5 Awesome Virtual Races You Can Sign Up For—And Why You Should Try One

Nope, race day isn't cancelled.

woman running at harbor against clear sky during sunny day
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For obvious reasons, racing looks a little different than it did a year or two ago right now. And though many runners might be missing the energy of race-day crowds and crossing physical finish lines, virtual races mean you can still grab tackle miles and enjoy that endorphin rush right from your home turf.

Virtual meets keep the race day vibes going strong, with the added benefit of being more flexible in terms of timing and location, says exercise physiologist Janet Hamilton, running coach at Atlanta's Running Strong. "[Throughout the last year], races (like lots of things) got postponed and eventually cancelled, and lots of runners were left feeling a little adrift with no way to set goals," she says. "Enter the virtual race. Now we have a target on the horizon."

Just like your favorite IRL events, virtual races often involve charity fundraising options and swag (hello, cute tee and running socks). Some races even allow you to log your miles to see where you rank or post on social using a specific hashtag to link up with other participants. Though the energy of a virtual race-day might not be quite the same, you can still enjoy the competition and community (and cool free stuff!) that make racing so fun.

Committing to a virtual race can also inspire you to stay moving. "Knowing you have certain races coming up is such a motivation for people to keep training through tough times, just as it was before the pandemic," says Peloton tread instructor and accomplished marathoner Becs Gentry.

I don't know about you, but I'm sold. You, too? Check out these awesome virtual races—plus five reasons to give the new trend a shot (just in case ya need 'em).

5 Virtual Races That Are Totally Worth Signing Up For

New virtual races seem to be popping up every day, and there's an event to match pretty much any experience you're looking for.

Best Community-Oriented Race: Run Across America

    This virtual race doesn't take place on a specific date. Instead, Run Across America challenges you to choose a goal of 50, 100, 250, or 500 kilometers to run by June 12.

    Once registered, fire up the Run Across America app to track your miles and gain access to mini-challenges that will help you meet your distance goal. (You earn virtual badges for completing them!)

    If you want to challenge your friends and fam virtually, Run Across America makes it easy. Create a team in the app to share your progress and results and stoke some healthy competition by checking out your team leaderboard.

    And yep, if you're wondering, there is swag included. Your $15 registration fee gets you a t-shirt or water bottle. (For $15 more, you can score both.)

    Learn more about Run Across America

    Best Swag: runDisney

    Anyone who's ever participated in or watched a Disney race knows they're *anything* but ordinary. I mean, what could be more fun than running in a Cinderella ball gown? Disney's races are famous for celebrating your inner kid and creativity. RunDisney also hosts several virtual races throughout the year, but don't dilly-dally before signing up—they tend to sell out quickly!

        Once registered, you'll receive some of the coolest swag in racing. Participants in Disney's Star Wars-themed races, for example, get a commemorative Star Wars-themed finisher medal, digital bib and finisher certificate, and digital race tool kit (featuring printable mile markers). They even give you access to an exclusive race playlist. (Does it feature George Lucas? TBD.)

        Though you won't be racing at Disney, donning a costume or a Princess Leia-inspired hair-do is definitely still encouraged. It's really up to you, as long as what you do doesn't interfere with your safety during the race.

        Browse runDisney's virtual races

        Best Performance-Focused Virtual Races: Rock’n’Roll VR Series

        Rock'n'Roll offers so much more than virtual races these days. Join their running club and create a profile on the site to track your training, participate in challenges, and complete virtual races. As you do so, you'll earn and accumulate points based on your performance that you can put towards prizes like t-shirts, sneakers, and finisher medals (and bragging rights...).

        On the site, you can also access tips and tricks from running experts that'll help you achieve your best runs yet. The best part? Joining is totally free (as are many events!).

        Join the Rock'n'Roll club

        Best Virtual Experience: Route 66 Virtual Challenge

        This race is so much more than running. The Route 66 Virtual Challenge is all about walking, running, or cycling all 2,280 miles of the historic highway at your own pace (and to enjoy the journey).

        As you advance, you'll see yourself move further on an interactive map of Route 66 on the Conqueror app. Plus, every time you reach a milestone, you'll unlock a virtual postcard with interesting information about the location you've arrived at. You can also join the event's private Facebook group to connect with others also taking on the challenge.

        Baseline registration costs $39.95, but for $69.95, they'll mail you some cute 66-themed apparel.

        Check out the Route 66 Virtual Challenge

        Best Charity Fundraising Race: St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend

        If you want to run for a cause, sign up for St. Jude's Memphis Marathon Weekend. Offering a variety of different virtual race distances (from a 5k through a full marathon), this option requires you to raise money to support St. Jude's work with children diagnosed with cancer before you pound the pavement. Registration fees differ depending on the race you're participating in.

        Race registration fees vary, but raise at least $250 and you'll be deemed a St. Jude Hero. You'll also receive race gear, including a long-sleeve performance shirt and medal.

        Sign up for a St. Jude's race

        5 Reasons To Try A Virtual Race

        If you're still not quite convinced about the whole virtual racing thing, allow me to win you over with a few expert-backed reasons to sign up.

        1. You can race on your own time.

        One of the biggest perks of virtual racing is flexibility. "In most cases, you can choose the date you race within a given period, so you make it fit into your schedule," says Gentry. You might be required to run on a certain date in some cases, but even still, you can choose your time and location, so you don't have to completely rearrange your life to participate.

        2. You'll experience fewer race-day nerves.

            "If you don’t like the pressure of a big race day situation, racing on your own can be a sweet relief," says Gentry. Since in-person race days can be nerve-wracking for some people, going solo might just give you the confidence boost you need to deliver your best performance, without all of the intensity.

            3. Virtual races help you train with purpose.

            You don't need to be at a jam-packed in-person event to feel competitive and inspired to perform. "Having virtual options available provides a valuable option for continuing to train and measuring your progress along the way," says Hamilton. For example, if you have a bigger goal of completing a marathon someday, you can use shorter virtual races and challenges to hold you accountable and keep you on track to getting there.

            4. You can still collect swag or fundraise for important causes.

            If swag or fundraising opps are important to you, more and more virtual races are adding these incentives. Many events allow you to collect some bling by mail or digitally, and even print out a keepsake running bib, says Hamilton. And feeling like your race serves a greater purpose by incorporating fundraising can also make the experience more impactful and exciting.

            5. They can help you find your proper pace.

            Racing in a crowd can be an unforgettable experience, but it does come with distractions that can ultimately hurt your performance, says Hamilton. "Novice runners often get pulled out too fast in the early phase of an in-person race due to the natural rush of adrenaline and crowd," she explains. "In a virtual race, there’s a greater likelihood that the runner will focus on their pace and effort, which offers valuable pace discipline practice." Since there isn't any pressure to catch up to other runners or 'put on a show' in virtual racing, you can just do you.

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