How to run a virtual race

The race you wanted to run has been cancelled. Here’s how to run a virtual race.

I was planning on running the Detroit Free Press Half Marathon this year, until it was cancelled due to COVID-19. Runners have the option to run virtually, which is something that most cancelled races are doing. Essentially, runners can sign up for a race, get a shirt, bib and assorted junk mail that comes with your race packet, and can run the race distance on their own.

However, this will not be the first year I’ve run virtually. Last year, I ran the Freep Half and had a disaster of a race. Everything went wrong; instead of setting a new PR, I barely made it across the finish line. Not wanting to throw away months of training, I decided to run 13.1 miles on my own, one week later. So I ran at Dodge Park (one of my favorite places to run) and smashed my PR by several minutes. Running a race on your own might not seem as fun, but with some preparation, you can get great results. Here’s how to run a virtual race.

Picture of me after I ran a virtual race (half marathon) last year.
Post-virtual race proof of life photo.

Plan your virtual race ahead of time

The most important part of running virtually is to plan just like you would for a normal race. Set a date, time and location, and stick to it. It will help you visualize your end goal while training. And since you won’t have the luxury of blocked off streets on your virtual run, it may be a good idea to scout out a few locations on your training runs ahead of time. Is your planned course too hilly? Does it cross any busy roads that may stop you? What is the condition of the path? A normal race will take care of these things in advance, but it’s important to be your own scout this time.

Create a refueling plan

Another great part of running races is the refueling and aid stations. Grabbing a cup of cold water or sports drink at a station can give you the required boost to set a record. Some races even hand out energy gels and petroleum jelly along the route. And don’t forget the porta-potties! These are all things that will not be provided on a virtual ruin, so think through your plan. I use a belt that has a pocket and space for two bottles, but you can also have someone toss you the water/fuel you need, or even hide it next to a tree along the way. Fuel is a crucial aspect of running, so make sure you aren’t neglecting a plan.

Have some support

I love the crowds that watch races; the cheering, costumes, cowbells, funny signs and occasional small cups of beer make a tough run a lot easier. While you can’t have a full cheering section, there’s nothing wrong with inviting a handful of friends and family to watch you run. It’s great moral support and something fun for them to do (or at least that;s what you need to convince them of). It’s also important to have someone who can help if you get injured. Make sure you have an emergency plan in case the race does not go as planned.

Reward yourself

One of my favorite post-race activities (besides a shower) is ordering a burger and bag of fries from Five Guys. It’s something for me to think about when I’m 10 miles in and wishing I was anywhere else. You can still reward yourself for finishing a virtual race, just like it was a real one. Maybe its a greasy burger, maybe its a bottle of champagne, or maybe it’s a bowl of ice cream. Giving yourself something to look forward to after the race might be the motivation you need to climb that one last hill before the finish line.

Are you planning on running a virtual race this year? Do you have any tips? Share in the comments!

A Fresh Brew, For You

The Fresh Brew Run Club is a blog for the everyday runner.

We get up way too early. We put on short shorts, and head out to dodge cars, bikes, pedestrians and local cats in the blistering heat, cold and rain. And we do it all for extremely strange reasons, like crossing a line painted on the cement before a giant clock strikes a certain number, or to earn a piece of cheap metal attached to a ribbon with a bank’s logo on it. Or maybe we just want to get out of the house for an hour or so. Does that sound like you? If so, welcome to the Fresh Brew Run Club. Congratulations, you’re a member. Don’t expect your information packet in the mail anytime soon.

Photo of my wife and me after the 2018 Grand Rapids Half Marathon.
Nothing more comforting than a cozy aluminum foil blanket on a brisk fall morning.

Running writing is weird though

Don’t get me wrong, there’s tons of great running-related work out there. But for every Running with the Buffaloes by Chris Lear, there are hundreds of tasteless “race day” recipes, useless fad workout ideas, reviews of gimmicky running “tools” like organic multi-directional space foam rollers, and flat out narcissistic running influencers bragging about their splits or how perfectly their outfit matches in a perfectly framed and edited photo on Instagram. Oh, you ran 10 miles and didn’t break into a disgusting sweat? Must be nice. It is incredible seeing people take something simple and turn it into a complicated, exclusive hobby for snobs.

That’s why I want to start writing again. Well for one, I miss writing. But I mostly want to bring a little fun to the running blogosphere. I’m not the fastest runner in the world; my fastest mile was in 10th grade (5:09, second place in the slow heat of the Anchor Bay Classic, thank you very much). But I’ve come to re-enjoy the sport over the past five years, and I have some thoughts.

I want to hit on the elements I enjoy, the random things that make me laugh in the middle of a long run and the stuff I like to use. Maybe bring up a few timeless debates, like running in the cold vs. the heat. Or the time that I thought it was a good idea to eat at an Italian fast-food chain the night before the state XC meet. I’ll also review some products I use and show some of my favorite places to run. Maybe interview a couple sled dogs. Who knows.

So what’s with the name?

Fresh Brew Run Club? What’s up with that? Before every run, I do two things: apply a thick layer of Body Glide and drink a cup of coffee. I never liked coffee, but I picked up the habit after a few years of working in the corporate world. It’s not so much the caffeine, but the idea of a liquid comfort blanket that I enjoy. I used to down a glass of C4 EXXXXXPLOSIVE LIQUID RAGE FUEL pre-workout before every run, but I don’t think artificially giving myself a heart murmur is a healthy way to start the morning. So I brew a cup of coffee.

For me, that first cup of coffee is as much a part of my running routine as tying my shoes or dodging a Jeep driver that thinks stop signs are optional. So that’s the name. Do I envision printing a limited run of t-shirts and giving them as Christmas gifts to my family? You bet. A brand is born. Happy trails!

If you have any topic ideas, questions about running or general commentary on proper sidewalk width, comment below. Operators are standing by.