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  • Writer's picturethe_uphill_runner

Virtual Running, Real Rewards

When I first heard the term virtual running, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. But since lockdown has forced so many races to be postponed again and again, and some to even be cancelled altogether, I’ve been experimenting with different types of virtual running challenges. I’m excited to share how I’ve got on and which ones I’ve enjoyed the most.

The first virtual challenge I took on was when I signed up to try and run 50 miles throughout the month of March with Race At Your Pace. There are so many different mileages to choose from, starting at just 5 miles and going all the way up to 200! I really liked the idea that there was no pressure on speed, or on distance of individual runs, all that mattered was that I kept clocking up the miles little and often as the month went on, with or without Max in the buggy. I chose the challenge as I knew it would provide some motivation to keep running consistently once my maternity leave came to an end half way through the month. It was a also good step up from the 35 miles I’d covered in February from following the Run30 programme without going too crazy and risking injury or burn out.

To help keep track of my mileage and boost my motivation further, I downloaded a free monthly tracker from runr and stuck it on the wall in my hallway where I would see it multiple times every day. It kept me so positive seeing my miles build up over the month and reminding me what I’d already managed to achieve, especially once I went back to work. The colours and motivational quotes vary each month, and I would definitely recommend these trackers. At the end of March I was thrilled to have run a total of 53 miles, and I was very impressed at how easy it was to upload my evidence and how quickly I received my medal - the first one in a long time!

Although Race At Your Pace and runr are brilliant and efficient companies doing a great job to encourage runners to keep adding miles to their totals throughout the month, I discovered The Virtual Run Company just before the beginning of April and fell a little bit in love. The premise is the same as that of Race At Your Pace - you pledge to run a specific number of miles throughout a specific month, submit your evidence when you’re done and receive a medal to celebrate your achievement, but there are a few aspects that made this company really stand out.

Their motto is ‘Run Big. Support Small’, and not only are they a small business worth supporting themselves, but each month they support a different small business and and artist who provide sweet treats and design the t-shirts sent out in the congratulatory goody boxes respectively. In April, the theme was Earth Day, and the orangutan shaped medal was difficult to resist. You can choose different packages either with or without a t-shirt, but no matter how many miles you challenge yourself to run, you always receive a wooden medal.

Another feature of The Virtual Run Company that really drew me in was the fact that each month 10% of the profits go towards planting trees. So not only do the runners who sign up for the challenges benefit from the feel good rewards at the end of the month, alongside the physical and mental health benefits of running the miles, by signing up you are also helping support a small business, an artist, and the planet! I was so pleased I managed to meet my goal of running 75 miles in April, and I know I definitely would have been far less motivated without thinking about how I was getting closer to receiving my goody box with each mile I ran. I’m very lucky and grateful to have been gifted entry for the same challenge in May so I’m already working my way towards another medal and t-shirt!

Although I am really enjoying setting virtual running challenges to complete over the course of each month, I am still missing ‘real’ races. To quench that thirst for racing, I have signed up to the Virtual Vitality London 10k, which I can run at my convenience on a route of my choosing any time between Saturday 29th May and Sunday 6th June, so hopefully I will have another 2021 running medal coming soon. I have even been sent a proper running bib and safety pins, so it will definitely feel a bit more like the races I remember from pre-covid times.

However, as lovely as it is to expand my medal collection, the thing I really miss about the lack of events is the social aspect. Pre-covid and pre-pregnancy, parkrun used to be one of the highlights of my week. I cannot wait for the upcoming return of Saturday morning 5k runs up and down the country. I have participated in (not)parkrun a few times, and recorded my time on my profile, and it’s been great to tide me over, but I can’t wait to finally hold a real finishing token in my hand again and join the queue to get it scanned by a real life volunteer!

One last virtual challenge I have recently discovered is the Challenges section on Strava. I have started collecting a few trophies for my virtual trophy cabinet, and it’s great to see them building up each month, but the best challenges are the ones that promise a reward, alongside the simple satisfaction of completing them. For example, I recently took part in a challenge hosted by Sweaty Betty, where the goal was to run, walk or hike 40km over 14 days for the chance to receive a discounted order and entry into a prize draw to win £1000 of Sweaty Betty vouchers! All these little perks have really helped with my running motivation, especially when lockdown was beginning to feel like it would never end.

What different running challenges have you taken part in and enjoyed since lockdown put races on pause? What are you most looking forward to now restrictions are easing? Let me know in the comments!

To read more about my running journey, please click here to see all my recent posts. Don’t forget to subscribe to be the first to know about any news and updates, just enter your email address at the bottom of the page. Thanks!

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