This past Saturday morning, I completed my first virtual race. Previously, I had never seriously considered participating in a virtual race. Sure, I had seen advertisements for virtual races with really cool looking medals that were tempting, but the idea of a virtual race never fully made sense to me. That is, it never made sense until now.
For several months I had been training for a half marathon and was looking forward to the race. As the coronavirus pandemic ramped up, many races were canceled. I continued following my training plan and hoped that my race would be spared. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
With the race off my calendar, I had to decide what to do. Should I continue my current training plan? I wanted to know if I could improve on my half marathon time, so I chose to continue training. I thought it might be nice to do something special to celebrate the completion of my plan. Suddenly, a virtual race made sense.
It just so happened that one of the podcasts that I listen to regularly, Marathon Training Academy, was offering a virtual race, The “Social Distancing” Run. Perfect. I registered and then continued training for race day.
Even though it wasn’t a “real” race, I tried to treat it like I would any other. I figured out my race clothes ahead of time and checked that I had everything that I would need. To stay positive, I chose to wear the “I did it” runDisney shirt that I had purchased when I completed my first half marathon last year. Just like other races, I fueled and hydrated my body and made certain to get plenty of sleep.
Race morning was cold and wet. I could have easily delayed the race until the following day, and that thought did cross my mind, but I chose not to postpone it. This was race day and I was going to run.
Overall, the race went well. I have to say that it didn’t feel like a “real” race. There was no external stimulation or excitement. The adrenaline just wasn’t there. One thing that was there was the pain. My hips and quadriceps gave me quite a bit of trouble after mile seven. Since there were no cheering spectators to help me through the discomfort, I relied on eighties rock tunes.
With one mile to go, I had to push myself through the pain. Even so, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I still had a little kick left at the finish. I was even more surprised to see the finish time on my watch, a personal best.
After the race, I took a photo to remember it and later posted it to the Facebook group established for participants of the virtual run. This is when the best part of the virtual race happened. Almost instantaneously, other members of the group were congratulating me. What initially had felt like a solo race, now felt like a community event. It was amazing! People from all over, complete strangers, were offering their support.
I have to say that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the Facebook group part of the virtual run. Being an introvert, I generally keep quiet. I had considered not even posting anything about my race. However, part of the virtual run was the group and I felt like I should report that I had finished. The response that I received was wonderful and it made me realize that the point of the virtual run was not just to have a substitute event for a canceled race, but to offer a way to support fellow runners. It was to provide a community and a source of hope in these difficult days.
Thinking about hope reminds me of a scripture verse.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)
Although it can be difficult to think about the future when the present seems so daunting, I think you would agree that life is miserable without hope. We all need hope. Virtual runs are one way to encourage hope. There is hope when you set out to run your virtual race. There is hope in a virtual community of supportive runners. There is hope when your running inspires someone else to run.
Even though I’m looking forward to the day when we can physically run together again, I am very thankful for the experience this virtual race has provided. It has been a source of light in a dark place. These days may feel uncertain, but I’ll hold onto hope and keep running toward brighter days ahead. I hope you will too.