After running not only my first ever virtual race, but also my first ever race with my son in the buggy, I wanted to write a race report sharing the pros and cons of virtual races along with my experience of a virtual race day.
I signed up for the Virtual Vitality London 10k after graduating from the This Mum Runs Run30 programme (similar to Couch to 5k) as an extra motivator to continue with my postpartum running journey. Although it didn’t end up being my first postpartum 10k or even my first buggy 10k, I was still really excited to go out there on race day in search of a post baby personal best - in my case I was chasing the elusive sub-60 finish time. But before I go into detail of my own race experience, let’s look at some of the reasons I considered before signing up to a virtual race.
There are a few obvious positives when it comes to virtual races, the first one being the freedom to choose your own route. Some people might worry about measuring out a course, but I found it really simple to find a flat, local 5k route that I could run as an out-and-back to provide me with a great setting for my 10k. Being able to scout out the flattest route I could gave me the perfect opportunity to go for that PB attempt. The possibility of running from my doorstep also took away a lot of the nerves I usually feel on race days around travelling to the correct location at the correct time, rushing to find parking and the start line, and the timing of pre-race fuelling or toilet trips, all of which can add extra stress to an event that’s meant to be fun. On the other hand, there was also no hanging around anxiously at the start line either, as soon as I was ready I was free to set off.
Some virtual races require you to run on a certain day at a certain time, and it would definitely add to my motivation to think that hundreds or even thousands of other runners are lacing up and setting off around the country at the same time as me, however the way the Virtual Vitality London 10k was organised meant that I could choose a convenient time to run the distance over the space of a week (which also coincided with the school half term). This was a huge positive as I could adapt my plans depending on the weather forecast and existing family commitments without having to miss out on anything. It also removed a lot of pressure to have the perfect race as, if everything went a bit pear-shaped, then I could potentially have another attempt (or two) later in the week!
All of these positives of virtual events also meant that I could choose to run with Max in the buggy without having to worry about finding a race that accepts buggy runners, or navigating the buggy through crowds and unfamiliar places. Being able to run with my little co-pilot was one of the best things about the whole experience. I also loved receiving my race number in the post a few weeks earlier, giving the event a proper sense of occasion and making it feel a bit different from any other buggy run I’d done up until now. I also amazingly bumped into another runner wearing her race number, running pretty much the exact same route at the exact same time as me, so I was really reminded that I was part of something bigger, and that was the extra motivation I needed towards the end to keep going when it got tough.
Even though there are so many brilliant aspects of running a virtual race, there were definitely a few things I missed when comparing this experience to a ‘normal’ race day. What I missed the most was the lack of supporters, being surrounded by other runners and people cheering you on from the sidelines. I really needed that boost when I got to around 8.5km - a crowd honestly would have made such a difference to my motivation levels. I also really missed that feeling of seeing the finish line come into view and knowing you are nearly there. Of course I knew roughly where my imaginary finish line would be, but it just isn’t quite the same! It’s hard to describe the feeling of relief that emanates from the runners around you at the moment when you all realise that you are almost at the end, that you have made it!
There’s also a bit of an anticlimax at the end of a virtual race, because there is no immediate celebration or gratification in the form of a medal or even congratulatory hugs and smiles. It’s also down to each individual runner to take responsibility for recording their race time and distance correctly, and sending off the evidence in order to claim your well-earned reward - in this case both a medal and a t-shirt! I felt nervous about my Strava app not recording properly, but in reality it went really smoothly, and I was very glad of the frequent pace and distance reminders each half-kilometre. I'm looking forward to receiving some exciting post soon!
Despite these few slightly negative aspects, for me personally, everything seemed to align to let me run the race I’d hoped for. I admitted to a few people beforehand that I thought a finish time in under an hour was still slightly out of reach for me and the buggy, so I was absolutely delighted to finish in 57 minutes 40 seconds! The flat, uncrowded route and the slightly overcast morning definitely played a big part in making that time achievable, as well as the fact that Max didn’t moan or whine a single time throughout the race, so we didn’t have to make any unexpected stops for snacks, cuddles or collecting dropped toys. Maybe he just likes going faster than usual?!
I had planned to use the first kilometre or two as a slower warm up and then push harder towards the end, but I’m actually quite glad that I went out faster than I had intended to, even though it still took me a while to get into my stride. As I mentioned before, the final 1.5 kilometres did require me to dig really deep, but I knew that I had a little bit of leeway to slow down slightly if I needed to and still make it to 10k in under an hour, and that really helped, especially without the boost of a noisy race crowd. The only other issue was that towards the end my shorts had ridden up quite far and there was a bit of thigh chafing going on, but no way was that going to stop me when I realised I was on track for such a good time!
After I completed the race I was so grateful to have so many people congratulating me on social media and I loved seeing everyone else who’d been involved sharing their own experiences too. It went a long way towards making up for the lack of race day atmosphere that coronavirus put on pause for so many.
All in all I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in the Virtual Vitality London 10k and I would definitely recommend signing up for a virtual race, even though 'real' races are also thankfully making a big comeback now. There are so many to choose from and I’m sure you would be able to find the perfect one for you, whether you are a fellow buggy runner who struggles to find buggy friendly races, someone with lots of family or work commitments to work around who would benefit from the freedom of choosing your own date, time and route, or someone hoping for a new PB and being able to hunt for a super flat course!
Have you taken part in the Virtual Vitality London 10k or any other virtual events since lockdown put ‘normal’ races on pause? Which ‘real’ event are you most looking forward to now restrictions are easing? Let me know in the comments! You can also click here to read all about the different virtual events I've tried and tested this year.
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