Ok, so maybe you already knew all about them, but
last night over the past few days I fell down the rabbit hole of virtual races, and I still can’t believe how many are out there. Basically, a virtual race is one that you can run anywhere at any time. Typically you sign up, pay some money, commit to covering a set distance by a certain date, and the company mails you a prize (like a bib, shirt, medal, or some combination of those things). Many, but not all, virtual races have a charity component, too.
A typical first reaction when hearing about virtual races is, “that’s stupid.” And that’s not entirely wrong. Without a set time, course, or race “experience,” why would you pay money to sign up for one of these? But then again, why would you line up and wait (and wait and wait) in a huge pack of people to run a certain path at a certain time, even if it’s raining and you had to get up at 6 am and you’re sick? And beyond that, isn’t any pastime ultimately stupid? Golf, baseball, stamp collecting – why do any of these things? Because they’re fun (to you…)!
Ultimately, virtual races are about fun and motivation – if paying money to commit to running a certain distance and getting a medal to celebrate that run gets you out there, then that’s great! Virtual races are also a way to participate in a “race” without pressure or intimidation. If virtual racing is a way to get more people interested in running, I’m all for it.
What follows is a list of all the virtual race companies I could find (29 of them!), presented in no particular order, but grouped into somewhat meaningless categories for fun. I’m not vouching for any of these races, and I’ve never run a virtual race myself (yet…).
Themed Virtual Races
- Hogwarts Running Club – For Harry Potter Fans! Price: $25 gets you a medal and virtual bib, and a portion goes to charity. Shirts can be purchased on another site for $20 (and a portion of that also goes to charity). They have a suggested day for you to complete the run, but no hard or fast rule of when you should run.
- Run Disney Virtual Running Shorts – This is the first time Disney has gotten in on the virtual bandwagon, so you know it must be a way to make money if Disney is doing it. Price: $39 per race gets you a virtual bib and medal ($142 for the current 3-race series which includes an additional medal and tumbler). Nothing goes to charity, and there are no spoilers of what the medals will look like. There is a suggested time frame for completing the distance and a hashtag you can use to share your results, but no reporting requirement.
- Nerd Herd Racing Series – Good for fans of SciFi, Harry Potter, and Disney. You’re supposed to run the distance during a certain week, but you can break up the distance (even if only 5K). Price: $25 US ($35 international) gets you get a bib and medal. A portion goes to charity.
- Zombies Run! Virtual Race – For fans of the Zombies Run! running app, this one is popular – the 5,000 entry spring race is already sold out! Price: Unfortunately they don’t list the price after it sells out, so I don’t know how much it costs, but you get a medal, bib, certificate, badge, and bonus content on the app. For more money you can get a tech shirt, and even more money gets you a long-sleeved tech shirt. You use the app to post your results – no need to separately report your time. You can do either (or both!) the 5K and the 10K, and you can do them multiple times. They can also be walked with no penalty. They also say that even if you don’t normally use the app the story is stand-alone and contains no spoilers (it’s a prequel). You do need a phone that can run the app (iPhone or Android).
Companies with “Virtual” in the Name
- Virtual Strides – They have two current but several “past” races available. Price: $28 get you a medal and bib, and some small donation is made to a related charity, with shipping maybe included? You can also do “past” races as long as they still have medals.
- Virtual Running Club – They have a lot of races scheduled in 2016! Price: For $35 you get a shirt and medal ($25 to get only one or the other, $15 to just run and get nothing), and some portion is donated to a charity. Not sure if shipping is included. The run is supposed to be completed in certain time frame (you must report your time by a certain deadline to qualify for prizes, but I think if you miss the deadline you’ll still get your shirt/medal). I’m considering the EMS run!
- Virtual Run World – Many of their medals are large (6 inches) and feature glitter and intricate designs. Price: Varies, but about $30 gets you a medal (shipping included), and some (not all) of the races have a charity component. No dates specified for the runs, and it’s optional to report your time as a comment on the race page or their Facebook page.
- Virtual Run Events – Pretty good selection of various races for this year, and the medals are kinda funny (e.g. a running toilet is one of them). Price: Varies, but generally $20 to $24 includes a medal, bib, and shipping. You’re supposed to run/report time on your race by a certain date (generally you get a certain month, like July, to run the race). Looks like about 20% goes to various charities.
- Triumph Virtual Racing – They have two current races and 5 past races, as of today. Price: $10 (for “past” races) to $28 (for “current” races) gets you a virtual bib and medal (includes shipping), and a portion goes to a charity. There’s no set date you need to run by, and it’s optional to post your finish on their Facebook page or Instagram.
- Pure Play Virtual Race Center – A self-described newcomer to virtual racing. Price: $25 gets you a medal and unspecified “goodie bag” (shipped within 10 days of registering), and a portion goes to charity. Note that they don’t show you what the medals look like beforehand.
- Virtual Runner UK – Based in the UK, they offer tonnes of races. You must report your time (with proof, like with your Garmin data) by a certain date to get your medal (and the window for reporting is very small – you’re supposed to run on a certain day and report by the next day). Price: Varies, but ranges around £10 to £15 plus VAT for UK residents, £15 to £18 for international ($22 to $26 USD) and gets you a medal (assuming you report appropriately) with a portion going to charity. All payments are through PayPal. Note that some of the races are open to UK residents only.
Companies with “Bling” or “Medal” in the Name
- Will Run For Bling – They only have three current races but have many, many past events (which you can’t “run” but you can buy the medals for $10 to $30 if they’re still available). Price: Varies, but generally around $25 domestic (plus a bullsh*t $2.50 “SignUp Fee”), $35 international gets you a medal and bib (with maybe shipping included? Although after that bs fee I don’t trust them to include shipping). You’re supposed to complete set distance within a certain time frame (although no reporting is required), and some charity component is included.
- Bling Runners – Only 2 races are currently listed. Price: $25 to $45 depending on the race, you get a medal and virtual bib, and a portion goes to charity. No suggested date to run, no reporting your time, and your medal will be mailed within 60 days of the race’s window.
- Run Bling Repeat – Three current races available (and one past event that still has medals available). Price: $29 gets you a medal and a virtual bib, and a portion goes to charity. Not clear if it includes shipping. Shirts are available but extra ($19-23 depending on style). No suggested dates to run, and I don’t think there’s a reporting system, either.
- I Love Race Medals – Eight races currently available. Price: $25 US, $30 Canada, $35 international, gets you a medal and a portion goes to charity. Some of the races have a suggested time period to run (like a certain calendar year or month) and you can post results/pics on their event page, but it’s not required.
- Full Medal Runs – They have a lot of runs/medals available. Price: For $20 to $30 you get a medal, electronic bib, and online results (with free shipping to US). A portion goes to charity. Oddly, the prices of some of the past races are not marked down (e.g. the April Showers Run or the February Leap Year Challenge), but non-date-specific races are (e.g. The All American Family Run is currently marked down to $20).
Real Events with Virtual Options
- ODDyssey Half Marathon – This real event offers a virtual option partially because they have pretty cool medals (wall-mountable bottle openers) and people who couldn’t travel there wanted to get the medal. You can run the race at any time, but must complete it in the calendar year. Price (for the virtual option): One of the most expensive options out there, for $53.74 you get a shirt, medal, and “various goodies.” Also, you can’t live within 30 miles of Philly.
- Run 10 Feed 10 – This is a real race series in various locations in the US ($35 for the 5K, $40 for the 10K, both early bird pricing), but they have a virtual option as well. Price (for the virtual race): $28 provides 10 meals to families in need and gets you a limited edition FEED bag (no medal – but the in-person event doesn’t provide medals either). You’re supposed to finish your miles by a certain date (Nov 29, 2016).
- Races for Awareness – This series is more focused on the charity aspect (claiming 80 to 100% of the net proceeds go to the respective charities), however all of their charities are “awareness” charities, not charities that do research or anything else. Price: Ranges from $22 to $26 and you get a medal, downloadable race bib, snacks, coupons, and shipping. No deadline/timeline to run the various races.
- Moon Joggers – Lots of current races, and medals for past races are available at a discount. Price: Varies depending on race, but around $25 gets you a medal and bib with shipping, and a portion (they say about 20% of race fee) goes to the respective charity. They offer suggestions of dates to complete your race, but it’s just a suggestion.
- 131 Events – This company also does “real” events around the Indianapolis area (I wish they were in NYC!). They seem to have really nice medals and even include a shirt as standard. Price: $28 (plus a $4 processing fee) gets you a medal, bib, shirt, and shipping ($10 less if you don’t want the shirt). You’re supposed to complete the run by a certain date (several month timespan). The photo at the top of this post comes from this race series.
- Gone for a Run – You might know this company for selling BibFOLIOs, medal hangers, and other random runner stuff, but they’re also currently offering two virtual races. Price: Varies, but about $37 gets you shirt, bib, medal, and button (shipped as soon as you sign up, not sure if price includes shipping). Some portion is donated to a charity. Your run is supposed to be completed during a specific week, and you can post your photos and results online, but nothing is required.
- Fit Fab and Lean – They only have one race listed right now – not sure if they only ever have one race at a time or if this is unusual. Price: $25 US, $35 international, gets you a medal and virtual bib, and 10% goes to a charity. They give you a certain time period (a month for the current race) to cover the distance, and some races have a reporting requirement, some do not (and they’ll ship your medal whether you report or not).
- Agent Outerwear – The only company which I noticed tags all of their medals with their name (“*Agent” is embossed on every medal somewhere). Price: Ranges from $20 to $30, gets you a medal and virtual bib, and a portion goes to charity (they give coats to kids in need). They have race dates but no suggested date to run, but there is an option to submit times/photos to their Facebook page. Note that you can add on medals from “old” virtual races for only $5 when registering for another race.
- Make Yes Happen Virtual Races – You have to click on each individual race to find out the price, what the medal looks like, and other info. Price: $25 for a medal, and some races have a charity component, but most do not. Distances can be completed piecemeal (e.g. however long it takes you to run 66 miles or whatever the various race distances are) and has no time limit/ending date. You also unlock some digital content as you hit “mile markers” like photos of the virtual course.
- Stridebox Run – Stridebox is a subscription box service for runners. For about $15/month they ship you a small box filled with various runner-type goodies like gels, drink mixes, and usually one non-food item like a mini towel, water bottle, LED light, phone arm band, etc. Apparently they also have a virtual marathon. Price: $29 gets you a tshirt, bib, and medal, and $5 of it goes to charity. They also hint you might get other goodies in your race pack. You’re supposed to run the 26.2 miles over the course of two weeks, all at once or in any amount of segments. Once you send a photo of your log, they’ll ship you the medal.
No Charity Component
- US Road Running – They claim to own the trademark on “virtual race,” which they define as “a race that can be run/walked any time, any place or any location.” (Note that I’m not a trademark attorney, but I’d love to hear from anyone who knows whether their supposed trademark is legit and/or enforceable.) Price: $17, includes a medal, bib, and shipping. Nothing goes to charity, even though some of their races seem like they’d go to charity (i.e. they have an EMT race and a Police race, neither of which support EMTs or the Police). No time limit on when you have to run the race, although each race has a “date.” You can post your finishing times on their website but it’s not required.
- Best Race Bling aka Miles 4 Medals – Not sure why it’s two different companies/websites. They have 9 current races. Price: $22.50 gets you a medal and bib, which ship out 72 hours after you register. There’s no charity component (despite some of the runs being linked to causes – they suggest you do your own fundraising), no set time period to run, and no reporting requirement, but you can post to their Facebook page.
- Running on the Wall – This site is more of a store that also offers virtual run “packets.” The English/editing is a bit off on this site, and when you register they offer “add ons” like extra medals or charms or such. Price: Starts at $30, includes shirt, bib, bag, and medal, but shipping is another $10. No time limit, no set dates, no charity component.
If I designed a virtual race it would involve eating candy during the run and the medal would have a piece you could detach and wear as a necklace, keychain, or bottle opener (or all three!). Or maybe I’d just make the medal a spoon…
Have you ever run a virtual race? Would you? What would be your “ideal” virtual race? Share in the comments!