10 Rules for Running a Virtual Race

virtual_matt

Virtual races are a thing. Have you heard? And they’re becoming more and more of a thing. Recently I completed my first, a half-marathon. So I’m an expert, obviously.

For my virtual race, I paid my money, I trained, I ran my race, I got a medal. Sounds exactly like a traditional race, right? In many ways it is, and in many ways it isn’t.

One big plus is that for many virtual events you can run your race when it’s convenient for you. Don’t like getting up at 3:45 a.m. to schlep to the start line? You don’t have to! Are you booked solid for the weekend? Run it the next one—or even during the week.

On the flip side, a big drawback is with no actual, concrete start, you run the risk of putting it off or skipping it entirely. They’re shipping the medal to you anyway, right?

My virtual race experience was good. In fact, I’m already signed up for another one in a few months. I’ve yet to hear any horror stories—people paying their money but never getting what’s coming to them from the race organizer, that sort of thing. That doesn’t mean the horror stories aren’t out there. (If you know of one, please let me know!)

To get the most out of your virtual race,
consider these 10 rules

1. Ask yourself why you’re signing up. Like a traditional race, the virtual race might support a cause that speaks to you. Or maybe you were sold on a super-cool medal. So, what has you sending in your money to participate? There are no right or wrong answers here. Whatever the reason, you’ll want to have it in mind as you toe the virtual start line.

2. Check out the race organizer. Caveat emptor, people. Before you register, look into the company putting on the virtual race. Does it seem sketchy or legit? Trust your instincts. If you know of any friends who’ve run the same or similar virtual, ask them about their experience.

3. Follow the race rules. The point of a virtual race is you run a set distance on a set day (sometimes they give you a couple weeks or a month to complete it). So be true to yourself and run that set distance on that set day (or week or month). If something comes up, try to do it when you can.

4. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. I’m not talking about Shot Bloks. If the virtual race offers a 5K, a 10K and a half-marathon, for example, and you’re thinking about the half, maybe step down and go with the 10K. Unless you really want to push yourself, or you’d be going 10 or more miles in training anyway, you might find the shorter distance more enjoyable.

5. Give it a race effort. Spectators and runners. Music blaring on the PA. An energetic announcer shouting unintelligible encouragement. You will not find any of these things to get you amped up for your virtual race. So what can you do? Give yourself race-day goosebumps. Try to visualize your own scene. It also helps to have your motivation in mind, why you signed up in the first place. It will get you through any rough patch on your run.

6. Stick to your race plan. If you have a few traditional races under your belt, you probably have a plan to execute when you get to the starting line. Your approach to the virtual race should be no different. How fast will you start and for how far? When will you pick up the pace? What will you do if things don’t go as planned? Resist the temptation to change things up.

7. Run a familiar route. I see this as an extension of the “don’t try anything new on race day” rule. For my virtual, I so badly wanted to NOT do the same ol’ trek around my neighborhood. But a virtual race, like a traditional one, is not the time to explore or experiment. If you really want to simulate race conditions, you’ll want to be focused on executing your race plan, not worried whether you’re getting off course or you’ve gone too far (or not far enough).

8. Scout your location. If you’re doing your virtual race at a park, make sure you know about the hours and any parking restrictions. Also, search online to ensure there isn’t an organized race or another big event happening at the same time as your virtual race. (Thanks to my friends Jenny and Andrea for this rule.)

9. Carry water and nutrition. There are no aid stations on the course, of course, unless you’ve REALLY planned out your virtual race and will hit up all the neighborhood lemonade stands. You’ll need to have everything on your person, or swing by the car or the house or a convenience store for refreshment.

10. Have someone track you. If you’re treating this like a race, you’ll be pushing yourself more than usual, and so you’ll run the extra risk of running into trouble. Make sure someone knows where you’re going and for how long, especially if you’re heading out on your own.

9 Lessons Learned at Ragnar Del Sol

matt-ragnar-arms-up

Ragnar Del Sol 2015 was a challenge of a lifetime. A voluntary testing of physical limits and mental toughness shared with thousands of like-minded people. Basically, a unique blend of crazy that I brought on myself.

That much I knew going in. What surprised me was how much I would learn about myself my others.

After running Ragnar Del Sol, I know …

Runners are good people. We get to the first exchange point under total darkness. Then, with runner 1 in and runner 2 out, we hop in the van to head to exchange 2. Turn the ignition and nothing. Click-click-click. Our battery died an hour into the race. Two teams came to our rescue, one to lend us a cable and one to give us a jump. In a time when I normally would have been losing it, there was a sort of calm. Somehow, I knew my fellow Ragnarians would hook us up. And they did.

matt-ragnar-sunrise-jump

Arizona scenery can be gorgeous and boring as hell. We’re having our van jumped at exchange 1. The sun is coming up, finally. Runners from all over have their cameras out, taking pictures of the spectacular sunrise. I’ve lived here almost 20 years, and Mother Nature’s daily fireworks display still gives me goosebumps. Fast-forward an hour to my first leg, a 7-mile straight stretch of Vulture Mine Road in Wickenburg, and I can’t get away from the mind-numbing monotony. Hardly a car on the road to make it interesting. Give and get.

matt-ragnar-vulture-mine-road

Our bodies can do amazing things. Ragnar conditions can be harsh. And running was the easy part! Harsh is running 7 miles and then hopping right into a van so you can jump ahead to cheer on your teammate during his leg, leaving your sweaty self to cool down and collect thoughts on the way. Harsh is running 9 miles, or any miles, on two hours of half-sleep.

With the right mind-set, it’s possible to turn a bad run into a great one. My second leg ventured off the streets of Peoria and into the sandy, rocky, godforsaken Agua Fria riverbed. The conditions were treacherous—with my headlamp insufficient to show the way and no street lights in sight, I literally had no idea what I would encounter with each stride. I tweaked my ankle twice and stubbed my toe once. Not surprisingly, my attitude went south. Finally, out of the wash and back onto sidewalk, I had a choice: I could either continue to grumble and gripe or I could ditch my negative thoughts and focus on the 5 miles ahead. I chose the latter. I regained my footing, steadied my pace, focused my breathing, boosted my confidence and finished my leg strong.

matt-ragnar-leg-15

Headlamps are not for show. Ragnar requires a head light for night running, and for good reason. They want you to see and be seen by drivers on the open streets. I prefer hat clips over headlamps, because I’m already used to running with a visor but otherwise hate having things on my head. Turns out my meager two-LED hat clip works well in the familiar confines of my neighborhood but not in the pitch black of the Agua Fria riverbed. If you know of a bright clip light, hit me up.

There is no camaraderie quite like 2 a.m. camaraderie. With runner 6 on the course, our van was nearly finished for the night, so the six of us could finally break and (try to) get some sleep. We’re at Anthem Community Park. It’s so late, and it’s so freakin’ cold. But I’m there, and my teammates are there, to support our runners in the exchange. Runners from both vans getting together, swapping war stories. These are the moments I’ll remember.

matt-ragnar-night-exchange

When people tell you to dress warmly, you need to dress warmly. Ragnar was all like, “Bring a blanket” and “Bring a sleeping bag,” and I was all like, “Pssh, it’s cold but not THAT cold. I’m from Arizona. I know better.” I did not know better. What Ragnar knew that I didn’t was the amount of time I would spend in the dark and cold not running—waiting for my teammates and cheering them on.

matt-ragnar-blanket

Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep every night to function properly. The operative word here is properly. I edit healthcare publications for a living, so I’m well aware of the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations. At Ragnar, I did not heed them. Trying to curl my 6-foot-4 frame on the middle seat of a 10-passenger van, I couldn’t. If Ragnar had been one day longer, I would have been in real trouble. Thankfully, I lived to sleep another day.

Ragnar is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and you’re going to want to do it again. I figured going in that I would enjoy myself. I had no idea what kind of hold it would have on me. A week removed from the finish line, I can’t get my mind off Ragnaring.

matt-ragnar-medal

What’s Next?

Ragnar Relay has a sister series, Ragnar Trail, and there is a trail race in McDowell Mountain. It’s in my backyard, and if that weren’t tempting enough, Ragnar is offering a double medal for anyone who finishes the Phoenix-area Relay and Trail in the same year. I’m so doing this.

Bouncing Back From a Demoralizing Run

IMG_6332_blog

This isn’t a how-to. This is a help-please! A desperate plea to the runners of the world.

I have a 10K race coming up a week from today. In fact, by this point I’ll be home and cleaned up and chilling on the couch. I thought I would be ready by now. But I am not ready. Not even close. I’m sure of that now, after this morning’s disaster of a run.

Instead of settling into a comfortable pace for one last long(ish) run, I struggled and had to stop to walk. Eight times. I even cut my distance short. At least by now I know when I’ve had enough.

Instead of feeling primed and powerful and ready to take on this 10K, I’m feeing like a failure. I’m floundering. Flustered.

So I ask you, oh wise ones of the internets, a week from my race, what should I do?

  • Do I hit the roads hard this week to try to make up for my lackluster long run?
  • Do I take the week off and rest up?
  • Do I carry on as planned and shoot for my original goal?
  • Do I pull up the reins and run a slow race, so long as I can actually run the whole thing and maybe even enjoy it?
  • Do I step down to the 5K?