How to run a virtual race safely

For this one everyone’s definition of endurance will be different. For me this would include a half but someone else could run that with no extra steps. For obvious reasons virtual races really took off over the last year and for some they will be here to stay. For this one we are talking about the certain distance on a given day style races not the larger distances over a time window type ones. As regular racers we tend to think of the cash we spend as access to the course, a shirt a sweet, sweet metal and an official time. We so often overlook the support we get on the course. The first time we cover a distance, aim for a faster pace or return after a significant break we might not realize that we even are at risk on virtual race day. We’ll get into some of the risks and some tips for creating that support network for yourself.

The support you get in a race

Virtual races on the surface provide all the best parts of in person events. In some ways that’s true. You still get the shirt and the medal but some of the non-sexy stuff is never going to be part of a virtual race. Hydration, fuel, wellness checks and potentially medical attention are all things an in person race is supplying you with that while critical isn’t terribly sexy. Once you get to a certain length of race it gets impossible to carry everything you need with you to stay safe. Again this will vary from runner to runner. For me the cut off is probably the half distance for example. It’s easy for me to carry all the fuel I need and if I’m just covering the distance and the water I need too. However, if I’m racing that distance I NEED at least some of those water stops. You might find this post on why we wear race bibs helpful where I talk about some of the nuances of racing many runners might not even be aware of.

bluenose virtual

There is a lot of variability beyond distance in keeping safe doing a race on your own. The weather, time of day, terrain and the experience of a runner all come into play. To ‘just’ cover a half I’m confident I could do it on my own now but I wouldn’t have been that confident the first time. Don’t discount race day nerves making you go out too fast either even though it’s virtual, your adrenaline might still be pumping!

I’m thinking about doing my first marathon virtually this year and my very first call was to my support network to see if they were available to help keep me safe on the day. It’s my top concern for certain virtual events and it should be yours too! I can say that I will need help and be honest with yourself if you need some help to cover your virtual distance too.

Ideas for keeping safe running a virtual race

These ideas are sort of tips and tricks and things to keep in mind to make sure you complete your virtual race and do it safely. For some runners covering some distances none of it will be necessary but it could still be nice to have. In other cases every thing on the list might be applicable. In most cases you’ll need to have someone helping you out like a family member or partner. It’s important to let them know clearly what their role is and that part of it is keeping an eye on your safety. If they aren’t an experienced runner you might have to tell them what it might look like if you’re in trouble. So consider employing these strategies during your virtual race.

sole sisters virtual

  • Have someone on stand by even if you plan on going it alone
  • Be honest if someone should check on you during a 5k that’s okay!
  • Drive your race route earlier in the day looking for hazards
  • Drop off frozen water bottles and snacks on your route (with a note) too
  • Do whatever you have to to have a charged phone the whole time
  • Consider taking a battery pack with you or getting one handed to you part way through
  • Get someone to drive out and check on you 
  • Share your location data with someone in real time
  • Schedule meet up points to have cold water delivered to you
  • If possible have an alternate route in case you get tiered. It’s possible to get so tiered you start making poor decisions. If I decide to run a full virtually for example I might switch from the road to the trail if I find myself getting loopy. Since it follows the main road my support team would still be able to meet up with me.
  • Think about asking a more experienced runner to come with you
  • Tell your support person if they should or shouldn’t text you to check in
  • Pick a support person who won’t flake on you on the big day
  • If your lucky enough that other people in your life want to cheer you on, let them! We underestimate the help that cheerers along a race route give us. Let them know if signs, noise makers or just cheering your name would help you the most. They might not know.
  • Be really specific about what you need. Should they pull over well in front of you and just hand you a bottle from the car as you run by. Let them know in advance that you don’t want to stop at all for example.
  • Leave notes on any drops you do for yourself so they won’t be disturbed or removed.
  • Plan for bathroom breaks, some trees are better than others!
  • You race day plan could include buying water along the way or filling up from a friend’s hose
  • If the weather on the day planned is too extreme you usually can pick a different day
  • It’s best to race on a route you’re familiar with from training
  • Factor hills into your race day plan
  • If your virtual race is WAY outside your regular running routine it’s best to have eyes on you for at least 30 minuets after you finish.
  • If something happens that’s out of the ordinary have a plan for what your support team should do. If your GPS stops moving should your support team call for help or come check on you?
  • Plan your race in easy to get to fairly public area or kick your preparation up a notch. For example If I was running a virtual trail race I’d want my support people to have all terrain vehicles.
  • At the very least let someone know what you’re doing and when you return that day. Like a float plan for a day on the boat.
  • If you really get into trouble call for emergency services as soon as they are needed. Don’t wait!
  • Don’t let pride hold you back from asking for the help you need!

In this case I totally plan on practicing what I preach! Many if not most of these things would be part of my safety plan for a virtual marathon!

Who wouldn’t want a medal like this?

Some of this might seem like overkill but I promise you someone out there needs to hear each and every one of these tips. While emergency services are there to help everyone I think it’s more than a little irresponsible and unnecessary to have to engage them for a virtual race because of poor planning. Had I taken on an endurance race virtually at the start of my long course career I might not have taken my safety seriously enough. So I do think the newbies should be more cautious than maybe they would think. Have you run any virtual endurance races last year? Are you planning any for this year? What tips would you pass on to someone tackling a longer virtual run? Leave it in the comments below!

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