COVID-19 is spreading, forcing event organizers around the world to take measures to protect their communities. Whether or not the virus has affected your area yet, you’re probably at least planning for what you will do if it becomes unsafe to hold your race on its scheduled date.
While postponement or cancellation are options, an alternative approach could be turning the event into a virtual race. While this can’t make up for the experience of the real thing, there are still a number of positives that come along with this method, including no crowds, no long Porta Potty lines and no worries about finding a place to park.
But what exactly is a virtual race? Runners who sign up register online and simply choose their own starting line, whether it's a treadmill or a neighborhood street. They run the race distance, upload their finishing time and a few days later are mailed a medal.
"There are many people who would love to participate in physical races but are unable to for one reason or another," says Mark Petrillo, founder of Virtual Strides, a small business that organizes virtual races and donates a large percentage of the proceeds to charitable causes. "With virtual races, you don't need to deal with traffic, parking, poor weather or unexpected schedule conflicts or injuries that might cause you to miss the race."
It's also an easy way to practice race day nutrition and hydration, says Alex Anastasiadis, owner of Running on the Wall, an online shop that sells all things running.
"Virtual races can be used to experiment with new training plans and methods to find out what works best for you on nutrition [and] hydration before and during the race, supplements, resting and waking time before the race, apparel and many other very important factors that can make you or break you on your big upcoming race," he says.
How It Works
Most virtual races work the same: participants select a distance, sign up and pay the registration fee. In the case of a switch from a traditional race to a virtual race, simply notify your participants of the new race procedure and detail logistics for transferring their registration. Some races allow runners to complete the distance at any time, but they all allow runners to earn their medal anywhere.
After the virtual race, runners post their times online and are then mailed a finisher's medal. Some organizers even offer race packets and electronic bibs to their runners as well.
Many traditional road races are now adding virtual races as an alternative option. For example, Colorado's Prairie Dog Half Marathon allows runners to participate virtually. The Prague Marathon and the Falmouth Road Race in Massachusetts also offer virtual races in addition to the "live" race.
Another Way to Give Back
Like many physical races, virtual races are often committed to donating to charities, and many operate at little or no profit. Races for Awareness, for example, donates at least 80 percent of its net proceeds to various charities.
"I think people like the idea of participating in a virtual race on their own terms, while supporting a great cause, and receiving some nice bling in the mail to commemorate their accomplishment," Petrillo says.
Whether or not you decide the best plan of action for your event it to hold a virtual race, if you decide to make the switch, always give your registered participants the option to get a partial or full refund of their fee, make a donation in lieu of racing or defer their participation to the following year.
And of course, always heed the advice from your local government in response to the developing situation in your area. Keeping your community safe should always be the top priority.