Virtual races are becoming essential as the race calendar gets erased by the Coronavirus. While we can’t all gather for our goal races, which hurts but we understand, we can continue to honour our training and race our goal distances: we just have to do it online. Sportstats is currently working with their partners to hold virtual events across the country.
“In these days and times when everything is being cancelled and everybody continues to run on their own or in little groups, virtual races are fantastic because we have something they can be rewarded with—racers can still earn medals, record their times and get virtual cheers from our running community,” says Kelly Arnott, founder of VR Pro and Canada’s virtual race leader, who has hosted more than 5,000 virtual runners at her events. “Virtual runs are a solution to keep runners running—and, importantly, racing. As a community, runners are great about coming together and running, despite these crazy times.”
Arnott first put together a virtual race in 2019 and saw a need for Canadians to participate across the country. She says the key to running a successful virtual event is to get the word out, reward participants, and celebrate their results with postings and photographs and typical race day accoutrements custom-made for sharing online.
“The show must go on and it must go on for our athletes—we can’t give up and we must, as a community, reward runners for their training with a great virtual event that celebrates their hard work,” says Arnott, who’s currently in the midst of planning several virtual events right now. She’s hosted a team of 160 virtual racers from New Brunswick at her Santa event in Burlington, Ontario, and says that the Running Room also helped her bring in virtual participants from across the country. With the success of new technologies like Peloton and Zwift in cycling, athletes are already primed for virtual competitions. Meanwhile, a racer in Vancouver reached out to Cam Levins and Emily Setlack, athletes hoping to compete at the cancelled Rotterdam Marathon with a time fast enough to qualify for the Olympics (although, at this point, it’s anyone’s guess it the Games will even be held), with a time trial here in Canada. Sportstats has agreed to host such an event and is also working with their partners on getting more virtual races arranged. They’re even working on making virtual finish lines (like pictured above, with Sportstats CEO Marc Roy).
So, while the race calendar seems to be changing every moment, with the Vancouver Sun Run, Around the Bay, the Boston Marathon—among many others—being forced to cancel, postpone or otherwise alter their events, there are other things we can do.
Race directors, of course, who spend all year in preparation of their one big day, are obviously besides themselves with these unforeseen circumstances and looking to do everything in their power to help runners celebrate their hours of long runs, speed work and time in their shoes.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before, but runners are a staunch group of determined individuals and I think we’ll come together and find ways to keep racing,” says Arnott. “All of the hard work we’ve done in our training will get tested this spring—that test, however, might just have be virtual and celebrated online.”