How to Partake in the New Virtual Racing Trend

Molly Hurford
by Molly Hurford
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How to Partake in the New Virtual Racing Trend

As more and more races get deleted from the calendar, and it’s questionable whether we’ll be back to racing outside in 2020, runners are turning to online options to quench their competitive thirst. Virtual races are being put together by event promoters to offer alternatives to the original race, groups are putting together virtual races for charities to support COVID-19 aid, and friends who can’t run together are creating challenges for their run crews to stay in touch and stay competitive.

But how do these virtual races and challenges work, and what do you need to know to participate?


There are different types of virtual races going on right now. Here are a few examples:

  • Distance-based, single runs done for time: A 5K challenge, for instance, would take a single morning
  • Canceled ultrarunning races that are going virtual
  • Races covering a certain distance over a certain period of time, like running 100 miles in a month or running a specific course at your own time and pace
  • Apps that allow you to use a treadmill but still do a race in virtual reality


For the most part, race organizers are relying on the honor system when it comes to listing your results. Most require a GPS and heart rate file to be uploaded, but some are simpler and take your word that you did the mileage (you’re only cheating yourself, right?).

Using the MapMyRun app is an easy way to ensure you’re recording your mileage (and syncing to a heart rate monitor if you have one) in a simple, no-fuss way. If you’re doing an official virtual race, make sure you know what kind of file you need, since some require heart rate but others won’t. Some races allow you to run on a treadmill and count that, but make sure you’ve checked before you sign up if a treadmill is your only running option.


  • Rock ‘n’ Roll Virtual Running Series: Offers several different distance options, from 5K to half-marathon.
  • Run to Reach Virtual Marathon: Will raise funds for WHO’s COVID-19 relief fund and the other 19 Run to Reach organizations continuing to support women in this uncertain time.
  • RunDisney Virtual Series: Like all the Disney races, these four virtual 5Ks sold out fast, but it’s likely they’ll be planning more. Keep an eye on RunDisney’s website for new events if you’ve had “do a Disney marathon” on your bucket list for years.
  • Plan B Virtual Challenge: With plan A (your goal race) out the window, it’s time for Plan B, a virtual race that lets you pick your distance, from 25–200 kilometers, over the course of a month.
  • Virtual Wimbledon Common: Always wanted to race over in the UK? Now you virtually can, from Wimbledon to Battersea Park.
  • You vs. the Year: If you want a long-term virtual challenge, MapMyRun’s 2020 challenge to run 1,020 kilometers over the course of the year is an easy one since it syncs directly to your MapMyRun app and your miles will automatically be logged.
  • Zwift Races: Treadmill user? Zwift offers hundreds of different races that let you virtually interact with other racers in real-time — from the comfort of your home.


This is a great chance to actually get better at racing, potentially log a PR and get the endorphin rush that crossing a finish line brings. Have a loop planned — and aim to make it as flat as possible. Unless the challenge includes elevation, you’re going to want to find the flattest loop possible to do your run. Plan a local route that’s at least a few hundred meters longer, just to ensure your GPS gets the full distance logged.

This might not be as exhilarating as the real thing, but on the bright side, you won’t have to contend with a port-a-potty lineup or crowds. Still, if you’re doing a single-day challenge, make it as realistic as possible with a proper pre-race dinner the night before, a set start time and have your pre-race playlist dialed-in.

For longer events, set up shorter loops that pass your house for an aid station and bathroom break. Make the stop quick and actually get some race-day practice by setting up an aid station table. Finally, have a finish line (and possibly a celebratory snack) ready and waiting for when you’re done!

About the Author

Molly Hurford
Molly Hurford

Molly is an outdoor adventurer and professional nomad obsessed with all things running, nutrition, cycling and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing and podcasting about being outside, training and health. You can follow along with her adventures on Instagram at @mollyjhurford.


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