Do Virtual Races Count? (pandemic week 6)

2020 was supposed to be a big year for me. It’s my 25th year running. I also turn 55 (in 2 weeks!). I planned fun race goals involving “round numbers.” In February I managed to run my 10th marathon before the world changed. Later this year, I planned to run at least two half marathons, bringing that total to 50, and managing similar milestones for the 5 & 10k too (needed two more 10ks to reach 75 and seven 5ks for 125). Everything was on my race schedule!

The other goal of running 20 races in 2020 is all but gone with most races in the first half of the year cancelled (so far I’m at 2 completed). A big question arose in my mind last week with so many cancelled races going virtual. Do virtual races count? I’ve never done a virtual race before. I never saw much purpose in them and figured if you didn’t actually show up at a race it didn’t really count. Perhaps now I need to rethink the criteria that constitutes a race.

I’ve done “challenges” on Strava where I’ve committed to running on certain days, or certain distances during the month. Those challenges have never “counted” toward anything more than total mileage. They aren’t real races, even though there is still some competition among fellow Strava runners. I had previously regarded “virtual” races the same way, and that’s perhaps why I’ve never done one. 

Like many runners I obsessively keep track of my stats. I have a couple spreadsheets where I log the miles I’ve run for the day (so I have pretty accurate totals of the miles I’ve run in any given week or year). I also have a couple spreadsheets filled with all of my race results dating back to 1995. 

A race was always defined by pinning on a number and showing up someplace to run with others in some sort of organized event. Most of these events were on USA Track & Field Certified Courses; most of them included official, documented race results. 

Virtual races are on a route of our own choosing, so most likely not on a certified course. There are no race officials or timing company, but we can publicly document our own times fairly accurately with a GPS watch or app on our smartphone. I believe our numbers will be added by race directors to some sort of race results.

There will be race bibs which we can print out at home, pin on and with which we can take a selfie. For some races there are even finishers medals and other race swag coming in the mail.

The only thing really missing is other runners. Although it can be argued that we will all be in it together, although running alone. I think the reason most of us participate in races, beyond the competition (against ourselves or others), is to have a goal on which to focus; a goal that motivates us to keep getting out to run during the week. I NEED to race!

Since we’re not going to Kenosha on Saturday to participate in the Wisconsin Marathon Half Marathon, we signed up for the Virtual Cinco de Miler (which we ran in-person last year). It certainly won’t be the same, but it does check enough of the boxes to count I’ve decided. We’re also planning on doing the Soldier Field 10 virtually at the end of May. Results of both – and maybe others – will be added to my spreadsheets along with the results from previous years.

We are not professional runners. We are not competing for gold medals or prize money. We get to decide what counts.

Montrose Lakefront Track. Chicago, Illinois. April 2019

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