The Rise of Virtual Races

The Rise of Virtual Races

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Dear Readers,

With races around the world canceled, on hold or up in the air, a new kind of event is gaining traction: virtual races.

When I wrote about virtual races in March of last year, they were like accouterments to traditional races. Now, with those races on long-term pause, virtual experiences are the only option most runners have. In virtual races, runners complete a race more or less on their own schedule, at whatever location they choose, then log in and record their results. Runners may be running alone, but can still feel as if they’re part of a larger group.

RunSignup, a race registration platform, has seen an uptick in the number of virtual races created through their website. In some cases, when an event is canceled, the race will offer a virtual option, said Johanna Goode, director of marketing at RunSignup. The company is also seeing “race companies who do a lot of events and are looking at multiple cancellations this year” creating new kinds of virtual challenges.

“Pre-Covid virtual runs tended to market themselves on cool swag for a specific, one-time distance,” she said. “Post-Covid, I’m seeing a lot more longer-term challenges or programs that give people something to do over a longer period of time.” She cites a 19-day quarantine virtual challenge and a challenge to run 50 or 100 miles by April 30 as creative examples of new events.

Jason Hershman never put on a race before but decided to launch a virtual run/walk to benefit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Coronavirus Emergency Response Fund. On May 1, participants pledge to run or walk for one hour and, if they have social media, share their experience online. The cost is $20.

“During this social distance period, I still have been able to get my daily runs in, which has been nice considering it is spring and I am able to go while the sun is out,” said Hershman, who had been scheduled to run the Boston Marathon later this month (it’s been moved to September). After returning from one such run to yet “more awful news,” he said, he looked to see if there were any virtual events to raise money for coronavirus relief. When he couldn’t find one, he created one.

I’ve seen a lot of these events coming online in the last few weeks, and there’s just about something for everyone. Matt Chittim of the Rambling Runner, for example, started a virtual run series that began last weekend with a 5K on March 27 to 29. The virtual race builds to a 10k this weekend, a half marathon April 17 to 19, and a full marathon May 15 to 17. Healthy Kids Running is starting a spring race series, a five week program, on April 17 for kids.

If you read this in time, you can still jump into the Personal Peak Quarantine Backyard Ultra, which starts today at 9 a.m. Eastern time. Participants have one hour to run a 4.167-mile loop — in their neighborhood, on a treadmill, or wherever they are. Then, at the top of the next hour, you repeat the loop again. And the following hour, again. And again. Last man or woman standing wins. I’ve run a race like this in the past (in Canada, with other people). It starts out easy, then becomes agony. It’s fun.

And if you don’t want to do any of those things, that’s OK too. I’m still just trying to get out with my dog for a half-hour, five to six days a week. That’s about all I have in me right now. We’re all figuring out how to muddle along, six feet apart.

If you’re still disappointed in your race being canceled, that’s OK. Olympians and Paralympians and hopefuls feel the same way. Here’s a video about those dreams deferred.

Do you have questions about exercise and fitness during the pandemic? Ask us! Our Phys Ed columnist, Gretchen Reynolds, will answer reader questions in a future column. Email your questions to

Run Well!

Jen A. Miller

Author, “Running: A Love Story

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