What is a Virtual Race? (And How to Find One)

Whether you are an avid race runner, run as part of your overall fitness routine or just starting out… you’ve likely heard about virtual races.  Especially over the last 18 months.

You may have even seen someone running in the park by themselves with a bib and a cool shirt, like “Fit You Seek, Run You Must” (Yoda is the man!). 

Virtual races have grown in popularity and are a great way of feeling like you’ve accomplished something… at your own pace and at whatever distance you’re comfortable with.

Whether you are contemplating running a virtual race to maintain fitness, or raise awareness for a cause you care about, there’s one out there for you!

But are virtual races as satisfying as running a traditional race with a group of people? And what exactly do they entail?

In this article, we’ll cover both of those questions… and more! Learn everything you need to know about running a virtual race.

What is a virtual race?

A virtual race is a race you can run anywhere, even on a treadmill. You have a choice of running with a group of friends (a team), a partner… or you can go it alone or join as part of a virtual run club.

The significant difference between a virtual and a traditional race is that you don’t have to run with a big crowd if you don’t want to. Maybe it’s a social distancing thing… or maybe you are afraid of embarrassing yourself with a poor finish time if you’re just starting out.    

There is also no starting gun or family members and friends there to cheer you on. There is no start or finish line, per se. It’s more about the journey, than the stats. 

To participate in a virtual race, you have to register online and choose your desired distance and starting course.  

You may also want to search for a particular cause and solicit for donations. Or maybe you’re just in love with the cute swag.

Virtual races can be done on a treadmill, in your neighborhood or a local park. Wherever you decide! You’re the race director.  

Once you’ve signed up, you’ll be given the details as to when you need to complete the race by. It’s usually a few weeks, or even 1 month, out. 

Most races encourage you to take photos and post times on their website and social media. And to wear your gear each time you head out.  Many will send gear (shirts, bibs, hats, etc…) within a few days and offer medals for completion at the end, much like a road race. 

Some of the added benefits to running a virtual race include:

  • You don’t have to worry about where you will park your car.
  • Choosing your own difficulty level and race conditions.
  • The registration fees for virtual runs are usually cheaper than traditional races.

So, if we’ve sold you on the idea of trying out a virtual race… keep reading for tips on how to find the one that’s perfect for you!

Here are several tips to follow to help you find a virtual race.

1. Start by searching the internet. 

Most people start with the internet when they have a question. It’s just how the world works.

So, searching for a virtual race shouldn’t be any different.

You can start with Google, or any other search engine, and go from there. Facebook is another good place to find races, as they often link up with many organizations that have pages there.

Make sure to go directly to the race websites and read the reviews. This will give you a good idea of what kind of service the organizers are offering. And while you’re at it, make sure you check the credibility of every race.

One way of doing this is by checking their social media following. If the virtual race doesn’t have a solid following on social media, take that as a red flag.

2. Identify your motivation.

You have a lot of options with virtual races, especially since location is not a factor. So you should feel free to try any race you feel an emotional or personal connection with.

There is a virtual race for nearly every cause… in every city and country around the world. A quick search can help you to find the one that is a fit for you.

There are virtual races at Mt. Kilimanjaro and on Mars. There are gender-based violence, animal rights and cancer races. If you have a passion for it, you can find the race to match.   

3. Establish your race goals.

Yes, your goals matter when it comes to running a race. So, always put your goal into perspective when selecting one.

For instance, if you are a fairly new runner, you should choose a virtual race that will motivate you do it again. Whether you are looking to finish under a certain time, run a certain distance, complete a race with your kids, or just simply finish… establishing realistic goals will help you find a race that doesn’t disappoint.  

4. Talk to other runners.

Ask fellow runners about the virtual race scene. Chances are, if they haven’t heard about the particular race you’re interested in… it may not be worth your time. That, or you can research it more together and prove yourselves wrong.  

5. Map out your route and monitor race conditions.

It’s always a good idea to plan a route, and keep an eye on weather conditions for the day (or week), before joining a virtual race.

After all, you wouldn’t want to commit to racing around your favorite lake trails during a week it’s rained a lot. That will likely deter you.  

what is a virtual run on strava | how to submit virtual run result | what is a virtual marathon
It’s always a good idea to plan a route, and keep an eye on weather conditions for the day (or week).

You also won’t be able to accurately measure distance with a planned route. 

If you’re unsure of the distance, there are tools and apps to help calculate this, which should likely be done ahead of race time when you’re out for a “test run”.  Some of the most popular distance calculators and tools are: 

If you’re chomping at the bit to get out there (and this can be a brilliant time of year to run a virtual race), here are some of the most popular and well-renowned virtual races worth checking out.

1. Give Thanks: America’s Turkey Trot

This holiday season, you and yours can help support Feeding America®, by entering the annual American’s Turkey Trot

A portion of all race fees go to the Feeding America network of food banks, pantries, and meal programs… which serve virtually every community in the United States. That equates to about 40 million people, including 12 million children and 7 million seniors.

What better way is there to give thanks, and burn off some of those holiday calories, than to run in support of those less fortunate?

2. Best Swag: runDisney

If you are looking for a fun virtual race, and are a fan of Mickey Mouse and friends (including Star Wars and Marvel), then you should definitely consider Run Disney.

These virtual races celebrate your inner child and creativity. You can even elect to run in a costume, or just about any other clothing you choose, that awakens your soul!

You also stand a chance of winning great prizes. For instance, every participant in Disney’s Star Wars-themed races received a commemorative Star Wars-themed finisher medal.

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3. For the Wanderer: Route 66 Virtual Challenge

The Route 66 Virtual Challenge is another race that you should consider, especially if you enjoy the open road. Race participants can run, walk or cycle 2,280 miles of this historic highway.

You will track your progress on the Conqueror app, which shows you how far you are from reaching your milestone. What’s more, every time you reach your destination, you will unlock a virtual postcard that tells you about each location.

The organization will also donate towards the planting of a tree for every 20% of the challenge you complete… helping to keep our country and this scenic drive beautiful.  By the end of the challenge, you will have personally helped to plant 5 trees!

Since August 2020, the group has planted more than 4,000,000 trees with help from virtual runners like you!

4. Charitable Run: The St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend 

If you want to run for a cause, there are few better than the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend virtual race. It offers a variety of distances (starting with 5K) and registration fees vary accordingly.

Early registration entitles you to be a part of a “virtual starting line” event as well.  

As you run, you will be raising money for children diagnosed with pediatric cancers. If you raise a minimum of $250, you will become a St. Jude Memphis Marathon hero

5. General Fitness & Psychiatric Awareness Challenges: Rokman Virtual Running Challenge

Rokman Virtual Races are all about mental resiliency. These races were created for people who suffer from mental health disorders and want to live healthier lives in spite of it.

In addition to mental health awareness, these races are more like challenges that will motivate you to navigate tricky strips. When you sign up for Rokman Virtual, it will push you hard.  

Race options give you a chance to take part in a series of runs for four weeks each month… ranging from short speed distances to 24-hour slog-fests. Interestingly, this virtual race has a 5-star rating on Trustpilot.

6. Environmental Awareness: Virtual Run for Clean Air

The Clean Air Council began sponsoring a virtual race in 2020, which was a big success!

Participants are traditionally encouraged to run their virtual race and submit their times by mid-April each year, in order to participate in the live race day result broadcast on the organization’s Facebook page. However, race times are accepted any time throughout Earth Week.

Final Thoughts on Virtual Races

Virtual races are pretty easy to find… if you know where to look and what moves you.

The most important thing is to sign up, pay the registration fee and mark it on your calendar.  Then perhaps test out your desired course, so there aren’t any surprises on race day!

Sure, you’ll do it at your own pace, but stand the same chance of earning medals, t-shirts, prizes and more… same as if you ran an actual road race.   Just make sure to complete your race within the designated time!

And don’t forget to tell your family and friends, and allow them to follow your progress on social media.  Motivation, in any form, should never be underestimated.

If this is your first race, be sure to check out this general guide on starting your running routine. There are some great tips to help you prepare.

what is a virtual race | how does a virtual run work | virtual run rules and regulations