I had always been somewhat sceptical about the concept of 'virtual races.' It seemed to me to be a bit of a con, pay over your hard earned cash, go out for a run that you were very likely going to do anyway, send your Strave/Garmin evidence to the organiser and receive a tacky medal in return. I have enough bloody medals as it is without adding more to the pile just for the hell of it
And then Covid-19 happened. I saw race after race that I was due to complete this year cancelled/postponed (did I mention that I qualified for Boston and London this year?) I know that there are much bigger disasters than a middle aged woman not being able to run around a city with a few thousand other people and then blog about it afterwards but I, like many others, had worked hard, planned hard and saved up the air fare for these races and they left a huge hole in my calendar. Almost worse though was the lack of a fixed date in the future to aim for, I'm all for running for the sake of running - but it is lovely to be able to have an event that looms large that everything is building towards.
And I missed people! I missed the sound of thousands of pairs of trainers pounding the streets, I missed listening to snatches of conversations (and making up the rest in my head) and the bizarre conversations with strangers - some of whom I would never see again and others who, via the magic of social media, would become friends who I would see again on line and at races over the years to come.
As the implications of Covid-19 became apparent the number of virtual race opportunities hitting my in box grew. I ignored them. For quite a long time. Then a couple of races I was running with Phoenix Running offered me the opportunity to 'go virtual' and I thought, what the hell! The medals are awesome, the race organiser is an utter legend (google Rik Vercoe) who really goes the extra mile for his runners and there is an excellent online community that has sprung up around his races. Oh - and the inclusion of a Freddo or packet of Haribos with every medal has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with my desire to run his virtual events. It still felt a bit odd to be claiming a medal for what was essentially a training run... but the chocolate Freddos are delicious!
Then a friend sent me a link about 'The Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee' - a four month long, 635 mile challenge to run, virtually, across Tennessee. And yes, I know that it is not the same as being in Tennessee (it is flatter out there than it is where I live for one thing), but I have learnt a lot about Tennessee from people posting details in the Facebook page, runners from all around the world have shared pictures and stories about the places they live. The basic run across Tennessee involves averaging 5 miles a day for 4 months, something that, when I started seemed manageable. As the days went by and I logged my miles I realised that I could, if I applied myself run back across Tennessee too. I finished my 635miles at the weekend and have started making my way back to the virtual start to look for my car in the car park, high fiving all the other runners on the way back (and there are a lot of them, over 19,000 runners entered this event, far more than Laz Lake of Barclay Marathons fame ever anticipated when he first proposed this event).
At the same time as I was finishing my trek across Tennessee I was taking part in Phoenix Running's 'P24 Longest Day' virtual event. The format was deceptively simple. Go for a run of at least one mile on Saturday at 8am, repeat every hour on the hour for 24 hours. This was a virtual event that felt a lot more 'real' than most. We had a pre race briefing (in the comfort of my kitchen) via Facebook live, virtual marshals who posted messages throughout the 24 hours to keep us motivated, and runners posted updates and photos as they finished their miles. It almost made waking up to run at 2am in the rain bearable!
I sneakily used the miles from P24 to complete the Hampshire Hoppit marathon - normally a small, low key, trail marathon with plenty of hills! I signed up for this one purely because I wanted to support a local business - one that would have paid out significant expenses prior to the cancellation being announced. I think that is a pretty good reason to run a virtual too.
That said, I'm not hugely looking forward to running Boston as a virtual marathon...