he pandemic has derailed a lot of plans and goals, but it has also opened up opportunities for new ones. Whether you were training for a race before the days of social distancing or have just started running during lockdown, a virtual race is a perfect way to accomplish a running goal while staying safe. Here’s all the tips you need to participate in a virtual race:

  • Choosing a virtual race
  • How to train for a virtual race
  • What to do on (virtual) race day 
A man and woman run a race.
Finding someone you know to run a virtual race with you can make your training more fun and help keep you both motivated along the way.

Choosing a Virtual Race

What Do You Want out of Your Virtual Race?

People participate in races for different reasons--you stand at the starting line with people there for competition, comradery, personal goals, or the race t-shirt. There’s no right or wrong reason to run, but knowing your motivation will help you decide which virtual race is right for you. 

When you do a Google search and find a list of virtual races like this one you’ll see they all look a little different. You might prefer a free race in which everyone communicates virtually throughout training and shares times and successes or you can find a virtual race where you provide proof of your time in the hope of winning a prize or medal at the end. 

There are also lots of options of virtual races for charity. With these, your registration money goes to support a charity and you get a goal to work towards and a race t-shirt in the mail. 

How Far Do You Want to Run?

This depends on how much you run now and how much time you’re going to dedicate to training. You can absolutely go from running zero miles to completing a half marathon, it’ll simply take you a few more weeks than working up to a 5k. Choose a mileage goal that excites you and will motivate you to go out and run your miles each week. 

Most importantly, choose a goal that will be fun to accomplish. A race should be fun, and while for some people fun means exercising four hours a day, others prefer an occasional light jog. Don’t compare your virtual race goals to anyone else’s--this goal is all about you being your happiest healthiest self.  

A woman stretches outside while training for a virtual race.
Stretching is key to training for any race and a virtual race is no exception. 

How to Train for a Virtual Race

Where Are You Running Your Virtual Race?

One of the most important parts of training for a virtual race, especially during a pandemic, is figuring out where to run. You’ll need different routes as you increase distance and if you’re working up to a longer race you could end up getting bored of the same street over and over. 

The roads around your house you’re used to driving might not be the safest running routes. The roads you run on should have good visibility and not too much traffic. It’s not safe, and frankly not fun, to run on the shoulder while cars fly past you. 

Since your virtual race is happening during a pandemic, you also need to remember social distancing when you plan your running routes. Wear some form of mask around your neck so you can pull it over your mouth and nose when you pass someone else. 

Running with a mask isn’t anyone’s favorite, so consider routes that limit contact with other people and plan what time you run accordingly to limit traffic on running trails. 

Making a Training Plan for Your Virtual Race

The secret to making a training plan for a race? Use one that has already been made. There won’t be a plan out there that matches your exact schedule or that you can realistically follow to the letter, but everything you need for adapting a training plan already exists.

There are race training plans for 5ks, 10ks, half marathons, marathons, and any other distance you can think of that you can use for your virtual race. Some training plans simply tell you what long run you should do that week and what weekly mileage to shoot for, while others provide you with a virtual trainer guiding you through runs, cross training, and food. 

A search of how far you run now and how far you want to run will provide you with plenty of training plans. There are also training apps that allow you to set your goal with things like distance, speed, or weight loss.  

You can also use these guidelines from the New York Times for making a training plan as a beginner runner. They suggest running three days a week, with two 20 to 30 minute runs and one longer run taking 40 minutes to an hour. The other days of the week are for rest or cross training, which is when you do exercises other than running. 

5 Things to Remember While Training for a Virtual Race

1. You’re going to sweat. Okay, duh, running makes you sweat. You know you need to drink water but you should pay attention to your water intake. One glass before and after a run isn’t enough to keep your body going. You also need to replenish electrolytes after a sweaty run. 

2. You’re going to be hungry. When you train for a race in many cases you’re training your body to do more than it has ever done before. Increased distance work, speed work, and runs in general mean you’re asking more from your body. In order to get the results you want from your body you have to feed it. Start paying attention to carbs and proteins so you can make sure what you eat while training for a race sets you and your body up for success. 

3. You need to stretch. When your legs are tired after a run the last thing you want to do is make them do more work by stretching. As sad as it is to admit, sitting on the couch and saying “I need to stretch” won’t help your legs at all. Stretching before and after runs helps prevent injury and improves your running. Seriously, you need to stretch. 

4. You should always listen to your body. Some days you might lace up your sneakers, head out the door, and feel terrible after 0.25 miles. That’s okay. Stop and walk for a while, or even turn around and walk back home. There’s value to pushing yourself, but it’s crucial to listen to your body. Skipping a bad run today leaves the possibility of a great run tomorrow. Don’t ignore pain, cramps, blisters, or signs of dehydration. Give your body what it needs and you’ll get the results you want. 

5. You have to motivate yourself. Since the race is virtual, there might be days when you want to give up because no one will really know whether you do it or not. You have to hold yourself accountable but you can create a supportive team for yourself as well. Keep friends and family posted about your training so they can cheer you on along the way and yell at you to go for a run when you need it. Don’t lose sight of your goals--you’ve got this!  

A man runs along a waterway while training for a virtual race.
Running a virtual race by yourself might feel lonely, but you can make race day more fun with some fans and post race celebrations. 

What to Do on (Virtual) Race Day

Get Yourself Some Fans

The key to a great virtual race is to find a way to make it fun. Just because it’s a virtual race doesn’t mean it has to be only you running and celebrating alone. 

It’s easy to have friends and family support you exactly as they would in a real race with the addition of social distancing and masks. Get yourself some cheering fans to stand at a safe distance with clever signs and applaud you at the finish line. 

Dress the Part

Run in a tutu, crazy socks, or cape to make your virtual race more fun. The people who dress up at races are always popular, so why not be the fun creative one in your virtual race? You’ll likely bring a smile to the faces of anyone you pass on your way. For bonus points, match your running mask to your race day outfit. 

You can also make yourself a race bib to give your virtual race an authentic feel. With a shirt and bib all you’ll need is a goody bag with snacks and coupons for the full race experience. 

Celebrate After the Finish Line

Once you’re done training and you’ve accomplished your goal, don’t forget to celebrate! You should be proud of yourself for taking on this challenge and holding yourself to a goal even though there wasn’t an official starter’s pistol to get you going. 

Rest your legs enjoying a delicious meal or a virtual happy hour to celebrate your victory. If you know other people who participated in the virtual race as well, celebrate with them. You can reminisce over how much you loved (or hated) training and how you felt throughout the race. 

A group of runners lines up at a starting line for a race.
It’s time to put on your running shoes and get started training for your virtual race. 

Signing up for a virtual race is a fantastic way to give yourself a goal that will keep you motivated to be your healthiest and happiest self. Pick a race, find a training plan, and get started! You’ll be so glad you did when you cross your homemade finish line. 

Oct 14, 2020