Last year I had a bit of passing interest in the world of virtual runs, a few of my friends even participated in one but I didn’t follow through on my interest. Fast forward to this year and I have participated in three of various types with a fourth scheduled for this month but first here’s a description of all of the W’s.
What is a Virtual Race?
Simply put a virtual race is a day or weekend where you run a predetermined distance and submit your result, usually to a web site, and weeks later (if you choose) you receive a medal for your efforts. The beauty is that you can run anywhere, anytime, as long as you fulfill the requirements of the virtual race. The virtual races are comparable in price to live races and for the majority of them, that I have looked at, the proceeds go to benefit a cause, a group or someone in need, usually in the running community.
I have been using the virtual races as carrots for my winter running…and if you are on the east coast then you can understand the necessity of the carrot.
The downsides are that there isn’t that race ‘buzz’ that comes along with a ‘live’ race, you aren’t supporting a local cause and that once you pay your money, you will receive your medal, regardless of whether you run or not. However I believe that most runners are pretty honest and I don’t think it really happens that often; and if it does, so what? The only person that these people are cheating are themselves.
It seems that virtual races fall into three types: relay, stand-alone fund raiser, and attached to a ‘live’ race. I have and am participating in one of each this year.
The first are the relays where you sign up to log/accumulate your miles/km’s, normally part of a team, hoping to be the first team to reach a specific goal, sometimes you receive real medals or sometimes you receive virtual medals. These types foster camaraderie, a feeling of belonging and of course the satisfaction of watching your distance, your team’s and the total distance accumulate. Occasionally some people take these team relays too seriously and can be mean, immature and condescending.
I am participating in a bit of a different virtual relay, one that wants to visit all of the planets in the solar system. It’s called “Moonjoggers” and the premise is simple, you sign up, log your miles/km’s for running, walking, cycling, rowing, elliptical etc. towards the goal of everybody reaching a specified planet for that year; for this year everyone is headed towards Mars! Once you stop and realize the staggering distance between the Earth and Mars you will realize that the goal is unachievable over a year but the great thing is that the distance continues to accumulate over the course of many upcoming years, IE. the distance that I accumulate will continue to accumulate and count towards reaching the planet. Last year the goal was Venus and the group has not yet reached there so this years accumulated distance continues to count towards reaching that goal. I have found the people friendly and easy to talk to, there may be teams, however honestly I didn’t look that hard as it is not really why I’m interested.
One of the things that sets this run apart is that there is a cost to register and log your distance, however everyone receives a medal, t-shirt, bib and a card with this years planet goal. This is not a personal profit type of event, the proceeds go to a very deserving person or group with the story explained on the web site. The group has a large presence of FB but a small one on Twitter.
You can check them out at Moonjoggers.
Stand-alone fund raisers are pretty much self-explanatory, they are usually a once a year event with the proceeds (after medals and shipping) going to their targeted cause. I have run one of these events, under the Moonjoggers banner and will be doing another in April, each cause/recipient is noted and their story revealed to the participants. My girlfriend has run a virtual race from another site and received a large medal for her efforts so I can only say good things about their reliability.
Attached to Live Races
One thing that is becoming fairly popular is attaching a virtual race to a ‘live’ race on the same day with the same distances. Maybe this adds to the race buzz but I didn’t find it to be the case when my girlfriend and I ran 5 miles for the Clearwater classic in Florida. The routine was similar, we signed up on the race website, selected our options and paid our money. On the weekend we ran our 5 miles and posted a photo and our time on the web site but of course our results didn’t count towards any official standings. The virtual race that we ran had the proceeds separated from the live race, so the money from the virtual race benefited a cause rather than to pay for the actual race itself.
I guess the question that I am asked the most by people, race directors more often than not, is how can these virtual races make money? Simple, there isn’t any overhead aside from shipping and the cost of medals/and or t-shirts. In Canada medals and t-shirts cost much more than they should due to a number of factors, while in the US, there are lots of places willing to make medals so I believe that with the low overhead and cheap medals, the virtual races are a viable way to make money for a cause.
I must admit that I have had good experiences with my virtual races so far, however I would imagine that there are some less than honest groups out there who would like nothing more to take your money and run, so research wisely and ask questions if things seem off.
Here are a few of the links that I have used or that my friends have used:
Here also is a bit of an explanation of the concept behind virtual runs and a few more listings.
As always, one foot in front of the other.