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The Rise of Virtual Races: How Technology Is Changing the Running Landscape

virtual running race image

If you’ve been in the running community for a while, you’ve undoubtedly noticed a significant shift in the way we race. Gone are the days when the thrill of a race was solely confined to physical paths and tracks. The dawn of technology has given birth to a burgeoning trend in the running world: virtual races. These digitally managed events are rapidly transforming the running landscape, making it more accessible, inclusive, and truly global.

We first saw the rise in virtual races during the unprecedented pandemic, as the world went into lockdown. With traditional races cancelled or postponed indefinitely, runners across the globe were forced to adapt and seek alternatives to keep their racing spirits alive. The solution? Virtual running races.

A Brave New (Virtual) Running World

With platforms like Strava, Zwift, and Runtastic leading the charge, virtual races have provided a unique opportunity for runners to challenge themselves and maintain their competitive edge from the comfort of their local parks, treadmills, or even living rooms. Whether it’s the Virgin Money London Marathon’s “Virtual 26.2” or the New York Road Runners (NYRR) Virtual Racing Series, the digital realm has brought some of the world’s most iconic race routes to our doorstep.

But what does running a virtual race really entail? Simply put, it’s a race that can be run (or walked, for those leisurely Sunday strollers among us) from any location you choose. You run your race at your own pace and time it yourself, often using a GPS watch or smartphone app to track your distance and time. Then, you upload your results to the race’s platform, where you can compare your performance with others.


The Joy of Running Together… Apart

The beauty of virtual races is that they have truly globalised the running community. Remember when your cousin in Sydney said she’d love to run a race with you, but the commute from Australia to London was a bit of a bother? Well, virtual races have eliminated such geographical constraints.

Virtual races offer the unparalleled opportunity to run ‘together’ with friends and family, no matter where in the world they might be. That sense of camaraderie, that shared moment of triumph when crossing the virtual finish line, has redefined the social dynamics of running races. We’re no longer just racing; we’re connecting, sharing, and celebrating together, despite the miles that separate us.

The Thrill of the (Virtual) Race

On the face of it, you might think that a virtual race can’t quite match the adrenaline rush of a traditional race – the cheers from the crowd, the bustling energy at the start line, the triumphant moment of crossing the finish line. But before you write off virtual races, consider this: with technological innovation and some good ol’ running spirit, virtual races are recreating that thrill, one digital stride at a time.

One such example is Zwift’s immersive 3D environment. Using a treadmill and a device for the app, runners can traverse through futuristic cityscapes, lush jungle trails, and even a volcano (talk about heating things up)! You can wave at fellow Zwifters as you pass them by, sprint the final 100 metres with a cheering virtual crowd, and revel in the glory of your post-race fireworks celebration.

To Infinity and Beyond

The scope of virtual races doesn’t just stop at redefining traditional racing parameters; it’s opening up infinite avenues for the running community. Charities, too, have embraced the virtual running scene, giving participants a chance to run for causes close to their hearts, all while experiencing the joy and personal achievement of completing a race. Races such as the British Heart Foundation’s MyMarathon or the Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life at Home are making a difference, one virtual stride at a time.

This is only the beginning of our virtual racing journey. As technology continues to evolve, the ways we engage with running will also expand and change. We can only imagine what the future might bring – augmented reality races, perhaps?

Don’t just take our word for it though, we spoke to a personal trainer who has a specific focus on running, Oliver Simmons and he said;

Virtual races are an excellent innovation for the running community. They’ve levelled the playing field in a sense, enabling runners of all abilities, backgrounds, and geographical locations to participate in the same event. Before, races were often restricted to those who could physically get to the race location, which, depending on the event, could be incredibly limiting. But now, whether you’re in Manchester or Melbourne, you can join in the fun. This makes running more inclusive and far-reaching, helping to broaden its appeal and increase its accessibility,” says Oliver Simmons, a certified personal trainer and avid runner.

Simmons continues: “From a training perspective, virtual races offer a unique flexibility. They enable runners to participate at their own pace, on their own terms, and in their own preferred environment. This takes away some of the pressures and anxieties often associated with traditional races, particularly for newer runners. It also allows more seasoned runners to experiment with their pacing and strategy without the unpredictability of a mass race environment. Plus, the social aspect of joining an international running community, despite being physically alone, can be a significant morale booster. It adds a global, shared dimension to a typically solitary activity.

Oliver Simmons, personal trainer.

In this exciting era, one thing is certain: virtual races are here to stay, transforming our solitary runs into shared global experiences, breaking down geographical barriers and making the thrill of racing accessible to all.

Whether you’re a seasoned marathon runner, a casual jogger, or a newbie looking to kickstart their running journey, there’s a place for you in this fantastic, ever-expanding virtual running community. So, lace up those trainers and get ready to conquer the world…virtually, of course!

Andy Barr
the authorAndy Barr
Editorial Lead
Andy was late arriving into the world of fitness, running and training. He did not really take up regular gym going until he was in his late 30's. He lost over 7 stone in weight since starting and completed an olympic length triathlon in June 2018. He enjoys playing football, boxing and outdoor running.

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