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!