In the new normal, virtual racing almost as cool as the real deal

In virtual racing, a runner picks the time and place to reach the finish line.
       Who says you have to pay a hundred bucks and battle for a parking spot to enjoy one of those fancy big-city races?
      With literally the whole world at a standstill due to the pandemic, creative minds have come up with Plan B.
      Namely “virtual’’ racing (and distance running), an alternative to the real thing in this time of social distancing and so forth.
      Actually, virtual racing/running has been around for years – born out of a need to get more runners involved in things like charity events, etc., especially competitors who live far away from the starting line, would rather run comparable distances at or near home and just make a donation.
      Numerous race companies, such as RunSignUp and Compuscore Productions even include finisher medals, T-shirts and other assorted swag.
      We’ve already seen prestigious races such as the Boston Marathon postponed (and possibly canceled if things don’t improve by the fall).
      So why let all that training go to waste?
      Compuscore, a New Jersey-based company, has set up something called the New Jersey Virtual Challenge. It includes a variety of venues, such as running the length of the Garden State Parkway or the New Jersey Turnpike in a span of 62 days.
      On its website, Compuscore lays out clear instructions which are similar to other race sites who are offering virtual-style running activities.
      You only need two or three miles a day to get the job done and this provides a goal to reach and incentive to get out there when the weather isn’t cooperating or the usual aches and pains feel particularly annoying on any given day.
      Says Compuscore: “You can run or walk anywhere you want, inside or outside as long as you log the miles. You do not have to run or walk each day, you just have to finish the total distance between May 15 and July 15. You will be sent a reminder each day to log your distances as well as daily updates with your location and cumulative distanced logged.  You will also see how you place among the other participants daily.’’
      Now being the competitive bloke I am, this sounds rather appealing. So bring it on!
      “All participants will receive a shirt and a medal once they complete the event distance,’’ Compuscore adds. “All made in the USA!  All mileage must be submitted into a google form to record each day or each time you complete a daily mileage. You will receive the link once you register.’’
      Sounds good to me.
      Virtual running opportunities are popping up all around the world, mainly because their appeal is universal.
      Susan Wheatcraft founded one in the United Kingdom/Great Britain, mainly because she understands the time demands of the modern family.
      She was drawn into the world of virtual racing when she felt stuck for real-world alternatives. ‘I couldn’t find a race but wanted the motivation to continue my training,’ she says.
      Wheatcroft’s platform allows runners to complete everything from fun runs to ultramarathons, without any of the perceived pressures or logistical challenges of traditional events.
      While Wheatcroft admits she ‘loves the thrill of racing with others’, she believes that the accessibility of virtual running is a huge selling point. ‘Virtual runners can train and compete around work, family and any other commitments they might have – all while earning quality medals and achieving their goals,’ she says.
      It’s no secret modern apps on cellphones also play a big part in all this. Technology has made things like paper log books almost a thing of the past. Millennial runners not only want to know how fast they’re going but how they stack up against the competition, etc.
      RunSignUp understands this and has created something called a Virtual TXT Service.
      According to the RunSignUp website, Virtual TXT Service allows race organizers to communicate with virtual racers in pre-set text exchanges, and lets the participant respond back with their time for the event.
      “These responses are fully integrated with the RunSignUp results platform, allowing the participant to be added to official results with auto-calculation of pace and age-grading, as well as personal finisher pages and finisher certificates,’’ the site reports. “People can even sign up for txt notifications alerting them when a virtual runner reports a finish time – just like spectators can get notifications about the finish of a ‘real’ race.
     “Virtual TXT Service can be used to enhance virtual events in a variety of ways, including to send a video, offer congratulations, or provide a coupon from a sponsor. Most importantly, it brings the sense of community and accomplishment of a typical race day to an otherwise isolated athletic feat.’’
      For local success stories, look no further than the Garden of Reflection 9/11 Memorial Race held each September in Lower Makefield. Race organizers pioneered virtual racing for this event years ago and it continues to be a popular attraction.
      Someday live, traditional racing will return. But in the meantime, keep your laptop, tablet or phone right next to your running shoes at the back door. Might as well has some fun while we wait for things to get back to normal.
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About Wayne Fish 2471 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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