COVID Leads to Rise in Virtual Racing


GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — With COVID-19 leading to the cancelation of many annual events and happenings – a new type of exercise is becoming more popular.

“Virtual racing” has been around for years, geared towards those not near any in-person events, and new runners looking to run their first race. Now it’s become one of the more popular options for quarantined athletes to maintain their goals and cross the finish line in a safe, fun way.

Tom Ela has been running for more than 30 years and has been participating in races around the country for decades. “With everything canceled now, it’s a little difficult,” he said. “But it’s so ingrained in me now, that I do it anyway.”

When COVID-19 resulted in the cancelation of many races and events, Tom did what’s becoming more popular; he took his registered race – online. “I signed up to do 5 miles, so I went down there [to the course] anyway and ran the 5 miles and turned in my time.”

“Virtual racing” is a niche market for running companies – an option for those in more rural communities and those just getting started to participate in a race on their own time and course, while still receiving that shiny medal at the virtual finish line. But COVID has made this trend a popular option for all types of races, and a great way for quarantined runners to still reach their goals in the midst of a pandemic.

“This is an opportunity for people who couldn’t make the actual live event to participate at home, on their own time,” Brad Scudder explained. Scudder is the Senior VP of Rugged Races, a racing company that had already gone virtual. “Right now,” Scudder said, “about 25% of our portfolio is virtual.”

With the pandemic canceling Rugged Race’s pre-planned live events, the move from in-person to online meant runners could still cross the finish line. “When COVID hit and we had to start canceling events, we began converting those events that we were going to hold into virtual runs.” These races include the Wonder Woman run, a Scooby-Doo family run, and one based on the popular DC superhero Batman.

But the virtual option is also hitting home. The Grand Junction VA’s popular “2K Walk and Roll” event also made the switch this year. “There are 152 VAs, and most of them participate in this every year,” Elaine Corder with the Western Colorado VA Health Care System said. When the walk became another victim of the pandemic, it was time for plan B.

“Around mid-June, I got a communication saying that if we wanted to consider a virtual event, we would have the option of doing that.” So the VA agreed and hosted a never-been-done-before race that allowed the annual event to continue on – just, in another form. This year included independent walking and running on participant’s own time, socially distanced yoga, and other COVID-safe events. “It’s good to know we can still do something. It doesn’t look the same, but we can do something.”

Many running events this year have transitioned to become virtual, so if you’re planning any in-person races later this year – you might want to contact the organizer and see if those are still on.

More virtual races to consider: Foster Alumni Mentors .5k, Run Disney Virtual Series and Wine and Dine Half Marathon, Rugged Races events, Flex It Pink subscription box and virtual 5Ks

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