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Virtual Racing 101 – What is a Virtual 5k and How Do I Run One?

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Have you seen ads popping up for the newest cool thing in running- virtual racing? If you're wondering what the heck a virtual race is, or if you want to run a virtual 5k, here are all the details! Direct affiliate links to our trusted partners are used in this post.

How to run a virtual 5k

Over the years you have probably known runners who train and train for 5Ks, 8ks, half marathons, full marathons- or even more. Maybe you are one of them or maybe you want to be?

Usually running races are big events, where the race organizers map out a select route and measure out the race distance. They organize street closures, starting lines, post-race food and sometimes even entertainment.

The atmosphere at these races is pretty awesome. Think of it- hundreds or thousands of people who all showed up at the same time and place to do something healthy together!

There is an excitement in the air and usually everyone is in a good mood, ready for the runner's high.

There are challenges to running an organized race like that, whether you are a new runner or a veteran runner.

Running an organized race often involves some level of traveling, the weather might be bad, or the dates might not match your schedule. There are crowds and it can be hard to even get up to your your normal speed with a big crowd of fellow runners around you.

Or maybe you're new to running and want to give it a try without the crowds, on your own terms.

Or heck- maybe you just lived through the craziest year and there ARE no more in person races.

Virtual racing is the perfect solution to all those problems.

RELATED: Search for Upcoming Virtual Races Here or Here

What is Virtual Racing?

Virtual Racing 101 - What is a Virtual 5k

Virtual Racing is basically like running a race with tons of other people…just not all at the same place.

No crowds, no waking up at dawn to find parking and rush to get to the start line on time, no worrying about bad weather at race time.

Just sign up, and run the specified distance in the timeframe given in the race rules. Usually it is on a certain date, but some offer a range of a few days tp choose from. Others even allow you to complete the mileage over several days.

Each one will vary in terms of entry fees (some are free, some have an entry fee) as well as what you get as a reward for running. Some offer medals and t-shirts just like the real thing, others offer only the sense of accomplishment. Often times the more rewards, the higher the entry fee.

Others will offer great prizes that are often not tied to coming in first place- which is nice for those of us who are not always at the front of the pack.

Some virtual races are for profit, while others are just for fun or even for charity.

Here is a really helpful video explaining more about virtual racing:


Training for a Virtual 5K

5k Training app

While you don't have the pressure of a crowd around you during a virtual race, you do still need to train so your body is ready.

There are lots of 5K training apps out there, but I have been using- Aaptiv's 5k training program (you can sign up here for a free trial).

The reason I picked Aaptiv is that I'm not only a runner. I love to run, but I like to give my body a mix of workouts- in fact I need a variety!

I learned long ago that if I run and don't do any other type of workout for weeks on end, not only do I get bored, but I get hurt more easily. Having a mix of workouts is like cross training your body and it has helped me avoid over-training injuries. (I switched to triathlons after an overtraining injury from a half marathon!)

If you pick a training app that is only for 5k's then that is all it gives you.

With a full feature workout app like Aaptiv, you get your training program (they have one for 5K, 10k, half marathon, and full marathons) but you also have access to a huge variety of workouts to give your body different challenges.

Aaptiv has everything from stretching and yoga, to body weight workouts, boxing and meditation. If you like cardio machines and want a new challenge, they have workouts for all the cardio equipment you can think of. You can pick from individual workouts as well as leveled programs that progress as you go.

How Do You Actually Run a Virtual Race?

Okay so, you've trained and you're ready to roll. So. Now what?!

You could just step out your door and start running, but first consider these tips for a fun and successful virtual race:

  • Find a friend to run with, the more the merrier!
  • Check the weather – you have the flexibility of choosing when you run so aim for your favorite time of day or when the weather is agreeable.
  • Be honest about your abilities, and set your expectations accordingly. If you trained hard and you're ready for a personal record, now's the time, baby! But if you need to take it easy and see how it goes, listen to your body and adjust your pace.
  • Plan your route in advance. I like to plot a route the day before using Google Pedometer.
  • Read the rules of your race. Do you need to sync up your GPS or fitbit to “finish” the race? Are you required to enter your finish time online? Do they use honor system or maybe require a social media post? Make sure you know before you go.
  • Speaking of social media, post your race plans and your accomplishments on Facebook or Instagram for extra motivation. See if your race has a hashtag like #Aaptiv5KYourWay or a Facebook Community where you can interact with other virtual race runners.
  • Track your run using your fitness device.
  • Remember to warm up, cool down and stretch. Just because it's a virtual run doesn't mean you can skip these vital steps!
  • Fuel up properly by eating well before your run, and have some healthy post race food waiting for when you get back.
  • Don't forget to hydrate. Since you won't have official race water stations you need to carry some water with you or plan your route to include water fountains. Some people do a few laps near their house and set water outside their house for when they run by.
  • You might think music will be super motivating during your run, but headphones really cut off your senses. Traffic, bikers, other runners and even- God forbid- attackers are all more of a threat to injury if you can't hear them. If you MUST listed to music while you run, consider only using one headphone, using the speaker of your phone, or at least NOT using noise cancelling headphones. Motivation is great but safety is more important.

Now that you know all about this up and coming trend in the running community, I hope you will sign up for a Virtual Race today.

Where Can I Sign Up for Virtual Races?

There are multiple websites who facilitate virtual races these days…in fact 2020 really increased the popularity of these events but they have been around for years.

This Virtual Racing Website offers fun race themes, and you can use my referral code LALYMOM for a nice discount! They have races ranging from 5K, 10K, and sometimes also offer half marathons and whole marathons, Ultras, Relays and even triathlons. They do sell out of each race medal, so check back if they don't have the distance you want to run. There are some really fun themes to do with friends though, so def scroll through and look at them all.

RunSignup is another place to look for Virtual and In person races. TIP: When searching for Virtual Races, many look like in-person races but they are offering a Virtual Entry option, so don't dismiss it if it is not in your area!

Happy running!

Are you into virtual running? Let's hear your tips for a successful virtual race in the comments below.

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