Races are a great way for runners to stay accountable. You circle a date on the calendar and you instantly have a goal to shoot for, not to mention a reason to lace up your running shoes and rack up those miles.
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But if you live in a small town without many options or aren’t comfortable toeing the start line with thousands of other runners, you do have another option: virtual races. These are races you can run anywhere — your gym, the local track or pretty much any other place you’d like to — on a specific date.
Just like old-school organized races, many virtual races offer T-shirts, race bibs you can print out and wear and finisher’s medals. Plus, you have the opportunity to connect with runners around the world, all coming together to complete a common goal.
Read more: 17 Proven Motivations to Get You Running
Tips for a Successful Virtual Race
Because you don’t have a set starting line, in order to be great at virtual racing, you have to follow a few simple steps to stay accountable.
- Set a date. If you sign up for a race that doesn’t have a designated day, but instead encourages you to run any time during the month, choose a day on your own. This will help you work toward an end goal while training so you can be prepared.
- Pick a program. When it comes to training, there are so many options to choose from. One of the easiest ways is using an app that fits your activity level and distance. Or find an plan online, print it out and hang it on your fridge.
- Plan your route. You want to have a set course so that you don’t find yourself aimlessly running around, staring at your watch or the treadmill, waiting to be finished.
- Make your virtual race official. Recruit your friends to come out and cheer (or even to join you) and have someone at the finish line taking photos of your achievement.
- Celebrate! Share your progress on social media or within the race community and even stage a medal ceremony when the day arrives. You did it!
Read more: 20 Essential Checks to Help You Run Faster
Now pick one of the seven virtual races below (or find one on your own) and get running!
1. Moon Jogger Virtual Runs
If you’re looking for a virtual race and a running community all in one, Moon Joggers is for you. They have at least one race every month and have the goal of helping everyone “boldly run where no man has run before.”
The community has already run enough miles to travel to the moon and back and have race plans through 2023, so this is a long-term way to stay accountable and run to every planet — and back! You can join their current challenge, Mercury Rising, at any time during 2016 and get an invitation to the community Facebook page to connect with other runners, cheer each other on and share your virtual race pictures.
2. Zombies, Run! Virtual Race
Join more than 3 million runners who train with the free Zombies, Run! app. With the help of the community, you can get training tips and cheer one another on in the days and weeks leading up to the race. You’ll outrun zombies and try to beat the other living runners to the finish in this running adventure.
Once you register, you’ll receive a race pack that includes a technical T-shirt, medal and certificate — all you have to do is get ready for the mission! You choose the distance — 5K or 10K — and, between the dates of October 20 and November 1, complete the virtual race on the app.
3. Hogwarts Running Club
Harry Potter fans, this one’s for you! When you join the Hogwarts Running Club, you’re joining a community of fellow J.K. Rowling fans. A charitable organization, the Hogwarts Running Club inspires its members to run and walk by using the wizarding world.
They hold various virtual races throughout the year, with each race raising funds for a specific charity. The Hogwarts Running Club has raised more than $420,000 for deserving charities to date. Once you join, you can go to the Pottermore website to be sorted into a house. Then you can join the Hogwarts Running Club and your specific house’s groups on Facebook to encourage each other as you complete each virtual run.
4. Virtual Strides
Another virtual racing community, Virtual Strides has more than 70,000 members from all over the world on their Facebook group. They host a variety of virtual races each year, each benefiting a specific charity. For example, the Turtle Krawl 5K benefits the Sea Turtle Preservation Society, but they also have races that are 10K and half-marathon distances.
Virtual Strides has been going strong since December 2014. Once you sign up for a virtual race, you can complete it anywhere and at any time with an official race bib. Once finished, upload your time to their website and they’ll send you a medal, which you can show off by posting a photo to their Facebook group.
5. Garmin Marathon Virtual Race
The official Garmin Marathon took place in April in Olathe, Kansas — known as the Land of Oz — but you can still participate in the race. They offer a virtual race in the fall, with registration opening in October, so you can still run what is called a “wickedly fast marathon.”
Garmin wants to encourage everyone to get active and moving, so once your medal arrives, you can walk or run any distance and share a photo of you with your medal on social media. They’ve developed a series of hashtags so you can easily connect with other racers. Even better, you can choose from the full-marathon wicked witch medal or the half-marathon good witch medal — or you can get both!
6. Key West Half Marathon & 5K Virtual Race
You have the opportunity to be a part of the Key West Half Marathon & 5K thanks to their virtual offering. Participants get a race shirt, hat and commemorative bottle stopper. Even better? You can choose from three different shirts to sport as you complete your race.
They encourage you to run your race at your pace, wherever and whenever you’d like. Since this virtual race offers less pressure, it’s a great way to get into the sport of running and push yourself to reach new goals. Even though the Key West Half Marathon & 5K happened earlier this year, registration is now open for the 2017 event.
7. POW! Virtual Running
Because POW! Virtual Running is based in the U.K., this group of runners truly allows you to be a part of an international running community. Anyone from anywhere in the world can participate in their races — there’s just a small additional postage fee to receive your race medal. But don’t let that stop you from joining in on the fun.
Right now they have five virtual races taking place, including the Day of the Dead Run benefitting Strongbones Charitable Children’s Trust. POW! Virtual Running has a great community, including a blog featuring members and active social-media accounts to allow you to connect with others. To get your medal, just go to the website and “Submit Your Evidence” of your race to celebrate your accomplishments.
What Do YOU Think?
Have you ever run a virtual race? Comment and share your favorite! There are, of course, so many other virtual races that we couldn’t include all of our favorites!
Are you looking for a new running community? Try going virtual and connect with runners from all walks — and runs! — of life. What distance would you choose for your first virtual race? Would you dress up in a costume for a themed race? Share in the comments section below!
Read more: 12 Unique Races to Run in Your Lifetime