The Dos and Don'ts of Virtual Racing

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Maybe a virtual race is your first choice or perhaps you're trying to salvage training after a canceled event. Regardless of the reason, there are some real benefits to racing solo. Sure, you won't have cheering crowds or a post-race beer tent, but what you lose in those areas can be made up in flexibility and cost savings. If you're ready to toe the line for a virtual race, there are a few things to keep in mind. Whether you're gunning for a PR or simply out to have fun, these tips can help you make the most of the experience.

DO choose your course carefully. One of the biggest pros of a virtual race is that you get to decide where you run. Beautiful scenery vs. a downhill finish? Convenient to your home vs. a new and exciting route? The options are plentiful. If you're choosing to run a virtual race after the cancelation of a live event, be sure to follow the requests of local authorities and race directors. After some spring 2020 races were canceled (e.g. the Boston Marathon and Brooklyn Half), some runners said they planned to run the course anyway. In some situations this might be OK, but in other cases, the traffic conditions or crowding may make it unsafe. Bottom line: Follow the rules!

DON'T run in unsafe conditions. Let's say you plan to run your virtual half marathon on a Saturday morning, but when you wake up, the weather is unseasonably hot/stormy/icy. One of the benefits of a virtual race is that you (usually) have the flexibility to choose your start time and day. Take advantage of that and begin your run when you'll have the best chance of success.

DO read the fine print. If you're hoping to win an age group prize or see your name on the leaderboard, pay attention to any requests from the race director. If your race requires you to submit your time online, make sure your GPS activity setting is public. And pay attention to net elevation loss—some virtual races put a cap on it. The recent McKirdy Mile series required all routes to have no more than 53 feet (or 1%) elevation loss.

DON'T forget about fueling. For shorter races, fueling isn't as important, but if you're planning to run a half or full marathon, be sure to plan out what you'll consume and how you'll access it. Some runners like carrying their fuel in a belt or hydration pack while others might prefer to map out a loop course and set up a personal aid station at their porch or car. Whatever option you choose; make sure you tailor your plan to the race distance and the weather conditions. And even though the post-race party may be cancelled, planning a favorite treat is a great way to stay motivated.

DO make it a fun experience. Is there something that will make your race extra motivating or special? Consider printing out a paper bib number to give the run an "official" feel or ask family members to set up a paper chain or toiler paper finish line. Other ideas might include a DIY race T-shirt or a special finisher's token (like a piece of jewelry you've been eyeing). 

DO share your results. Just run your fastest 5K? Finished your first ever half marathon? Virtual or not, your race deserves celebrating. Take that finish line photo and share it on Facebook or mention your new PR to your running buds. Just like there's no definition of a "real runner," a real race is whatever you make it, so revel in your accomplishment!

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