If you were planning to run that 5K for your favorite charity or tackle a marathon this year, don’t despair. The COVID-19 pandemic has sidelined large gatherings, but virtual walks, runs and races are popping up everywhere. MD Anderson’s own 1.2-mile Boot Walk to End Cancer® has gone virtual. Elite marathons have, too.
That means it’s easier than ever to register and train for an event, says Corinna Medina, supervisor of Fitness Facilities at MD Anderson.
And you don’t have to be a seasoned athlete to participate. Virtual events are great for those who have limited physical ability or are just starting to get active, because there is so much leeway in how long you take to complete the event, and how you do it.
“Now is a great time to find opportunities to get out and get active,” says Medina. “Getting outside and being physically active can reduce stress, and physical activity lowers your risk for several types of cancer as well as other diseases.”
How do virtual runs work?
Every event is different, but they all have one thing in common: flexibility.
Some events, like the Boot Walk, are free. Some request a donation and others have tiered entry fees. Once you register, the rest is mostly up to you.
You pick the course and start the race when you want. That means you don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn, drive to a specified location and wait for the starting gun.
In many cases, you can even choose how long you want to take to finish. Some events require you to finish in a day, but others allow up to a month to finish.
“You can start when you want to start and when you want to end,” says Medina. “If you want to take two days to run a marathon, that’s OK. You just have so much more flexibility on how you want to do your run.”
Once you have completed your course, you typically post your time online. More elite events may require you to record your route and time using an app to upload the information as your official time. Others operate on the honor system.
“Some people want to know their time and what place they came in. Some people are looking for a more casual experience that they can do with their family, without being too concerned about the competition aspect of the event,” says Medina. “There are events out there for both groups, and some events even cater to both, with different levels of participation.”
And unlike in-person events, it’s OK to use headphones and include strollers and pets in virtual races. In some cases, you can even roller-skate, rollerblade or ride a bike instead of running. Some events allow you to participate on a treadmill.
How to train for a virtual run during the COVID-19 pandemic
In many ways, training for a virtual run is the same as for an in-person event: choose your starting point and work up to your goal distance.
“If you need help getting started, there are a lot of virtual coaching options, and it’s more affordable because it’s not in person,” says Medina. “You can get really good training programs online, and many gyms are offering online training.”
While it’s good to set goals to motivate yourself while training, the most important thing is to set a goal that’s achievable.
“Even if you take a couple of days to complete a virtual event, and you have to walk it, that’s OK. Just sign up for one that allows that flexibility,” says Medina.
Remember to practice social distancing while training for and participating in your event. If you are running in crowded parks or sidewalks, wear a mask and try to maintain a distance of 6 feet from others.
Make it fun
Medina says one of the biggest advantages to virtual events is that you can get friends and family involved. Here are some of her tips to make virtual races more memorable:
Have your supporter(s) help you by creating fun relief stations, or standing with signs, along the route.
If the event provides the medal in advance, hold a post-race event where a friend or family member can safely present it to you with some ceremony.
Include friends and family in your training. You can connect through apps or even by phone while training and competing. This is a great way to connect with others while practicing social distancing.
“Virtual events have put the fun back in activities, exercising and working out,” says Medina. “Be open to trying new and different things. Give it a chance. You never know, you may love it.”