Closing on a personal best, I pass the last corner towards the finish line of the half marathon. There is silence, then cries of recognition as spectators see a runner heading for the chute. I tap into that last store of energy and break the ribbon at my front door, as my toddler jumps up and down screaming, “Come on mom, come on!” Leaning over for my daughter to place a medal around my neck, I smile at the homemade “FINISH” sign hanging above my head. These are road races during a pandemic.
If you had told me a year ago that I would embark on my sixth virtual race, I would have spat my Gatorade. Like most runners, I thrive in organized races: the cheering of the crowd, the camaraderie of other runners, the anticipation of the post-race party, the pungent smell of overcrowded outbuildings. In fact, I could do without the latter.
What virtual racing lacks in other humans makes up for in flexibility (and no lines for porta-pots). Participants hit the road (or on a treadmill) on their own to cover a distance defined by a race organizer, track their progress on a watch or phone, upload data to an online platform and receive a commemorative medal by mail. The time and place of departure as well as the route of the race are at your choice. What is lacking in this method of racing is precisely what has been missing from all parts of our lives for the past year: the company.
Before I started trying to get pregnant in 2016, I spent most weekends lacing up my sneakers for a run, lubricating my bike chain for a long group ride, or enlisting another strong man to wrap around. my arms in duct tape before lifting the atlas stones. That is to say, I hardly ever trained or competed solo.
Then my husband and I decided to start a family, which became his own challenge, with our fertility doctors as the training team and other couples as our perceived competition. I was encouraged by our doctor to cut back on strenuous exercise so running was irrelevant as we struggled. When I was finally able to return to the field in March 2020, having successfully conceived and given birth to two healthy babies in 2018 and 2019, I had all of the lifted energy of a toy racing car pulled to its limit. I was ready.
Then that month, along with everyone else, my first postpartum run was canceled. With a newborn, solo outings seemed sacred. So when the race organizers offered the options of refunding or finishing the race at our own pace (with the medal and t-shirt sent by mail), I didn’t hesitate before committing to my goal again.
As I would before a normal race day, I put my clothes on the day before and went to bed early. The morning of the run looked a little different: I had a slow breakfast with my husband and daughters, planned and then reconfigured my running route, and laced my shoes to the line. departure – which was, conveniently, the end of my driveway. I hit a personal best and was home in time to hug my little one before she left for preschool. I was addicted.
How to choose an event
In the past year, I have completed one 8k, two 10k and one half marathon; I also rode the Toronto subway and traveled the distance from Atlanta to Washington, DC, all via a virtual race organizer, all solo. Next stop: Mount Everest.
That’s the beauty of pandemic racing – you can cover classic racing distances or take a less traveled virtual road.