Virtual Racing For Thee But Not For Me

Race organizers have taken a big hit since the pandemic. They’ve been unable to operate except for a small few in certain areas. The ones that have been able to operate have had to limit capacity and make other changes that have cut into their profits. Us runners need race organizers, big and small. How else would we get to race each other, win medals and hang out on a Saturday or Sunday morning? We can only hope that when “normal life” resumes we’ll get to enjoy the regular amount of races. Before the pandemic, there were several races of various distances each weekend in southern California. If you had an itch on a Thursday to race Saturday, you had options.

I’ve never organized a race but I do know that a lot of work goes into it such as mapping the course, getting permits, renting porta-potties, ordering t-shirts and medals, recruiting volunteers, etc. They do all this so people can challenge themselves through racing. How have some of these organizers been able to survive the shutdowns? Virtual racing.

Virtual racing isn’t new. It’s been around for a bit as an option for people unable to run in the real race. I’m not going to do a deep dive into its history but it’s really gained momentum during the pandemic as a way for organizers to stay afloat. Basically, you register for a race like you usually would and pay a fee. Then you are given a window of time (usually a week or two) to complete the distance in one session. You can run that “race” distance anywhere you want—around the block, on a track, up in the mountains, wherever. You then submit some kind of proof you ran/walked the distance and you receive a medal, t-shirt, whatever else you’re promised.

The Boston Marathon did this last Fall. Though, let’s be honest, it wasn’t the same as running in the actual race. You need to run the actual race itself to experience the spectacle of the Boston Marathon. The London Marathon is doing something similar this year.

I think virtual races are a great idea for organizers and runners looking to add to their medal collection and those who need the extra motivation to run. I support the idea of virtual races for these reasons. So that means I do them, right? Here’s where things aren’t always black and white. Yes, I totally support virtual races but no, I don’t run them. They’re a great idea but not for me. I’m motivated plenty to run even without formal races and I have plenty of t-shirts and medals. Virtual races do nothing to excite me. I prefer the real thing. I need the competition of other runners next to me. I need the excitement and rush of crossing a real starting line and the exhilaration of making it to an actual finish line with people cheering for me and others. I like running in the middle of a street closed for us racers.

Virtual racing is fine but there’s nothing better than the real thing.

I enjoy accepting an age-group or top three finisher medal. I like seeing others achieve their goals while others pat them on the back and congratulate them. I love the crowds, even small ones, and the coalescence of positive energy centralized into one space. There’s just nothing better. I like the real thing. I miss the real thing. If I’m going to spend money, I want the full experience. Race organizers provide that experience for me and many others.

That being said, I still think if you’re considering a virtual race do it if it’ll get you out running. Just because I choose not to partake doesn’t mean I don’t think you should. The larger point to this post is to show people that we all have different views on aspects of the running world. Those views are neither right nor wrong, good nor bad. I don’t think less of or look down on runners who are thrilled about a virtual race just because I don’t care for them. I think virtual races have a lot of positives.  We need to respect those looking to better themselves and stay motivated through virtual races and those organizers looking to survive in these uncertain times. We also need to respect those who would rather just wait for actual races to come back. We all run to better ourselves and as long as we’re all running then isn’t that the point? Maybe if we adopt this “run and let run” attitude in other aspects of life, we might all be a little friendlier to each other.

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