Virtual races and other running events are a great way to give your training a purpose, providing you with a clear goal to aim for – and if you pick the right one, the promise of a nice medal at the end as well. They work on the same principle as a real-life race (don’t worry, we’re not talking about running with a VR headset). You sign up for a particular challenge, but rather than running alongside other people, you complete the distance alone or with members of your household, then submit your results. You can run outdoors, or on a treadmill.
Although you don’t get the race day vibe you would with a real in-person event, you know that you’re completing the same challenge as hundreds of other people, and the event forces you to hold yourself accountable to your running targets.
If you’re looking for a new challenge, here’s everything you need to know about what to expect, which events you can sign up for, and even how to create your own for your friends to join in.
Types of virtual running events
Many organizers have now set up virtual versions of their regular races, so if you have a favorite local event then it’s well worth checking the website to see whether you can take part remotely. This type of event is usually confined to a single day, so everyone is competing at the same time to give it more of the feeling of a real-life race. You’ll often have to pay an admin fee to sign up, and you’re likely to receive a finisher’s medal for your efforts. You may even be sent a numbered bib to wear to help get you into the spirit, and those who finish in the top three will usually receive a prize.
Other races are entirely virtual, with no real-world counterpart, and are set up to allow entries from runners all over the world. Some of these are free and some charge a small fee, either towards admin costs or some post-race goodies. This type of race can often be completed on a date that suits you, rather than a specific day.
You don't just have to run a 5K, 10K, half marathon or marathon; there are also virtual events that challenge you to complete a particular distance over the course of a month, or to run on a certain number of days, which could be a better option if you’re a relatively new runner. There are relay events too, which allow you to compete as part of a group. You may each be assigned a specific distance, or you may be able to divide the overall mileage according to each runner's ability.
Logging your results
Most virtual events ask you to submit evidence that you’ve completed the set distance. This is usually a screenshot from a running app, or a link to your run on a service like Strava.
Owning a running watch or fitness tracker will make that easier, but you can do it without one. There are scores of apps (including MapMyRun, Strava and Adidas Runtastic) that allow you to record runs using nothing but your phone. Just open the app, find the running option and tap ‘Start’ to begin logging.
Some of the best virtual running events
Missing your regular running club, or don’t feel quite confident to join one yet? Rock n Roll bills itself as a virtual running club, with its own race series and weekly challenges, plus advice on training, fitness and nutrition.
It’s free to create an account, after which you can enter your first event. Completing events and earning achievements will earn you points, which you can redeem for special offers on gear like running shoes, sportswear, and medals (which look great). Rock n Roll VR supports all the big running apps, so it’s easy to get started and begin racking up points.
RunThrough hosts real-life races throughout the UK, but its virtual marathon series is open to runners all over the world. Each event is slightly different; the Tokyo challenge suggests that you split the 26.2 mile marathon distance over four runs, the Athens event tasks you with running just over a mile per day for 25 days, and the Berlin event asks you to run two half marathons within a single month. You can also complete any of the events by running the full marathon distance in one go.
There’s an entry fee to take part, but you’ll receive a medal once your results have been accepted and there are special prizes for the top five finishers. If you’re ranking highly and are knocked off the, you can re-enter to try and reclaim your spot.
Every month, fitness app Strava hosts 5K, 10K and half marathon challenges, which you can complete any time that’s convenient for you. There are also various special running events and challenges that take place throughout the year – often virtual counterparts to real-life events, or sponsored by particular companies.
Strava virtual races and challenges won’t give you any medals, but they’re free to enter and you’ll get a nice achievement badge in the app. They’re convenient, too – just sign up for your chosen event, and you’re ready to start. Provided you’ve linked your fitness app of choice to Strava, your workouts will be logged automatically with no need to enter any data by hand.
If you're motivated by a good medal, check out Gone for a Run. It hosts a huge array of virtual events, with distances for all ability levels. All events have an entry fee, which goes towards a goodie bag that includes a medal, running number to wear on the day, and a finisher's T-shirt. Many of the company's virtual events also donate a portion of your entry fee to charity.
Make your own virtual running event
Can’t see anything that appeals? You can also create your own virtual event, either for yourself, or for your entire running club. This could be as simple as setting a distance and a timeframe, and asking everyone to enter their times in a spreadsheet, but to make things a little more fun we recommend checking out My Virtual Mission.
It’s not completely free (there’s a small fee for each person who enters, which can be paid by the individual or the organizer), but it’s fun and super convenient. Set a start and end point on a world map (with stops along the way, if you like) and share the invitation link with your teammates so they can sign up.
My Virtual Mission connects with several of the biggest running apps, so each participant’s times and distances are uploaded automatically, and you can see how close you are to achieving your goal as a marker moves across a world map.
Just make sure you set a goal that’s challenging enough. Having a goal in mind is a great motivator, and when one member of the TechRadar team used it to create a virtual challenge for her running club, with a goal of running the length of the UK from Land’s End to John o' Groats, she was amazed that it was completed in a couple of weeks. If in doubt, make it tough!
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Cat is the editor of TechRadar's sister site Advnture. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better)