What is a Virtual Race?

What is a virtual race? This was something I found myself asking a few weeks ago after a ‘suggested post’ popped up on my Facebook feed. I decided to investigate.

As it turns out, a virtual race isn’t something where you need the latest virtual reality gear to compete, rather than the ability to complete a certain race distance over an allotted amount of time and provide evidence that you did it.

After a bit more digging around, I found loads of websites offering ‘virtual races’ for me to enter. They all followed the same blueprint:

  1. Select a race distance; 5km, 10km, half marathon or full marathon (or 9+3/4 km for a Harry Potter medal – a nice touch);
  2. Choose your medal;
  3. Pay the entry fee;
  4. Run / jog / walk the distance over the allotted time;
  5. Submit your evidence (photos or screenshots of your running app);
  6. See where you rank on the leader-board while you wait for the postman to deliver your medal.

I drew up a list of pros and cons from the information I could find.

The Pros

  • A virtual race is cheaper than a traditional race. This is because a virtual race doesn’t need to pay for marshals, road closures and any other event administration. Prices typically range from £5 – £15;
  • Some of your entry fee is gifted to charity – this is a nice idea. Some races let you choose your charity whereas others will stipulate what charity will be benefiting from your donation. Most sites were donating between £2 – £5.
  • There is [normally] no set date for a virtual race. Most races had a timescale in which to complete the event, for example, the month of September. I liked this idea, as I have a busy timetable and am not always available to compete at a weekend event. It also means that if it is raining one day, I can hang around for a dry day to run the virtual race!
  • There is no route to follow. You can choose to run your race distance wherever you like and you don’t have to travel to wherever to compete.
  • You don’t have to run the race in one go. A lot of the sites allow you (depending on which race you choose) to break up the race distance into several chunks. So, if you can’t run 10km in one go, do 5km one day and the next 5km a few days after. So long as you complete the race distance in their time-frame, you are eligible for the medal.

The Cons

  • You would need some sort of activity tracker in order to prove you had completed the event and / or a good mobile data allowance;
  • You could cheat (but I suppose you would only be cheating yourself).


My Verdict

After weighing it all up, it seemed like a good idea to me. Competing in a virtual race would give me an incentive to go out for a run rather than the boring reason of doing it to keep fit. It would also mean that I wouldn’t have to wait ages for my next medal, I could sign up and do one now!

Although a part of me feels that it is a money grabbing exercise for [in some cases] low hanging fruit, I do like a good, shiny medal. How are virtual runs perceived in the world of hardcore runners? I don’t know, but I’d imagine in a similar way how the world of rock music perceives Nickelback. The way I see it; it’s getting me off the couch and keeping me fit, and that’s not a bad thing!

Below is a list of some of the UK based virtual race websites I have come across.

POW! Virtual Running

Race The Distance

The Virtual Runner

Medal Mad

Virtual Runner

Virtual Racing UK

My Race

What are your thoughts? Have you run any good virtual races recently? Is it something you’d like to try? Let me know in your comments, I’m keen to learn more about this virtual running world!