Anyone who has been participating in any running event in the past decade would know first hand that there are downsides to running events. The worst of these, in my opinion, is how you have to arrive a lot earlier than the race itself AND you might be waiting around for some time (especially if you are a… ahem… ‘slower runner.’). In some cases getting to the start line should be a 5k in its own right, though this can vary greatly. I have memories of walking through what feels like miles of woods punctuated by the occasional ancient frozen lemonade stand groupings at Disney… or that one run I did on a whim in London whose walk to the start line equalled the distance of the race itself. There was even the time that the traffic was so terrible on the way to a run that myself, along with a group of other participants, had to get off the bus and run to the start line itself – a 2 mile race before a 10k (we barely made it).
Now, here’s the deal – there are very real reasons for this. You have to make sure runners are safe and that everything is ready and clear. The first year the Oxford Half Marathon took place the first few miles had cars on the road at the same time and I remember that despite the drivers being slow the experience was unnerving. So for the sake of not being mowed down by an individual who has a burning desire to get to their local garden centre I get why we wait and sometimes why the start lines are so far away.
With virtual runs, however, this is not an issue.
I’m liking how you can start your mileage the moment you go out the front door. That, if I wanted, I could set my breakfast dishes in the sink and immediately depart to get whatever distance I signed up for. I also like how there is a rise of massive distance races that you earn the medals for over time – currently I’m on Hadrian’s Wall -and that when I register my training miles I get a to find out where I am on the wall and see where all the others who are running are as well. Not to mention I get a medal when I finish that is nicer than some of my past marathon and half marathon medals.
The virtual runs have also come a long way on the content. Because of the pandemic there is no shortage of online coaches who can whisper in your ear as you run to their re-programmed tracks. My first virtual run, which was about 14 years ago, was me and my music player (for some, but not all of the run) finding out that portions of Houston which I thought had pavement (aka sidewalks) did not… that my distance registering did not work… and that despite everything I did to fix things I never got the swag as massive shipping engagements – common now thanks the the weekly/monthly subscription box – didn’t exist.
There are downsides to virtual running of course – lack of crowds and cheering – having to sort out your own food and water – people who will continue to walk directly at you as if this will open a quantum realm and you will pass through each other like mist before reforming and continuing in your respective directions… and I’m sure at some point I will be amongst the crowd grumbling about the line for bag drop-off (hint: purchase an obnoxious coloured bag for races as it is easier to find). But for now I’ll enjoy the virtual racing – after all – I keep coming first in my own mind.