Virtual Running has been around for years, but has become the main way to run in 2020, as most mass participation events have been cancelled due to COVID. Maybe you’ve run many, or maybe (like me) you weren’t too interested in virtual races at first, but have turned to ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’?
Having run a couple of virtual events, from 5k to the marathon, here are some tips on how to make yours enjoyable when you’re not running surrounded by other runners, with crowds cheering you on.
1. Wear some race kit
It could be your favourite club or charity vest you always race in. It could be just a race bib. It could be both.
Some events provide downloadable running bibs. If they haven’t, you can download your own at the end of this post.
I found doing either of these helped me feel I was doing a different run from normal, and made it more of an event. Wearing a bib may also get you a clap or a cheer from people you pass, although they are often confused why they aren’t more people with bibs too! This is why I like to add ‘virtual’ if I’m printing one. Wearing a bib gets you in event mode.
Bride and groom outfits for our wedding anniversary plus bibs for our virtual marathon (Marathon du Medoc).
2. Pick a meaningful start / finish/ route
Your start may be a literal line in the road, maybe a signpost, but choose somewhere that is an obvious start feature. Ideally it will have some meaning for you, like a place you enjoy running in, or in front of your house.
This will help you get motivated, and feel like you have an ‘official’ start, rather than pressing start on your watch in the middle of nowhere.
For London Marathon, Peter is planning to involve meaningful places: ‘Starting from where my running club meet and finishing at my charity HQ’ (Peter on Twitter).
For Gillian’s virtual Boston, her family and friends chalked her a line and made her a finish tape: ‘Admittedly the finish line pictures were posed as I finished the distance before I reached them! My friends made me one and my kids had chalked one so I just had to do both 😊’ (Gillian on Instagram)
3. Decide a route that works for you
Do you prefer an out and back, laps, or an A to B with someone dropping you off or picking you up? Trail or road? You’re the Race Director here, so get to call the shots.
I like Strava for route planning, and although you do need the paid option to do this, you can get a free trial. You can choose whether to use popular routes and get suggestions for routes in an area you’d like to run in. There are others which are free, including Garmin and MapMyRun, although you will need to create an account.
In COVID times, you might want to think about quieter areas. I ran my virtuals early in the morning, to minimise the number of people I’d pass. I ran 5k as an out and back on road.
I ran my first virtual marathon as an A to B on trail. For our wedding anniversary marathon, we planned our route to pass our church and wedding venue.
4. Get some support (& self support)
If social distancing allows, maybe you can get one or two people to run the event with you, either in part or in full. Some people get their family to run the final section with them.
For longer events, it gives you a mental and physical boost if someone can meet you to give you a cheer, and top up your food and drink.
If support isn’t possible, plan to be your own support and make sure you’ve got all the drink and fuel you need. I like to run longer events with a running pack to carry these things.
Support or not, carrying a phone is a good idea for safety when you’re not in an organised event with medical and safety support. You may also need your phone for some events that require you to use an event-specific App, like London Marathon virtual.
I found racing my virtual 5k much easier with my husband also putting in full effort at the same time. I also enjoyed the feeling that my running club mates were running it too, and we were all contributing to the team result, even though we were running separately. For my marathon, it was great having a supporter with refreshments (pic above).
For his London Marathon, Peter will have ‘Running support from my club and GoodGym along the way. I’ve also got my 11 year old volunteering to run the last few miles with me (aka drag me to the finish!)’ (Peter on Twitter).
Don’t forget some people love to support, like this lovely story of Paul in the image below.
Gillian had great support from family and running friends:
‘The first 32km were done solo but I was joined by my family and friends for the last 10km 😊
They had made posters, finish tape and a photo frame for me all as a surprise! My super fast running friend joined me for the last few miles and my last mile was the fastest of the day 😱. I will be returning the favour on 4th October when he does the virtual London Marathon and will be trying to break 2:45!! (I’ll be on the bike 😂).’
5. Sprinkle in some fun
I really recommend adding some fun. Involving things that make you smile will help you keep going.
Some events (such as London Marathon virtual) allow you to break the marathon into segments. You can choose to run with rests in between, walk some or all – anything goes as long as you cover the 26.2 miles in the set period – sometimes over a couple of weeks, or for London, in 23 hours 59 minutes on 4th October 2020 (UK GMT time zone).
Mike has created a fun challenge for his London virtual:
‘To make things interesting I’ve decided to add a kg of weight to my pack for every £100 raised – come on people do your worst!! I’ve never run with weight before (apart from the excess I already carry due to my appalling diet choices) so this could be a real challenge! I am raising money for the awesome charity Children with Cancer UK’ (Mike on Instagram, Mike’s fundraising page)
I asked my marathon race starter (aka my Mum) to choose a cool way to start our marathon. She doesn’t run but has watched the fantastic The Barkley Marathons (you can watch on Amazon Prime or Netflix) where the race starts with the lighting of a cigarette. I was inspired by having an original start signal, and for our event, my Mum produced a hunting horn she’d won as a child, which worked brilliantly and made our start feel special.
I’m sure you’ll think of some cool things to keep you enjoying your run. (If you’d like more inspiration, or just to see our virtual marathon, there’s a short video at the end of this post).
Can you have someone clap you at your finish line? Maybe even holding up a finish line tape (loo roll being popular for this during COVID times)?
What would you like to eat and drink? Plan ahead to reward yourself at the end.
For me, this was going to a favourite bakery (and frequent long run finish line) after my marathon, followed by a Gin tour later that day, both for us, and as a thank you to our race starter and supporter.
Gillian enjoyed the simple pleasures:
‘Afterwards we paddled in the lake, ate chips and ice lollies and just had a nice time.’
I love this celebration example from Boston Marathon too.
Virtual Marathon Support
Art Of Your Success’ marathon range is there to support you or a fellow vritual runner. From T shirts to keep you motivated through training, to a card to say Congratulations on getting the run done without thousands of cheering supporters, there are plenty of fun and useful ideas.
‘They are for my friend who is running the virtual London marathon. We are putting them in her goody bag. We will be telling her to put the badge on her lanyard at school so her students will know what she has achieved and can can be as proud of her as we are/will be!’
Downloadable Race Bib
What you need: a Google Account to edit and download.
Bib format & size: You can download as PDF / JPEG. The default size is A4 but you can change to print in the size you like on your printer. Or save as your desktop background.
Bib edit & download demo: A short video instruction.
How to run in your bib: I recommend putting in a plastic pocket to protect it.
Virtual Marathon video
Here’s a video (3 mins 41 seconds) of our virtual marathon complete with fun flourishes of start horn, fancy dress, running bibs, and wine bottle finish.