The internet has changed everything, including running. Chances are that you’ve probably heard of virtual races if you’ve been in the running community for any amount of time. But maybe you don’t know exactly what they are.
In this short article, we’ll cover everything that you need to know about virtual races, which are typically 5ks. By the end, you’ll be able to talk like a pro about them and also figure out if they are something you would like to participate in!
The Details on a Virtual 5k
It might surprise you, but a virtual race isn’t exactly a new thing. High school runners used to mail in their times before national championship meets started, and a champion would be selected based on the times mailed in.
Today, you won’t have to mail your result in—you’ll just need to submit your time electronically.
What Is It?
As the name implies, a virtual race is a race that is not run in a specific physical location. You will run the race distance that you register for (typically a 5k), input your finishing time, and get a medal if you complete the race.
How Does It Work?
Registering for a virtual 5k is pretty similar to registering for a normal 5k. You’ll go to the race website and sign up. You’ll typically pay a lower fee to run a virtual 5k, but there will still be a race fee.
If you complete the race, you’ll receive a finisher’s medal in the mail. Some races also offer electronic bibs and race packets.
How Do I Record My Time?
Typically, you’ll upload your time to a website, posting your time online. Many people use their GPS watches to figure out their time and distance although you might personally choose to be more precise than that and map out an exact race distance.
Benefits of a Virtual 5K
If you’re someone that loves running races, a virtual race might seem like a little bit of a let down, but it actually comes with a lot of benefits. The one that is foremost in my mind is dealing with national disasters.
I live in a beach town that was devastated by Hurricane Florence. There was supposed to be a half marathon here about 6 months after the hurricane hit, but unfortunately, the town was unable to sustain a larger race and get cleaned up in time.
In lieu of the physical race, the race organizers offered a virtual race, and if I’m remembering correctly, I think they donated some of the proceeds to hurricane cleanup in the area. While it wasn’t the same as a physical race, it was a great way to run in solidarity even though a national disaster had impacted the area.
This flexibility is one of the greatest perks of a virtual race like a 5k. You can run it anywhere and anytime. And if you’re new to running, this can be a great practice race before your big day. It’s the time to try out your clothing and fuel for race day and see how it goes.
Plus, you’ll get all the perks of a typical race like a medal and tech fabric shirts while still getting to compete against other runners. If you’re someone who hates the hassles of a race (traveling, traffic, or crowds) and likes fewer restrictions (wearing headphones or running with a jogging stroller), a virtual 5k is a great option.
Additionally, some physical races offer a virtual component to take part in a big event without actually having to be there. And virtual races often have a charitable component, so you know that your race fees will be going to a good cause.
Finally, if you’re not a morning person, a virtual 5k is the race for you because you can do it whenever during the day. It doesn’t have to be at 7 or 8 in the morning. You could do a 7 or 8 in the evening run if you prefer.
Disadvantages of a Virtual 5k
While virtual 5ks can be great practice runs, if you’re really competitive, you might like running in an actual physical race. Even if you win a virtual 5k, it might not feel as good as if you won a physical race.
Plus, we all know that running alone can be hard, so unless you’re running your virtual 5k with a buddy, it might be hard to keep yourself motivated and to push yourself to do the best job that you can.
And, as my mom (who is not a runner but who loves to cheer me on) says, “The race environment is so exciting.” When I look back on the physical races I’ve run, there was something about getting to participate in a large race.
The races that have been more fun have been the larger ones like the Marine Corps Half Marathon, although I did love running the 5k that benefitted the hospital where my nephew was born. But with a virtual race, you won’t even get the environment of a small race, and it will lack race energy.
Plus, there won’t be any post-race food or party or race comradery on the course. If you’re a social person, you might be bummed out by a virtual 5k.
In the end, a virtual 5k is a great way to train for an upcoming physical race. You’ll get to try out everything you’re planning to do for race day and see how it goes. In this way, virtual races are a great addition to a training plan.
And if you’re nervous about running in public if you’ve just gotten into it, then a virtual 5k might be just what you need to have the race environment without being surrounded by tons of people.
A virtual 5k is definitely worth considering if you haven’t run one before just to see how it might fit into your running routine.