing disappeared due to COVID, virtual races became the only option.
One by one, events elected to go virtual when they couldn’t hold live races. It was disappointing, but a decent option for runners who were trained and eager to race.
While the rules vary from race to race, there are common elements. After a year of virtual races, I have thoughts. Keep reading for a breakdown on the pros and cons of virtual racing.
Virtual Race Basics
Each virtual race sets it's own requirements. The registration costs and fees range from free to the same price as an in-person race.
Most virtual races have a way for participants to submit their results to see how they compare to the competition. Some races require official tracking or posted finish times before sending your medal.
You're also encouraged to post to social media with the race hashtag to engage in the virtual race community! Hot Chocolate racers interact on social media using #HotChocolate5k and #HC15k hashtags.
Disclaimer: I received a Triple Crown of Running registration as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!
The Pros of Virtual Races
Some cancelled races are better than others at engaging in a virtual way. As the year of no IRL racing continued, race directors honed and improved the virtual race experience.
The Allstate Hot Chocolate race team increased online interactions and improved race swag bags. They encouraged runners to keep training to reach their race goals. They also added their delicious chocolate and hot chocolate to the mailed swag bags.
1. SWAG and Bling
If you're in it for the bling, you'll love virtual racing. Some events offer great SWAG.
If you're not interested in stuff, look for races that let you opt out of a real medal. Some events are free if you don't choose the bling.
The Hot Chocolate Virtual 15K was one of my favorite virtual races ever. As always, they offer an outstanding race jacket instead of a race shirt. This year's model is my new go-to jacket. It has plenty of pockets and a detachable hood.
The Hot Chocolate races are known for their finish line treats. At a live event you get steaming hot chocolate, chocolate fondue, and other treats when you finish. Virtual racers received two packets of hot chocolate, plus chocolate squares.
FYI: This is THE BEST HOT CHOCOLATE I've tasted.
2. Flexibility to Run When and Where You Want
A virtual race is super convenient because you don't have to travel (unless you want to) and you race when it fits your schedule.
I know a lot of people who run the original race course for their virtual event. That's fun if you live nearby. You'll often see other runners doing the same thing.
When travel isn't possible, you can run your virtual race anywhere. Run out your front door. Run on your treadmill. Go to a favorite park, downtown area or trail to log your miles.
Some events even let you to break the race down into smaller portions.
You don't have to get up at 3 am to reach the starting line in time. Run before or after work. Run during your lunch hour. Race during the week or on the weekend. Start early or late. It's your choice.
Run with friends who live near you or virtually with everyone else who's participating.
I completed my Hot Chocolate 15K Louisville in one of my favorite local parks instead of downtown Louisville. Yes, I would love to see the sights and sounds of Louisville during a race, but I had a wonderful time taking in the views on my trail.
(You can see more photos from my 15K in the gallery at the end of this post.)
3. Extra Training and Motivation
Virtual races are an easy way to add races or runs to your overall training plan. I've added virtual events in the middle of a training cycle to help me maintain focus.
Sometimes, a 10K race is more motivating than a traditional training run. I used my Hot Chocolate 15K as part of my training plan for an upcoming half marathon.
If you're in a training rut, try a virtual race. Registering for a race gives you an extra reason to log those miles!
4. Support a Favorite Cause or Charity
When you run a virtual race for a specific cause you raise awareness and support it financially.
I always enjoy running for a reason. You can find virtual race events to support everything form a local school to K9 Officers to a world-wide organization.
5. Save Some Cash
Virtual races eliminate some of the costs associated with races. Even a local race costs time and gas money.
If you plan a race weekend in a distant location your costs include airline tickets, local transportation, hotel stays and food.
A virtual race usually involves a single fee. Some events have online race expos where you can buy branded gear, etc. if you want to spend more.
6. Treat Yourself
If you just started running a virtual race is a treat. It helps you get used to the idea of completing a race (without the starting line jitters). Plus, you score a medal for your hard work.
You can get a rewarding sense of community by connecting with other participants online. Don't be afraid to cheer someone on virtually. It's fun to give and get support.
A virtual race often includes a bib, medal, and a downloadable finisher's certificate. You'll have proof and a prize when you reach your goal.
The Cons of Virtual Racing
Most of the cons come into play when in-person race resumes. Right now, I can't think of any cons to running the Hot Chocolate 15k! Here are a few things to consider post-COVID:
1. No Race Day Environment
There's a lot of fun to be had during a race weekend. Who doesn't love the expo with free samples, photo spots, and bib pickup? The post race celebration?
We all miss the excitement of race day. Starting line energy is a big motivator. Maybe you can run your virtual with a few friends, but probably not the entire run club. In most cases, you'll be running on your own.
There aren't any spectators or crowds of runners at a virtual race. No signs, cheers or cowbells. If you're lucky, your family will acknowledge you when you return home.
2. No Course Support
Have a plan and carry your phone if you run your race alone. There won't be any EMS people out on your course. (Unless you run past a Fire Station.)
It's always a good idea to check with your healthcare provider if you're a newbie runner. Make sure a virtual race makes sense for you.
Carry water or stash it along your course. Pre-covid you could count on water fountains in parks; that's not always true now.
You can plan your route so you run past your house on the regular for water and fuel breaks. Whatever you do, make sure you have proper hydration and nutrition.
3. Different Racing Conditions
If you run a virtual race, you can't accurately compare your results to the other runners. While everyone runs the same distance, the race conditions vary.
The weather and course elevations are two big factors. You could run your half marathon on a fast, flat course. Someone else could run a hilly course. Humidity, rain, snow, visibility and temperature effect results, too.
During an in-person race everyone deals with the same situation. Virtual racing doesn't have consistent courses or conditions. It's impossible to evaluate your results compared to other runners.
4. No Running Crew
Many runners enjoy the chance to run with team mates. It can be your local running group, work or school mates, or your volunteer group. That doesn't work with a virtual race.
You can engage online with other participants, but most virtual runners race solo. Some events offer software options that let you run in real-time with other people.
Even so, it's not the same as when your crew runs together in real life.
My Verdict on Virtual Races
While no one will ever mistake a virtual race for a real one, there are plenty of benefits. That's never been truer than during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you need a reason to go outside to run or walk at a brisk pace, try a virtual race. If competition, deadlines, and swag motivate you — a virtual race is the answer.
Scenes from My #HC15K at Boyd Hill Nature Park
There were plenty of stops along our way, but we got it done. We ran into a Kestrel (falcon) info session, saw a baby heron, and lots of mythical creatures in the park.
Photos Credit: This Old Runner
Other Races in the Series:
The Hot Chocolate 15K was one of 3 races in the Louisville Triple Crown of Running. Here are links to my other race recaps:
Chick-fil-A 5K Fitness Classic
Chick-fil-A City Run 10K
#HCLouisBR #HCVirtualBR #BibChat #BibRavePro #TripleCrownOfRunning #Louisville #KeepMoving #BrighterDaysAhead #RunFlorida #WeRunSocial #OptOutside #FLRunner #ThisOldRunner #HoorayRunning #EverySingleStreet #EverySinglePerson #VirtualRaces #DiscountCode #FreeStuff #SeenOnARun #SceneOnARun
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