With limited travel options and many of us sticking close to home, what are thousands of runners up to now with most races cancelled and their destination race plans gone awry? Hello, virtual travel and virtual racing.
But how can a virtual race without the fanfare even compare to the real deal? Think of all of the spectators, the chip timing mats, the water stations and entertainment, not to mention the joy of traveling to and exploring a different city. Virtual racing is a different beast, without a doubt, but lacing up for one does have some advantages.
First off, it allows you to satisfy your wanderlust. In August, I completed my second journey running virtually across the state of Tennessee in the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee (GVRAT)—a 1,022-kilometre race from the west corner of this southern state going east to the eastern tip created by Lazarus Lake, the man behind the grueling Barkley Marathons. Over the total distance of 2,044 kilometres and with each daily pitstop, I quickly researched where I’d stopped and got to know the state a bit better. Did you know it’s a state with plenty of pretty hollows? I also took inspiration from the photos of runners in the race from around the world.
For racing (and traveling!) virtually, here are our top picks.
Virtual Travel: The Circumpolar Race Around the World
Distance: 48,550 kilometres
How it works: In a relay team of ten (or either runners or multisport), the Circumpolar Race Around the World is divided into 12 regions (so you can opt to do only certain regions if the entire race is too much of a commitment)and you log your distance onto the CRAW site. If you don’t have a team, the race organizers can help connect you with one.
Race period: The race kicked off September 1, 2020 and has no specific end date. However if you wish to place gold or silver, the end date is December 31, 2021.
Why you should race it: CRAW is created by Lazarus Lake, creator of the aforementioned Barkley Marathons. And if it’s anything like the GVRAT, you’ll have a supportive and enthusiastic crowd of runners in the race’s Facebook group. Plus regular, inspirational (and funny!) posts from Laz himself.
Virtual Travel: The Great Canadian Crossing
Distance: 4,800 kilometres
How it works: You can run, walk, ride or even ski or snowshoe the Great Canadian Crossing distance. You can also choose to complete only certain provinces. Log your Strava distances onto the race’s system when you complete some kilometres.
Race period: This race (from the team who runs the 5 Peaks race series) kicked off on Canada Day, July 1, 2020. It ends July 1, 2021.
Why you should race it: You get to explore the beauty of Canada virtually. And the wooden medals for each province and the one for the entire country are covetable. We vote for exploring the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, or the fjords in Newfoundland.
Virtual Travel: The Inca Trail Virtual Marathon
Distance: 42.2 kilometres
How it works: Run, walk, swim or bike
Race period: You pick your start date and timeframe.
Why you should race it: Always been jealous of everyone’s photos at Machu Picchu? Here’s your chance to join their ranks, and score some eye-catching bling for running the Inca Trail Virtual Marathon along Peru’s Inca Trail and through Machu Picchu. Plus the race organizer, The Conqueror, will donate to plant one tree for every 20 percent of the race you complete; complete the distance and you’ve helped plant five trees! And with a little photoshop, you can have your own photo atop Macchu Picchu, that selfie everyone takes.
Virtual Travel: Races in destinations worldwide via Virtual Runners
Distance: Races are available in 5k, 10k, half-marathon and marathon distances.
How it works: Run on the specified race day for your event and track your race using an app or running watch. Then upload your race time to the Virtual Runners portal and you’ll receive your participant ranking.
Race period: Dates are specified for each event on the Virtual Runners site.
Why you should race it: There are several great cities and themes featured, including the Bridges of London, the Moscow Running Czar Marathon and the Pharaoh Marathon. With the range of options, you’ll be able to find a destination that fits where you truly wish you were packing your suitcase for.