I’ve never actually run a virtual race, so please bear with me here. What I do know is that this is going to be different things to different people: fun, hard, really hard, and really, really hard. Without that race day atmosphere, and just you against yourself, it’s going to be a new experience. So, you best be ready for that. Here’s how we think you can set yourself up for a good go at your next virtual race.
Know your purpose
If setting a brand spanking new PB is your thing that’s awesome, but I don’t expect everyone to hit their virtual race with that intention. Maybe you just want to see where your fitness is at. Or maybe you just want to participate in the fun, without any performance orientated goals at all. Take some time solo, or with your coach to get clear on the purpose of taking on a virtual race. If you don’t know why you’re out there all by yourself, turning yourself inside out, then you’re unlikely to enjoy the experience or get the most out of it. Whatever your why, know it, and own it out there.
Bring your best
Just like you’d do your best to show up to a group workout or the startline with a good attitude and positive state of mind, bring that to your virtual race. It’s even more important for this solo virtual effort, because you don’t have the power of the group to pull you along. You’re your own pacer, coach and cheerleader out there. Wearing all those hats isn’t going to be a cake walk. So you need to have your head on straight; try to leave any negative thoughts behind and wash away the covid-19 related anxiety for an hour or so.
Plan your route
One of the advantages of running a real race is that they plan out a really great route for you. But now this is up to you. The most important thing to think about here is that you don’t want to be mid race and get stuck at a traffic light or get stopped by a cop to let some traffic through (like at the 2017 BMO marathon). But please, please don’t run your race in your backyard, or your front yard for that matter! If you have a nice, relatively quiet pedestrian path, like the canal in Ottawa or the Seawall in Vancouver, that’s a safe bet. If your purpose is setting a PB, you also need to think about how to make the route fast:
- Keep it flat
- Read the wind
- Know where your finish line is
Have a pacing plan
The thing about running a real race is that you can often just lock in with a buddy or a pacing group and ride the wave ‘til late in the race. That’s not gonna be the case when you’re out there doing the virtual race thing. So, if you’re trying to get the most out of yourself, you need to have a pretty good idea of what “the most” means (cue your coach from some expert goal times). Then be sure to at least have some sense of what your splits should be early on in the race. Aim for 1 kilometre or 1mile splits (heck I used to check my splits every 400m early in long tempo runs, to make sure I was hitting things right). At the same time, it’s important to not be a slave to the watch. Be smart with pacing in the first quarter of the race, but then try to hone in on your effort and roll with it.
Pick that mantra/power phrase
Remember when I said this solo race thing was going to be hard? I didn’t mean to scare you, I just wanted to prepare you for the inevitable. And if you’re really going to be prepared to rock this thing you need to be sharp mentally. In the last quarter of your race you’re going to need a good mantra or power phrase that is going to keep you motivated out there. If you don’t believe me, those of you who tuned in to our Special Guest Q & A’s over the past few weeks you might recall that both Scott Fauble and Alex Hutchinson think having a good mantra or power phrase is important to performing your best. It could be something simple like “you got this” or something more meaningful that your coach said to you at a key moment in a workout, or something like Scott Fauble’s bad ass power phrases “Scared money can’t win” and “Fuck with me, you know I got it.” Whatever it is, it has to be meaningful to you and keep that fire burning when the going gets tough.
Celebrate — you earned it!
The finish line experience will be different — there isn’t going to be an announcer calling out your name over the PA, as you cross under some massive archway with confetti flying and fireworks firing. Instead your watch is going to click over one decimal to your full race distance, you’re going to press stop on your watch, and it’s done. It may feel underwhelming, but it is really important to acknowledge your efforts. If you plan your route well you should have a few landmarks to designate your finish. Set your sights on that landmark just like you would the physical finish line on race day. If things are going well, don’t be afraid to throw a few fist bumps or raise your arms as you cross that virtual finish line. And when all is said and done make sure you share the experience with someone (including us if you want in the M2M virtual race series fun).