Organising a Virtual Race
Organising a Virtual Race
As we learned more about how virtual challenges create a unique combination of motivation and community for exercise and hobby groups, we decided to start looking more into it.
What is a virtual race?
A virtual race is still a challenge you pay to enter, where you are expected to meet a target (e.g. run 12.1 miles, run for 6 hours straight or 100 miles total over a month) to win a medal or prize. So what are the main differences between a virtual race and an actual race….
- People can participate in a virtual race from virtually anywhere, at any time! You can (usually) choose to complete the race whenever you like. Some virtual races are scheduled to start at specific times, but most can be run at the participant’s convenience.
- There’s no minimum number of participants — your community can be as big or as small as you want. Invite a colleague, a family member, or that high school teammate who now lives in Seattle!
- The race ‘runs’ itself. You need to send reminders, prompts and keep track of activity, but you don’t need to lay out cones, recruit volunteers and wear high vis clothing for your virtual event.
After the virtual race, runners post their times online and are then mailed a finisher's medal. Some organizers even offer race packets and electronic bibs to their runners as well.
Many traditional road races are now adding virtual races as an alternative option. For example, Colorado's Prairie Dog Half Marathon allows runners to participate virtually. The Prague Marathon and the Falmouth Road Race in Massachusetts also offer virtual races in addition to the "live" race.
Fees are typically lower for the virtual race alternative, meaning runners can earn their miles and save money. Such is the case with the Walt Disney World Radio Running Team's Tomorowland Virtual Race, which gives runners an alternative to making the expensive trip to Disney World and Disneyland for their series of half marathons and marathons.
For a race director, the main reason a virtual race might seem attractive is because of the additional income it could provide for your business or charity. Virtual races are excellent income earners. There’s two reasons for this:
- Margins are good and they are easy to scale up. That means with the right marketing you can easily and quickly multiply your revenue with more entries with a low cost of fulfillment per entry.
- They help further monetize live events. Once you’ve done all the hard work making your live race a success (branding, building out your social media, mailing lists etc), you can now use what’s already there by adding a virtual race to it.
Still, as the popularity of virtual races has grown, so have racer’s opinions of it. Many runners say that virtual races simply can't deliver the same race day atmosphere, the community or the camaraderie of races.
But virtual racing advocates have an answer to that, too. Expressing that you are able to keep the community feel because of the online environment, in the same way that other running groups share stories and feedback on social media, virtual races create this type of community.
Tracking and Ranking Participants
For a participant to complete your virtual race, they need to submit their time to you. This can be done via Fitbit, Garmin, Strava or in other forms. By using a Strava Club, you can create a challenge for your racers to complete. This will allow your participants to share their route, mileage and time so that you can verify who has completed your challenge.
Early on in planning your virtual race, you’ll have to decide whether you are going to rank participant finish times. This isn't as easy as chip timing as participants need to upload their results at different times, so it is up to you whether you focus on the competitive side of the event or on the experience and branding.
Making sure all of your online activities during your virtual race are automated will save you a lot of time, for example automating the upload process by giving participants a valid link so that they can do this themselves without needing to contact you. Creating a leaderboard can take some time and patience, but with the help of Eventrac we can help you categorise your results easily so that they are in an easily presentable format for your participants.
Race Swag and E-goodie Bags
If you decide to send out swag like medals, t-shirts or even BIBs (some race organisers like to do this!), be aware of the logistics involved. It’s important to get an estimate of shipping costs to use in your virtual race budget. You can do this on the back of weights and dimensions you get from the suppliers for each item or – even better – you can visit your local post office with samples of your items and confirm how much they would cost to ship.
In addition to this, a nice touch can be to send your participants an e-goody bag once they have completed their challenge. This can include things such as discount codes to sponsor sites, an online coaching course voucher or a free trial for a partner system.
Build an Online Community
Going live and giving regular updates across your social platforms throughout your virtual race, whether this is over the course of a week, a month or just one day, is the equivalent of providing a race atmosphere. By tracking runners you can comment on their progress and share their stats with anyone else following their journey. Here you can give updates on results and tag people in your stories. You can also create a Spotify playlist for people to follow to act as a virtual DJ. This might be a fun thing to do if your race is themed, and it is a good place to share motivational tracks and finisher music.
Virtual races can help you build an online community where you can interact with athletes (and they can interact with one another) throughout the year. This can be particularly beneficial if you only host a couple of large events per year and have few touch points with your audience outside your usual race season.
Market your Event Online
Your event is online, so you will find your participants online. Facebook, google, email campaigns and all your social media platforms are where you want to build awareness about your race. Being active in running groups on facebook, having good branding and creative advertising will be what attracts a new audience, or part of your current one, to your race. There is no point in advertising locally, because you can target runners from across the globe for this experience!
Another Way to Give Back
Like many physical races, virtual races are also committed to donating to charities, and many operate at little or no profit. Relief Run for example, https://reliefrun.com.au/, was a race soley dedicated to the Australian BushFire Crisis raising over 1 million AUD purely from its’ virtual community.
This can even be a way for you to raise money for charity without using the revenue from your live event if you’re trying to find another way to support your partner charities. People often like the idea of participating in a virtual race on their own terms, while supporting a great cause, and receiving some nice bling in the mail to commemorate their accomplishment.