Running 101: How to Have a Successful Virtual Race

By Janelle @ Run With No Regrets | running tips

Jan 19

Virtual races – you either love them or hate them! Virtual races have been around for years and provide a great way to encourage you to get out the door and earn some great swag. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, participating in virtual races has evolved from a nice-to-have option to a necessity since in-person races are still prohibited in most cities.

Since virtual races are clearly here to stay, I thought for my latest Running 101 post, I would share tips on how to have your most successful virtual race! Just because you’re not running with hundreds or thousands of other runners, that doesn’t mean you can’t still have a great experience!

I’m linking up with Tuesday Topics with Zenaida and Kim and Runners’ Roundup with Coach Debbie RunsConfessions of a Mother RunnerLaura Norris RunningMile by Mile, and Runs with Pugs!

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Virtual races are here to stay, so check out these tips on how to make the most of your virtual race!  Find more running tips at!

How to Have Your Best Virtual Race

The COVID-19 pandemic has made a huge impact on our lives in so many ways. From the running community’s perspective, we’ve had to see our goal races get canceled, postponed, or re-tooled, our gyms and fitness studios have either closed, moved outdoors or gone virtual, and we’ve had to miss out on training with our favorite running clubs. And moving forward, there is still so much uncertainty. Despite all of this loss, virtual races have become a great way to keep motivated and stay connected with others.

Before I share tips on having a great virtual race, let me remind you why they are worth doing:

  • They help keep you in training shape. I have used in-person races as training runs for marathons, and virtual races can serve the same purpose! They are a great addition to any training plan or running routine.
  • They are lower pressure. At least that’s how I feel! Some people thrive on the race day jitters, but I think it’s refreshing to not have that extra stress. You can also use a virtual race to test your limits in a way you probably would not during a live race.
  • They offer greater flexibility. There usually is a suggested time period to complete the race rather than an exact day, so you have a little bit more control over deciding when you run.
  • They often support worthy organizations. Are there some cash grab virtual races out there? Absolutely. I personally seek virtual races from companies that I trust and that benefit charities and nonprofits with causes that I care about.

Now, on to those tips to have your best virtual racing experience!

Train Like You Would an In-Person Race

I think the biggest mistake I’ve seen with virtual races is that they are often signed up for on a whim. I can admit that I’ve signed up for a couple of impromptu virtual races, and I tend to not take them seriously.

I would suggest looking ahead to find a virtual race for which you can effectively train and follow a training plan that will get you there, especially if you are a newer runner. There are some virtual races that include a training plan, so definitely take advantage of it if it’s offered!

Training for a race is one of my favorite experiences. Just like for an in-person race, you should use this period to figure out the appropriate clothing, fueling, and hydration that you’ll need. And don’t forget to cross-train!

Plan a Good Route

Have you ever signed up for a virtual race only to realize that you have no idea where you’re going to run? This is always my biggest struggle. I ran 5 virtual 5K’s in 2020 and for 4 of them, I made up the route as I went along until hitting 3.1 miles. That was needlessly stressful and annoying.

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For my 5th 5K, I decided to create my own route and it made a huge difference! I knew where I was going in advance and could focus on the actual race experience. This is especially important if you’re doing a virtual half marathon or longer distance. And by creating the route in advance, you can also train on it in advance!

I used On the Go Map to create a route for free, but you can also use Strava, Map My Run, or seek advice from other runners in your community on where to go. If your virtual race offers suggestions for a course that you can access, take advantage of it and save a step!

Participate with a Friend (Even Virtually)

Virtual races are solo endeavors by nature, but they don’t have to be! The longer the race, the more helpful it can be to have a real or virtual running buddy! Just check out Instagram any weekend and you will find runners who had friends join them for a portion of their virtual races – just make sure to keep a good physical distance in these COVID times! You can also coordinate with a running buddy to separately run the same race at the same time.

Virtual mileage challenges, like running across a state, have really grown in popularity, and they are a great way to run with a friend. I just signed up for the Girls on the Run Coast to Coast Relay taking place in the month of February and at least one of my running club pals is joining me. Let me know if you want to sign up as well or consider donating to Girls on the Run!

Give It Your Best Effort

I can runfess that I haven’t left it all out on the road/trail when running a virtual race, except maybe at the very end because I wanted to be done! As I mentioned above, virtual races don’t have that same urgency and pressure to PR. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give the best effort on your race or that it “doesn’t count”, because it definitely does! I’ve been amazed to see how well people are executing their virtual races and accomplishing their goals. I was proud that I was able to use a virtual 5K as my first postpartum race.

Manage Expectations

With that said, you’re not going to have the same energy as you would an in-person race with hundreds (or thousands) of other runners and streets lined with spectators. Know that you may need to work harder to keep yourself motivated to keep pushing when no one is watching. Having a training plan and a route will help prevent surprises, but you know that anything can happen on race day! I always try to remember how blessed I am to be able to run, so I try not to take it for granted, regardless of the outcome.


You did it and you deserve to revel in your accomplishment! Take pictures, share your virtual medal and swag on social media, and enjoy a special treat or meal after the race. You could even create your own finish line and break through the tape! We don’t know when in-person races will become the norm again, so we have to enjoy the victories when we have them!

Hopefully, you learned some great tips on how to have a successful virtual race in the months ahead. Have you run any virtual races? What do you do to make it as enjoyable and realistic as possible?

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