Racing Goes Virtual

No crowds, no start gun, no parking problems, no porta potty lineups.

A new trend in the running community is virtual racing. Like many of us, road race organizers have had to get creative and adapt to our post-Covid world. For the foreseeable future, mass participation road races like the Sun Run, Scotia Half, and even the Canadian 10km Championships have gone virtual. Runners sign up for their virtual race online, choose their own starting line, run the distance, upload their finishing time and a few days later are mailed a medal.

Fans not included.

This past Canada Day I had the opportunity to compete in the first ever Canadian Virtual 10km Championships. Runners from across Canada were given a 12-hr window to complete an out-and-back course of their own choosing, and verify their performance using GPS data along with 5min of race video footage. 

For me, it went really well. I ran a personal best (28:52) and came away with the Men’s Championship. It was nice to experience those pre-race nerves and excitement again. Last year's championship was held in Ottawa so you can imagine the contrast to the quiet country road in Langley. The race was filled with a lot less people, but far more familiar faces.

During a time when no real races exist this was the closest thing to a real race many of us would experience. So if you're like me and needing to scratch that racing itch, but not sure how to approach any of these virtual races, here are a few tips.

1. Set a Date 
Most virtual races provide a generous window for you to participate. The Vancouver Scotiabank Half Marathon gives participants close to a 3 month window to submit their race results. For some individuals, the flexibility can help accommodate busier schedules, but for others who love to procrastinate (like me) this flexibility can potentially lead to some issues down the road.

My suggestion is to treat it like a normal race, look ahead in your calendar and set a date. Tell your friends. Keep yourself accountable and give yourself something to work towards. 

2. Set your Course
One of the cool features of virtual races is having the ability to pick where and when you’ll run your race. Mapping out your route ahead of time allows your mind to relax during the race so you can focus your efforts on getting to the finish line.  

If you're after a PB, try and find a flat stretch of quiet road where you can get into a nice rhythm and roll on. If you're looking into racing this summer, I’d suggest getting an early start so you can beat the heat and the traffic on the streets. For the Canadian 10km Championships we used an out and back 10k route along the Fort to Fort Trail in Langley. 

To map the route I suggest using online mapping programs. A couple that are free and easy to operate are Plot a route or MapMyRun. If you don’t want to go through the hassle of measuring out a course (I totally get it) try Run Go App , a Vancouver based company, they provide one of the easiest ways to run a route, with turn-by-turn voice navigation. 

3. Just Do It 
At the end of the day, you’ve got to treat it like any other race and just go for it. It may feel weird not to be surrounded with thousands of other runners, but this style of time trial racing gives you the opportunity to explore your own limits. Invite friends and family out to cheer you on to add a little bit of excitement to the atmosphere. I was lucky enough to have a couple friends and family ride alongside me and cheer me on during the race. Lastly but most important, remember to have fun.

4. Ready to Race?
Here are a few local virtual race options this summer: 

“Beat the Champ” (Think you can beat Justin's time?)

Mile2Marathon Virtual Race Series

Scotiabank Vancouver Half-Marathon, 10k & 5km

Coast Mountain Trail Running Summer Scavenger Hunt (Less of a race, more of a summer long scavenger hunt.)

Eastside 10km


5. Tag Us!
If you find yourself racing in a virtual race this summer, be sure to tag @racketsandrunners on Instagram with your race pics to be featured.

Virtual High Fives are also trending.