Tayte Pollmann’s First Virtual Race Experience

Tayte Pollmann’s articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running. You can follow Tayte’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you liked this article, read even more of Tayte’s articles on our website

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, races around the world are cancelled and many runners are turning to “virtual races” to enjoy many of the same benefits of traditional racing. This past Saturday, April 4, 2020, I competed in my first virtual race, the Operation Inspiration Virtual Race presented by iRunFar. Participants represented 47 countries and all 50 states. 100% of the race proceeds went to the World Health Organization Solidarity Fund for COVID-19, and over $52,000 was raised. Listed below are my top takeaways from my first virtual racing experience and things you should consider when signing up for a virtual race.

Know the Format
Virtual races come in different styles and you should choose the right one for your needs. When considering the race format, there are several factors to consider:

  • Duration: Virtual races vary in length and time. The iRunFar Operation Inspiration Virtual Race was held on Saturday, April 4 and participants were required to complete one hour of any kind of exercise. Some virtual races require you to cover a certain distance, as opposed to a set amount of workout time. Participants of the Operation Inspiration Virtual Race were encouraged to join the Operation Inspiration Solo Seven Challenge in the seven days leading up to the race, a solo workout challenge based in iRunFar’s Strava club. While the Operation Inspiration Virtual Race took place on one day, other virtual races allow a span of several days, weeks or months to complete a given distance or time.
  • Type: The Operation Inspiration Virtual Race allowed participants to do any form of exercise, indoors or outdoors, while encouraging participants to follow their local guidelines for limiting the spread of the coronavirus. Some virtual races limit participants to running only (no other forms of exercise) and others encourage only indoor exercise activities.
  • Cause: Virtual races may have a particular cause the race proceeds are donated towards. For the Operation Inspiration Virtual Race, 100% of the proceeds went to the World Health Organization Solidarity Fund for COVID-19, which was a great reason to participate. Other virtual races donate money to charities or local businesses such as running specialty shops. See my recent article which describes the current struggles faced by running specialty stores and how you can support them.
  • Prizes: Virtual races may offer finishing medals and prizes to participants. The Operation Inspiration Virtual Race will host a random prize drawing open to all participants this upcoming Sunday, April 12. There are more than 140 prizes worth over a cumulative $15,000.

Weigh the Risks
With any physical activity, it’s important to weigh the risk on your health, especially during these times when the coronavirus pandemic is overwhelming US medical systems. You don’t want to do anything that could harm your health, result in injury and demand the attention of medical personnel who should be focused on treating patients infected with the coronavirus. Greg Lanctot, race director of Pacific Coast Trail Runs,  published a guest editorial in our Trail News which highlighted potential risks associated with virtual races, including the higher probability of getting infected with the coronavirus should you choose to race on popular single-track trails where it is nearly impossible to stay the recommended six feet away from others at all times. Indeed, in overcrowded trail systems or in high-risk areas for the coronavirus, I agree with Lanctot that indoor exercise is the only safe form of exercise. Read Lanctot’s guest editorial on our website.

For the Operation inspiration Virtual Race, I chose to complete my one hour of exercise by nordic skiing on trails within walking distance from where I live. These trails are wide (easy to maintain a six foot distance from other trail users) and after skiing these trails for the past few weeks nearly every morning, I’ve seen very few people. For me, the risks associated with nordic skiing on these trails seemed low and I followed all the coronavirus safety guidelines set by my state of Colorado. Participants were encouraged to follow their local laws and to ensure their own safety during the event.

Join the Virtual Social Events
One of the best parts of the Operation Inspiration Virtual Race was its creative virtual social interactions. Participants were encouraged to share their workouts in the days leading up to the event, as well as their race day activities, on iRunFar’s Facebook and Twitter accounts and to use the hashtag #operationinspiration.

Runner’s from around the world shared their workouts, bringing together people from different cultures and backgrounds. The Virtual Finishline Hangouts was another unique feature of the event, which allowed runners to join iRunFar’s Facebook page after the race for live Facebook Chats about how the race went. Meghan Hicks and Bryon Powell of iRunFar led discussions, answered questions and encouraged participants to share their stories from the day with the other runners on the chat.

Bryon Powell and Meagan Hicks give a toast to participants in the virtual finish line hangout.

Race With Friends and Family
Racing with friends and family makes the event even more special. For anyone considering signing up for a virtual race, I encourage you to reach out to your friends and family to get them involved too. You can race with them virtually, or in-person, assuming you maintain a six foot distance (unless you are already living in the same household) and follow your local coronavirus safety guidelines. Racing with friends and family can help you continue to make great memories and is a fun way to pass the time during your quarantine.

Get Inspired
With few races scheduled in the near future, and with many runners forced to train alone or in quarantine, it can be difficult to find motivation to train. As the name “Operation Inspiration” suggests, this race aimed to inspire runners to work out and enjoy being a part of the global running community. The Operation Inspiration Virtual Race used iRunFar’s social media platforms to share runners’ virtual race experiences and stories. Some of the most prominent figures in trail running participated in the race, including Jamil Coury, Meg Mackenzie, Zach Miller, Hillary Allen and Dean Karnazes.

Seeing runners from around the world come together and share their experiences helped me realize that the global running community is still going strong, despite the setbacks of the coronavirus pandemic. Everyday we workout alone or in less-than-ideal conditions, we can remember that runners around the world are doing the same and looking forward to the day when we can all get together in-person for group runs and races again. iRunFar published an article, Operation Inspiration Airdrop #1, which compiles stories and videos from runners who competed in the race. Look for Airdrop #2 scheduled to publish on Wednesday, April 8 for more inspiration from the race.

Are you looking to sign up for a virtual race? Find one near you (or anywhere!) on our event calendar.

Editor’s Note: Be safe as we continue to navigate the uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic. Please continue to follow the recommendations and updates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including proper hygiene practices. Also consider reading iRunFar’s COVID-19: A Trail Running and Ultrarunning Community Guide.

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