What Is A Virtual 5k Race?


What is a virtual 5K race, and how is it different from any other race?

Virtual races are similar to a standard race, but instead of meeting at a specific place to run a set course against other runners, every participant runs the distance wherever they are – usually by themselves. These races became hugely popular during pandemic times, although they existed before then.

If running a virtual 5K race sounds like an exciting experience to you, read on! We’re going through everything you need to know about virtual 5Ks.

Virtual Race

What Is a Virtual 5K Race?

A virtual race is similar to other running races, but there’s a twist. You get to decide where and when you run. This means you don’t have to travel far or wait at a busy start line.

Want to run a 5K in your favorite park in the morning? Or maybe in your neighborhood in the evening? With a virtual race, you choose. Many people love these races because they have the freedom to run how they want. It’s a fun way to stay excited about running.

There are many virtual race distances to pick from, but trying a 5K first is a good idea. It lets you see what the whole thing is like!

There are some downsides. For one, you are running by yourself. There’s no one to run with who will push your pace. You also miss out on the comradery of a race, the feeling of crossing the finish line, and post-race food.

Still, most virtual 5ks will post results, so you can see how did compared to others. And they typically offer swag, usually a medal and t-shirt – just like a standard race.

How It Began

It’s unclear when modern-day virtual races began, but there was a sharp rise in interest in virtual races as lockdowns began to lift after the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an uncertain time when large gatherings were still forbidden, runners missing a bit of competition began doing virtual races, and the popularity skyrocketed.

How Does a Virtual 5K Race Work?

When you enter a virtual 5K race, you’ll be given a specific date or a date range to complete it.

Race organizers often set aside a specific day or a weekend for racing, but you’ll have some freedom as to when exactly you want to run during that time frame. Some races run over much longer periods, like a month.

All that remains is for you to do your 5K race within the specified period, record your time, and submit it to the race organizers. It’s that simple. Some races have fundraising efforts as well.

Benefits of Participating in Virtual 5K Races

Do these races sound like fun? Here are some of the biggest benefits you’ll get out of doing a virtual 5K, or a few!

Flexibility that Fits Your Life

The freedom and flexibility of virtual races are what attract many people. You can run on your own time, avoid poor weather, and get around your busy schedule. It’s ideal for busy people who can’t always fit in a normal race.

Accessible to Everyone

Virtual races aren’t limited by location! You can sign up for and compete in a virtual race from anywhere in the world. This can also make it a fun event to bring together friends and family members live too far away to meet up for a standard 5k.


Virtual races tend to have lower fees than in-person runs thanks to easier logistics and no set-up costs. If you haven’t entered races because of the cost, consider virtual races instead. It also saves you gas as there’s no travel required!

Motivation Booster

Sometimes, it’s nice to have a race to spur you on, rather than simply slogging away at training run after training run. Signing up for a virtual race can give you the necessary motivation boost.

Virtual Community

Although everyone runs on their own time, many bigger virtual races have communities. Connect with others on social media, the race website, and online forums. Talk about the race, meet like-minded people.

Run for a Cause

A virtual race is a great way to support a charity. If you sign up, you can raise money for a cause of your choice. Not only is this a great way to give back, but it gives you extra motivation and accountability for reaching your fitness goals.

Set and Smash Goals

Sometimes, it’s easier to work hard towards your goals without the distraction of the crowds. Aim for a new PR on this terrain or improve your pace.

Earn Cool Swag

Many virtual races reward participants with race swag! You might be able to bag yourself a t-shirt, certificate, or medal to add to your awards.

Getting Started With Virtual 5K Races

A simple Google search will bring up all the virtual 5K races you can enter! You can also join virtual running communities online to hear the latest news and find out about races happening worldwide.

Make sure you check all the details carefully. Some races have certain entry requirements, and others are open to anyone. Also make sure you know the registration process and how to pay your race fee.

Preparing for Your Virtual 5K

Ready to run your first virtual 5K? Here’s how to prepare so you have a successful race.

Setting a Training Schedule

It might only be 3.1 miles, but training for it will help you to perform at your best. If you’re an experienced runner, we recommend a 4-week training program. Beginners should do 8 to 12 weeks of focused training for the 5K. You can find many free training plans online.

Gear and Apparel

Make sure you’re properly kitted out to run the safest, most comfortable race possible. Wearing the right shoes is of utmost importance—make sure it supports your arch and has enough shock-absorbing cushioning.

Also, choose moisture-wicking clothing, even if the weather is cooler. Decide what gear you’re likely to need, and make sure you have it when you start training. Train in the same clothing you’ll use on race day.

Tips for Running a Virtual 5K Race

Ready to run your first virtual 5K? Follow these tips, and you’ll have a successful, enjoyable race!

Choose the Right Race

3.1 miles is 3.1 miles, but there are differences between each virtual 5k. Some have specific themes or work to raise funds for specific charities. Other 5ks may have a time period to complete that fits best for you. And you may like the look of a shirt or medal from one race more than another.

Determine Your Goal for the Race

Do you just want to finish the race or do you have a time in mind? Set your goal before you start training so you can start working towards it, mentally and physically.

Plan Your Route

One of the best things about virtual 5Ks is the freedom to run where you want. Choose a route that you know, that’s safe, and that’s convenient. You’ll perform best on a flat course with few turns.

Select a Date and Time That Works Best for You

Find a time that works for you, but remember to check if there’s a specific time frame for the race.

Test Your Technology

You rely on your tech to prove you did the race, so check it beforehand. Make sure it’s charged, has a signal, and is working before your race starts.

Race Etiquette

Make sure you’re following the rules, which you’ll find online. Also, remember that nobody knows you’re running a race, so don’t be impatient with others on the road.

Pace Yourself

Start comfortably and increase speed gradually. Save your energy for later in the race, conserve what you can upfront.

Mind Your Form

Keep your head up, your shoulders relaxed, and shorten your stride. Try to keep your front foot landing underneath your pelvis. Breathe in your belly!

Submit Your Results

For most virtual races, you’ll need to submit your results online, backed up by GPS watch data to prove your time. Make sure you know exactly how to do this… And don’t forget about it after your run!

Post-Race Celebration

Cool down with a gentle walk and some light saic stretching. Celebrate by taking a selfie and posting it on your socials, or grab a hearty meal to replenish.

Rest and Recovery

Take a day or two to rest and recover after your race. Stay hydrated, eat healthy, wholesome meals, get enough sleep, and use recovery tools like foam rolling as you need them.

Reflect and Set New Goals

A day or two after your race, it’s time to reflect on your performance and set new goals for your next race.

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Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.