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September 22, 2016

Race Trends: Virtual Races

Grow online registration with virtual races

If you subscribe to the traditional school of thought, then common sense tells you that to participate in a race, athletes have to actually GO to a race. It’s not like they can participate in a race from the comfort of their own neighborhood, right? I mean, races are meticulously planned and organized events that happen on one day at one location, right?


While this WAS the case, a new trend in the racing world is making it possible for racers from all over the world to fill out an online race registration, tie up their laces and GO. No need to show up at a specific place at a specific time with specific people. They just GO.

I’m talking about virtual races.


What Are Virtual Races?

Virtual races are any event that an athlete can participate in without being committed to a specific location. Some virtual races go hand-in-hand with actual in-person events and others are 100% location free. Some virtual races take a more unified approach, where all athletes have to start at the time posted on their race registration website, while others let athletes do the race on their own time.

There are definitely free virtual races out there, but these days most of them have a race registration fee, especially if it’s tied to an in-person event. But event organizers have stepped up their game and made the virtual experience pretty amazeballs for their athletes; in addition to pretty sweet schwag, some races that offer a virtual option, like the Falmouth Road Race, actually had apps created so their virtual runners could enjoy the exact same scenery that they’re live athletes did. Kind of like virtual reality meets running, aka ALL SORTS OF AWESOME.

Strictly virtual races have their own all-sorts-of-awesome qualities; since they have no overhead, a lot of them donate a TON of the proceeds to charity which for obvious reasons is pretty fantastic.


Who Is Doing Virtual Races?

In a word: everyone.

Seriously, it seems like everyone and their mother are participating in virtual races. And, as an athlete, it’s totally easy to understand why.

Virtual races give you the feeling of participating and being part of a race (including getting a nice fat piece of race bling) without having to totally upheave your schedule, travel to a race location or get up stupid early on a Sunday morning. What’s NOT to like?

Virtual racing is also doing a great job of appealing to super niche groups with themed races. As an athlete, if you see a race that completely appeals to some weird or obscure hobby or love that you have, you are going to be 100% in. But no race director is going to stage a full on event based it; the market’s just too small. But virtual races allow race directors to reach the people who love that theme around the world, without location restraints, and get WAY more participants (I know this because I may or may not have participated in a Harry Potter themed virtual race not too long ago…complete with robes and wands).


What Do I Need To Know If I’m Planning a Virtual Race?

If you’re thinking about doing a virtual race, there’s not a ton that you need to know - it’s pretty straightforward. Chat with your insurance person about the nuances of hosting a virtual race and make sure you get an liability issues sorted out. If you’re tacking the virtual race onto an in-person event, work with your tech team to make sure you deliver an experience that makes your virtual racers feel like they’re actually there. And if you’re doing 100% virtual, make sure you create an experience of community and camaraderie with your athletes, even though there’s nothing to attend IRL.

This trend doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, so let’s embrace all things virtual, shall we?

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