EMBRACE THE VIRTUAL RACE: A case in support of virtual racing.

DISCLAIMER: I received entry to the Hospital Hill Half Marathon, Carmel Marathon, and Grandma’s Marathon to promote and review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!

Before the world shut down I was fortunate enough to participate in a few “real” races.

At the beginning of the year I joined a local ParkRun club for a 5K trail run every Saturday morning. Although technically not a race, it had the feel of one given that ParkRun offers free timing, breakdown of results against other ParkRun runners, the competition with other runners in the club and I pushed race pace each time. My races included the following: the Joe Relaxo 24hr Challenge which consisted of a one mile loop every thirty minutes for a total of 48 miles; the 2020 Double Bridge 15k, a local favorite race in Pensacola and I earned a course PR; the Rock’n’Roll Marathon in New Orleans which was my first road marathon; the RunDisney Princess 10K which was my fourth RunDisney event and always a lot of fun; and finally the McGuire’s St. Paddy 5K, another local favorite and another course PR for me. I was fortunate to have front loaded the year with some fun races.

It is impossible to replace the race event. The feeling of accomplishment as you meet your training goals. The growing excitement the week leading up to the race. The expo and events prior to race day. The build up of adrenaline that keeps you up the night before a race. The race day competition that drives that extra speed boost. Experiencing a new course or city. The spectators and entertainment. Crossing the finish line. And, last but not least, the after party!! These are feelings that cannot be fully replicated outside of the race setting. However, that doesn’t mean you should dismiss the virtual race option. There is great value in a virtual race to the the running community, race directors, volunteers, sponsors, the beneficiaries, and your fitness.

The first race to cancel for me was the Statesman Cap 10K in Austin, Texas. This is the largest 10K race in Texas and top five nationally. I was looking forward to running Austin. Races are one of my favorite ways to experience a city. The original race date was April 5th. The race directors officially cancelled the race a week prior to the race date due to the city’s response to covid-19. The race was eventually transitioned to a virtual option as well as offering registration to the 2021 race. I decided to run the race as planned on April 5th virtually.

Did I get the experience I was promised with registration? No. Did I get a 10K PR as I planned for this race? No, but that one is on me and my derailed training. Did I get to experience a new city, new breweries, and new restaurants? No. Did I have spectators or bands playing on my route? No. Did I meet new runners and get an adrenaline boost from the competition? No. Did I get a medal when I crossed the 10K finish line? No. Was I upset that the race directors (RDs) didn’t offer full refunds for registration? No! Why? The mass race cancellations were due to an unforeseen global event. Additionally there is a lot that goes into hosting a race of any size. RDs have already expended funds on shirts, medals, permits, signs, support services and much much more. Established races and RDs usually have a group of dedicated volunteers that have already spent many hours making their race and your day a success. Further every race that I have participated in supports a charity[ies]. Let us not forget that RDs and their volunteers WANT the race to proceed as planned because they have invested significant amount of their life in making their race fun and rewarding for the runners.

There are many positives to embracing the virtual race option in our current social climate due to covid-19. First, it gives you a target to keep you motivated in your training. Second, it allows you to support a race that you would otherwise not be able to support due to family, work, or expense. Third, you still earn a great race t-shirt and medal (and honestly we runners love the swag). Fourth, you are contributing to the overall growth and advancement of the running community as good ambassadors to the sport. Fifth, many RDs have alreadynembraced the virtual aspect of the race by providing an online space for racers to connect virtually such as special Facebook groups or post race virtual meet-ups. For instance the Hot Chocolate 15K race recently hosted a virtual dance party on IG live with sponsor Knockaround Sunglasses for all virtual runners. Social engagement opportunities like this should only increase and become more sophisticated as RDs have more time to develop their virtual races and learn from others. Finally the charity[ies] continue to receive much needed donations from the event which directly benefits the community. The Statesman Cap 10K supports Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM) and despite the 2020 cancellation the RDs still donated $40,000.00 to HAAM. This is a significant sum and I am sure HAAM relies on this annual donation.

Therefore, I was happy to complete the Statesman Cap 10K virtually, I look forward to receiving my medal and shirt, and I will display them proudly with my other race swag from the beginning of the year. In fact I am currently registered for three more virtual races.

I. Hospital Hill Half Marathon

Hospital Hill Run is located in Kansas City, Missouri. The 2020 race is the 47th running of the race and making it Kansas City’s oldest race. Hospital Hill has been named a top 25 road race by Runner’s World Magazine and hosted the USATF National Championship half marathon in 2002. It has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities. Through a partnership program charities can use the race as their own fundraiser. The RDs started the Hospital Hill Run Foundation which has donated more that $130,000.00 to local organizations since 2016. In 2019, Hospital Hill Run gave $25,000.00 each to Kansas City Public Schools Education Foundation and Strive for Live as beneficiaries of the race that year. Hospital Hill Run is a great example of RDs making the most of the virtual race. It created a special hashtag for the virtual race and encourages racers to share their photos on social media. It created a special virtual run Facebook Page for racers to connect socially. The RDs have also created virtual challenges that allow you to enter to win free running gear by completing challenges and uploading that info to the virtual race Facebook group. This promotes further social engagement and gets the sponsors involved. Once your virtual half marathon is complete you will receive a digital finisher certificate and a swag packet consisting of a shirt and medal (both are excellent quality). Hospital Hill Run has done a great job creating a community around the virtual race. It is still committed to the community and charities through the foundation. I will be racing the Hospital Hill virtual half on June 6th with other BibRave Pros. I encourage you to join us by visiting http://www.hospitalhillrun.com to register for the virtual half marathon using the discount code above.

II. Carmel Marathon

2020 is the 10th running of the Carmel Marathon in Carmel , Indiana. The Carmel Marathon has transitioned to a virtual race option only due to covid-19. Carmel Marathon relies on over 500 volunteers to make the weekend a success for all its runners. The offical charities for the race are: Indiana Center for Prevention of Youth Abuse & Suicide, St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Back On My Feet, Run2gether, Hamilton County Emergency Management, and Mercy Home for Boys & Girls. The RDs are using their Facebook page to celebrate runners completing the virtual race and creating a community around the virtual race. Each finisher receives a swag bag consisting of a medal, shirt, bib, and participant bag. There is still time to register for the Carmel Marathon virtual race by visiting http://www.carmelmarathon.com/virtual-run and using the discount code above. I will be racing the Carmel Marathon on June 14th with other BibRave Pros. I encourage you to support this event by joining me in racing the Carmel Marathon virtually.

III. Grandma’s Marathon

Grandma’s Marathon weekend has transitioned to a virtual race only option. The Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota traces its start to 1977. This year would mark the 44th running of Grandma’s Marathon. Interestingly the name is derived from a group of famous local restaurants that were the original sponsors of the race. Race weekend draws more than 18,000 participants to Duluth. The Grandma’s Marathon weekend relies on more than 6,000 volunteers. The RDs are further committed to promoting a green event by implementing a number of sustainable initiatives during the race weekend. This is a very important issue for me. Grandma’s Marathon’s Young Athletes Foundation promotes the growth of young athletes and has contributed over $1 million to area nonprofit youth athletic organizations. The level of commitment to the local and international community by the RDs is very inspirational. I encourage you to take time to explore its website fully once you register for the race. The RDs have a number of charity partners that use the race as fundraisers. These charity partners have a set number of guaranteed spots that racers can earn by raising money for the charity. As for the virtual race, the RDs offer some unique features to enhance the runners experience. There is a virtual event bag with offers from both local and national retailers. The RDs have partnered with RunBetter App to allow you to run the full course on your treadmill. The app will prompt you when to incline/decline as you proceed through the course. The RDs have further created virtual race specific hashtags to promote social sharing of training and virtual race photos. You will have an opportunity to download a race bib, which I really like as it gives more authenticity to your race day at home. Those who complete their race will also receive a finisher certificate, event shirt and medal. I will be racing the Grandma’s Marathon virtual race on June 20th with other BibRave Pros. I encourage you to join us by visiting http://www.grandmasmarathon.com/participate/virtual to register for the full marathon using the discount code above.

In conclusion I anticipate the virtual race option is here to stay. RDs are seeing a great interest in participation and an ability to connect with new runners around the world. I believe the shut down has further exposed the illusion that running is a solitary endeavor. Runners thrive on social interaction and community as much as any other athlete who is part of a group or team, whether we like to admit it or not. Further runners are seeing the potential to add more races to their calendar without the significant travel cost associated with destination races. In short it is time for the runners to give back and support their favorite RDs who have given so much of themselves to make our race weekends a success in years past.

So, I will see you at the next race…virtually of course. Cheers!

Published by Coast to Mountain Runner

Coastal living in Florida. On a personal journey to get better and to run longer. The path to knowledge is up the mountain. We can summit it together here.

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