The year to date has derailed plans, caused plenty of heartbreak, and asked every runner, weekend warrior and race enthusiast to pivot. As runners, we have been asked to stop running together, but we haven’t been asked to stop running. So, in an attempt to seek some running fulfillment, I signed up for a virtual running event.
In August, I completed the Under Armour TransRockies Virtual 120. While it didn’t come with stages and breathtaking Colorado views of dirt and vert, I made the most of running 120 miles over two weeks on roads and trails in North Carolina.
If you haven’t tried a virtual event yet, I suggest you do. But first, there are a few things you should know:
BE SAFE AND HAVE FUN
Virtual events put you in charge. You have parameters — inclusive of a time frame for completion and a distance — but, ultimately you determine your start and finish lines.
For example, I had to run 120 miles between August 3–17. But the last time I ran this much in two weeks was more than a year ago during peak weeks of training for my ultra. It’s quite rare for me to run high-mileage weeks, so I knew I was in for a big, challenging two weeks. Between work and real life, I had to fit in these miles via treadmill, neighborhood roads and mostly local trails. Sometimes that meant two runs a day; other days that meant an extra early alarm clock and a headlamp for running.
Basically, you want to craft the best course for you. First and foremost, it needs to be safe. Second, have fun. That means you can use the virtual race for motivation to run and put your already trained running legs to good use. The overarching goal is to train for race day when the time feels right, then have some fun with it.
EXPECT A MENTAL CHALLENGE
Trying to replicate the feelings of race day does not come without challenges. While the virtual space comes with flexibility, it also comes with the ability to talk yourself out of hard things or maybe the things you don’t quite feel like doing. I learned pretty quickly in the first week of running that I would have to resort to my purpose in running this race if I was going to get the most out of it — and I needed a specific plan on paper to create the structure to counter flexibility. That meant no bailing when the going gets tough (or it’s nearing 100ºF and 100% humidity in North Carolina).
Spoiler alert: It gets tough. I slogged—slow jogged—through a lot of the miles and recited, “you can do hard things,” on repeat. I wasn’t alone in this mental battle. When I talked to fellow participant Aimee Morey of Colorado, she said, “There were runs that I would do whatever I could to trick my brain, making sure the run was downhill on the way back or knowing a Popsicle was waiting for me at the end. Any little mental trick available.” In short, anticipate the mental challenges, then dig deep into the bag of tricks. Popsicles included.
FIND YOUR COMMUNITY
There is community. You will likely be running by yourself, but that does not mean it has to be a solo experience. Get involved with others to cheer, brag, complain a little and connect — virtually. I checked in with friends who were running the same event almost daily. Our runs looked different and felt different, too, but there was a sense of accountability and support in even the most brief, “how’d it go?” texts. Social platforms like Facebook groups and Zoom calls are great for sharing the adventure, the results, the pictures and the heart.
When I caught up with Kevin “Houda” McDonald, race director of TransRockies Virtual he said his goal was “to make this first-time virtual as interactive as possible.” Every night, race participants could meet on Zoom ChillVille for live Q&A with special guests, running chit-chat and giveaways. “We had 140 people on our Zoom ChillVille on the final night, so that shows me people miss the community.” Kevin’s absolutely right.
READ MORE > DO VIRTUAL RUNNING PARTNERS MAKE YOU FASTER?
YOU’LL GET SWAG
If you are motivated by the race day swag, many virtual races have this covered. TransRockies participants, myself included, are awaiting a belt buckle and shirt — tangible proof of the effort and, possibly, a future reminder of the craziest running year — ever. #MedalMonday will be a thing again.
IT’LL MAKE YOU A BETTER RUNNER
Know this: This season of life and new approach to racing, will make you a better runner. I am sure of that. I had days when I felt like I could run forever and days when I wasn’t sure I could embrace another mile. I enjoyed watermelon and ginger ale at the DIY aid station hosted by myself in the back of my SUV. I did extra loads of laundry to be able to wear my favorite shorts for yet another run. And, on the days of recovery, I brought my dogs along for the miles. The virtual experience gives you the opportunity to work on your mental game, test new gear, practice hydration and fueling options, and gauge your readiness without the real-time pressure of race day. It’s the opportunity to find out how good you feel today and then build and assess when you return to racing as we know it.
My final 10 miles of 120 brought me past the finish line of our local cross-country trail and then straight to the coffee shop to put my feet up and enjoy a cold brew. There was no finish line celebration, but there was a sense of satisfaction. While I have happily resumed 30-mile running weeks after the two 60-mile week stints, there was something to be said about the challenge on the calendar.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A virtual race should help replace what you are missing from running during these times. Despite not being able to run together in real time, we can still run. That means if you want the challenge of race day, you can have it. You just have to sign up and do it virtually.
Pro tip: Virtual efforts are best documented by sweaty selfies and self-timer run bys.
Whether you want to run your first mile or set a PR, having a plan gets you there faster. Go to the MapMyRun app, tap “Training Plans” — you’ll get a schedule and coaching tips to help you crush it.