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Gear and Technology

Virtual marathons: A new reality for runners

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If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that life doesn't always go as planned. With running, that often translates to virtual racing, which can feel extra daunting if you're used to being pumped up by a crowd or your fellow runners. Are you staring down some virtual 5Ks and 10Ks for 2022, or even virtual marathons? Here's how to make the best out of this unusual situation.

The pandemic put running goals on hold

Like many of you, I had laid down substantial miles throughout winter 2020 en route to a goal marathon that spring. But when the pandemic hit, I was stopped in my tracks and had to pivot to a new format: virtual marathons. Racing alone was not what I had in mind, but with a little adjustment, I made the most of the situation — and you can, too!

This year, while some races are returning live, the prospect of virtual marathons is still out there. It pays to prepare your mind and body for that potential.

Remember, you're not alone

The first step is getting your mind adjusted to running 42.2K — or any distance — without the cheering crowds, course support, and fellow athletes running alongside you. Remember why you wanted to run a race in the first place. Use that to motivate you through training and your virtual race day. Know your miles aren't going to waste: Once live races return in earnest, running virtually will have paid off for you.

You also don't have to run entirely alone. You might have already had training partners lined up for your planned race, so coordinate with them to run your virtual race together if you can. The same goes with socially distanced crowd support. Recruit some family and friends to hang out along your virtual course to cheer you on, offer water and food at certain mile markers, and be there when you cross your new finish line. It will make all the difference!

A man running down a road with a lush hill behind him

A virtual run can be a test run

Treat your virtual race as a trial run for future in-person events. Try out the combination of clothing you think will work. Do the same with your approach to fueling up with food and hydration for the day, and learn how to get through the rough patches that come along with running a long race. Make note of what went right and what didn't, and then apply those lessons the next time you line up for an in-person event.

Remember, too, there are advantages to virtual marathons. You get to pick the day you run. You can even look at the weather forecast and pick a day with ideal temperature and conditions.

You can choose the course you want, too. Hate hills? Find a flatter route that suits your style. The same applies to the time of day you start running. Despise getting up early? Not a problem when you're running virtually. Your day, your rules.

No one knows when in-person racing will become a sure thing for all planned events. In the meantime, virtual marathons will likely be part of the running landscape. Plan for the possibility, adopt a positive mindset, and use them to perfect your race-day strategy. When in-person marathons return consistently, your virtual run tenacity will have set you up for success.

Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.

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Written By
Amanda Loudin

Health and science writer

Amanda Loudin running in a forest

I've been a runner for more than two decades and a journalist for just as long. I'm also a certified running coach and nothing makes me happier than marrying up writing and running. Find me on the trails with two- and four-legged friends.