The Virtues of Virtual Racing, According to Dean Karnazes

When the pandemic first hit there was a sense of dread in the running community—in chilling succession, races across the country began cancelling. The iconic Boston Marathon held out hope, rescheduling from the traditional mid-April date to October. But hope was ultimately dashed when the October race was cancelled, marking the first time in the race’s 123-year history the event was not held.

Many runners longed for the race experience, but it is now clear most races won’t be coming back online for some time to come. So what’s a runner to do in this new landscape? How can we experience the thrill and excitement of racing in this current situation? One way is through virtual racing.

Now a popular alternative to traditional racing, virtual races come in a variety of flavors. Some virtual races are simply structured as distance challenges, like 5K, 10K, half marathon, or marathon.

The races’ rules might vary, such as having a set distance that must be covered on a set race day, or there may be a range of dates that participants can take up the challenge. Some virtual races are competitive, with leader boards and rankings—data from your Fitbit or other tracking device uploaded for verification—while others races are more low-key and structured almost like a fun run, with the main goal being to do some form of exercise on a given day, even if that’s on a treadmill.

One virtual race that’s particularly creative is the Big Surreal Marathon. There are five virtual challenge options—from a 5K to a marathon—and also the opportunity to run more than one race. The more you do, the more prizes and swag you earn. The race window is open for thirty days, offering plenty of time to complete multiple challenges.

Many of the virtual races have virtual after-parties. It’s always uplifting to see a thousand smiling participants on Zoom talking about their race experience, and the craziness of life overall, virtual thumbs-up flashing across the screen, everyone making the best out of what we’ve got.

Virtual racing helps me stay motivated to set and achieve a goal, at a time when having goals seems more important than ever. With so much uncertainty surrounding us these days, virtual racing allows a finish line to be crossed. And there’s just something comforting about that.

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