8 Pro Tips To Crush Your Next Virtual Race
I'm running in the Chaski Challenge next month and it's my first virtual race! Do you have any tips for how to make it a success?
For better or worse, virtual races will continue to dominate the running scene until the pandemic ends. Runners made the most of it in the spring, but we’d be lying if we said we didn’t think life would be back to normal for the fall marathon season. All of the world’s biggest marathons and road races are going virtual with only a handful of very small races going ahead as planned. As much as the virtual option fails to live up to the thrill and excitement of a real race, we’ve all got to make do for just a little while longer. Running isn’t cancelled -- it’s just on hold for a bit until the world gets healthy again.
We get it -- running a virtual race is HARD! It’s just not the same without hundreds of our fellow runners on the start line. It’s why most runners will never PR in a workout (unless they’ve just made massive, unexpected gains in fitness), and it’s why you’re probably going to feel yourself going to the well much earlier than normal. None of this is ideal, but the focus for the next few months should be on building up as much fitness as possible and having a little fun along the way when the opportunity presents itself.
If you’ve been struggling to gear up for a virtual racing season, you’re in luck. Our Chaski coaches and elite athletes, Tyler Andrews, Devon Yanko, Josh Sadlock, Trevor Capra, Beto Davalos & Mike Wardian have shared their best advice to get you ready to run your best “race” under any circumstances.
Planning Your route: Unless you’re trying to simulate a mountain ultra, stay away from the hills, and remember, there probably won’t be any traffic control out to stop cars while you’re trying to kick for the last quarter mile of your 5k.
- Mike: Use a short loop course so you can get consistent split feedback (and stash a water bottle for hot days!)
- Devon: Pick a route that excites you but that you are familiar with. Know before you go what the terrain, conditions will be.
- Josh: A short, flat, loop is ideal, especially if it’s one that you’ve gotten comfortable using for workouts.
How to Pace Yourself: This is important even in traditional races, and even more so in virtual races where you won’t be getting an extra jolt of adrenaline from your competitors and the crowd.
- Ty: If you’re not used to pacing yourself, run on a route where you can get some consistent feedback at the start. Use a GPS watch or measure out the first mile online so you know if you’re way over or under pace.
- Josh: For anything longer than a 10k, you need to accept that you’re probably going to be better off focusing on perceived effort rather than pace. It’s just really hard to hold onto that pace all by yourself for much longer.
Timing the Race without a Bib and Timing Chip: It’s on your wrist
- Ty: Set it and forget it! Just start your watch when you start running and don’t stop it until you finish. Try to find a route that’s free of stop-lights so you don’t lose any time to waiting.
Aid Stations: Know what you’ll need to get to the finish line in one piece. More important if you’re going for a marathon. Get everything in place a few hours before you start your race -- or better yet, find a friend to set everything up while you warm up.
- Mike: Typical aid stations are probably not available, so either plan to carry everything with you or set up a make-shift aid station on your home course. Bonus - you’ll get to stock it with exactly what you want! (Avacado anyone?)
Motivation without a cheering crowd: We’re all in it for the kudos.
- Ty: It’s harder. There’s no doubt. But know that all these tough solo efforts will make you that much stronger when we finally do get back to “real” racing! Try listening to music, positive self-talk, or breaking the race up into smaller chunks -- all these work well for solo time trials as well as tough training sessions.
- Devon: Ask your family or friends (socially distanced/masked) to come out and support you. Sometimes seeing a friendly face along the way is all you need for a boost.
- Josh: Enlist members of your running crew to help out with the pacing duties. My running club had a lot of fun in the spring with our time trials and using staggered starts so everyone had someone to chase the whole time and then all finished at roughly the same time.
- Trevor: Put your race on the calendar and inform friends and family of your upcoming virtual race. It can help hold you accountable, build support around your race, and maybe inspire someone else to participate in a race of their own.
Setting appropriate goals
- Devon: Picking a proper goal can be difficult as you don’t want to aim too high and set yourself up for disappointment or aim too low and feel unchallenged. With virtual races, I have run mostly by goal “feel” instead of pace. Running marathon effort in a virtual race instead of marathon pace can help make a validating and challenging effort.
- Josh: These virtual races need to be about having fun, first and foremost, so dial your goals back just a bit. Try racing different distances so that you aren’t comparing your performances to past races.
Post race self-love: Crack a beer, grab an ice cream, book a massage...treat yo’self!
- Mike: Enjoy the moment if it goes well and let yourself be upset for a day if it doesn’t. Then, figure out what you learned and move on.
- Josh: If the race didn’t go as planned, there’s no need to beat yourself up over it. Everything’s virtual, and there’s nothing stopping you from striking out again as soon as your body feels ready. Time doesn’t matter as much right now, and every hard effort is another good building block of fitness.
Save the moment: Make sure you’ve got an IG worthy photo finish.
- Beto: Whatever your pace is, you can always have a moment to get a nice picture or video of you, the scenery or any detail you like; whether for social media, friends or yourself, it’s a nice way to save the moment. Don’t forget your finisher picture!
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