Virtual races are like the ugly step-sister in running. Some runners don’t acknowledge them as even races to be praised for. Others are all about giving them a chance, and enjoy them just as much as any other race. But love them or hate them, virtual races can benefit training for “real” events in major ways.
For those unfamiliar, virtual races work similarly to other road races despite one big difference: there is no set time and location for the event. Runners sign up online just like they would any other race, and select whether they are signing up for a 1m, 5k, 5m, 10k, 10m or half marathon (these are are common distances).
The race packet is then mailed to the house, consisting of a bib a finisher medal. The runner can choose whenever and wherever they want to do the race. This could be on the treadmill, around their neighborhood, at a park, etc. It could also be applied to another event, like a 5k they are participating in that doesn’t give finisher medals, or even a training run for an upcoming race.
For me, it serves as a great incentive to keep up with scheduled runs and rewarding myself for the hard work put in. Who doesn’t like race bling?
A virtual race is great for those who can’t make it out to particular races, whether it be because of date, time, distance, lack of transportation or cost of the event. But is also can really help those who use it for training purposes. That’s because the runner can use the race to see how far they have come and how far they still have to go to reaching their goal.
Distance wise, if a runner completes a virtual 5k, 10k, or even half marathon, they know they can do this again and again. Just wait until race day for a bigger sponsored event when there is other runners experiencing the same nerves and excitement, family and friends and volunteers motivating the racers, and just an overall inspiriting environment.
As far as pace goes, when we are competing, we tend to really go full force and stick to a steady and past pace. Those who are competitive by nature want to run their best time. Virtual races help to be that spark to fuel that inner fire to perform to the best of our ability.
Afterward, it can be a good a marker as to know how fast the runner has become so they can crush their PR goal for their next big race. It also gauges how far that runner needs to go if they are on the road to reach a new goal when it comes to their finishing time.
And consistently working at this can really yield results.
There are many different companies that offer virtual races, including US Road Running, which I recently participated in two different 5k just a little over 2 weeks apart.
The first one was the Mother & Son Race 5k that took me 38:23 to finish. Now I was discouraged by this time (a really slow 5k for me), but it was the first time running while pushing a stroller and my 25 lb. toddler while running. It was also a course filled with steep hills, so I had my work cut out for me.
But then just days later I was able to shave off about 3 minutes from this time with my next 5k race.
Now there is a few things I contribute to this victory. One, my course this time was primarily flat with small inclines. Secondly, I know 2 weeks (technically 18 days) sounds like too short of a time frame to see real results, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Since I am training for a half marathon, 2 weeks is (feels like an eternity) ample time to build up a better fitness foundation. Consistently working out at least 5 days a week means the muscles are being conditioned and getting stronger. With shorter speed sessions and longer runs at a comfortable pace, this is a good mix to help run faster and longer. And I did feel lighter on my feet, and stronger in general—much more prepared.
Think of it as having enough practice to be able to perform well for that big day.
So after hating every minute of a 5 mile treadmill run, I couldn’t wait to take my next scheduled 4 mile run outside. And since I have an upcoming 5k race in 2 weeks coming up, I wanted to push myself to see what I could expect my time to be, while having just enough time to make adjustment and put in the work for improvement.
That made it the perfect opportunity to run the Mom’s Little Monster Virtual 5K along with my son in tow (especially since I will be doing my next race with him as well). With the extra motivation of timing myself, I started my run strong and really gave it all I had.
Despite cold weather and some winds, this is my ideal running weather. I picked up the pace mile 2 and really dug deep for the final mile. As I result, I completed mile 1 in 11:40, mile 2 in 11:15 and mile 3 in 11:11, with an average pace of 11:20. I walked away feeling super pleased with an average speed of 5.3 mph, but impressed I went as fast as 8.5 mph.
With a finishing time of 35:12, I am proud of this accomplishment—especially when running with a stroller. My goal is to complete my upcoming race as close to 32 minutes as possible or less so now I will have to continue to put in the hard work.
Now when I look at this medal I will think of the times my son was along for the ride with me, and how he pushes me to be my best without even knowing it.
My advice is to try to virtual race out for yourself, you have nothing to loose and nice running bling to gain.