During this historic time of canceled races because of social distancing there has been an increase of virtual races. Runners everywhere are excited to join so their training doesn’t go to waste.
A virtual race is a race you run on your own. There is no big production of a blow up arc to run through, no aid stations, and no fancy feast waiting for you at the finish line. You pick the distance, where you want to run, the start time. Some organizers offer you a week to complete your race, where others are on a specific day.
Being self supported means you will be on your own to provide water, fuel, time tracking, first aid, and motivation. Once you signed up for your race it’s time to start planning.
Finding your race should be fairly easy if you are in the running community. Many canceled races are turning into virtual races. Look up your local races and see if the organizers have created virtual races. If not, go to Ultra Sign Up and you can search virtual races there at any distance from 5k-100 miles.
You want to pick out a course that will meet your 50k distance, or the distance you signed up for. I suggest picking a location that is a loop, out and back, or a trail that you can park in the middle of – which is what I did. Doing this will allow your vehicle to become the aid station. Having an aid station will mean you won’t have to carry all your supplies from start to finish. You won’t have a heavy pack in the beginning of the run or chance running out of supplies towards the end.
Will your course be in full sun, full shade, or part sun? Know the elements you will face on the trail. Is there water, asphalt, all dirt? Knowing the terrain will help you plan the rest of your needs.
Time to pick the day you want to race on. Does your race require a specific day, or will you be able to choose your own? Be sure to check the weather. What time will you start? Plan your start time around how long you think you will finish. You don’t want to start too late you end not finishing, or worse causing injury because you pushed yourself too hard.
What hydration pack you use depends on how much you plan to carry. If you have a small loop, you may only need a handheld water pack and fuel when you get to your vehicle. I ran longer and so I used my Nathan VaporHowe pack with a 2L bladder. I also had an 18oz water flask that I use for my Tailwind. This pack allowed for me to pack fuel and enough water for my running partner, Vivi, and myself.
Knowing which pack works best for you depends on how long you will be on the trail before, if at all, you will return to your vehicle. Chart your course out and figure what your distance will be and how much fuel and water you will need before you return to your “aid station.”
YOUR SHOES & SOCKS
Having the right pair of shoes is important. You don’t want to wear your brand new trail runners on race day. You will surely end up with unwanted blisters. I am sure by now, you have found your favorite trail shoe. If you are running on a course that involves crossing water, or may have a chance of showers, it is a good idea to have two pairs with you.
Socks are also very important to have. Moisture wicking socks and wool socks are the best. Avoid cotton as you are likely to get blisters when you are out on your run. I have found Injinji Toesocks and I love them. Try different socks during your training so you know what works best for you on race day! Don’t forget to bring an extra pair or two to have in your vehicle in case your feet get wet.
Knowing what clothes to wear is important. You should know what the weather will be on race day, and how you normally dress. The rule of thumb is dress for 20 degrees warmer than the temperature. Depending on your start time, you may end up changing. That is what I did on my race, since I started before the sunrise. Make sure to pack extra clothes, sports bras, windbreaker, rain coat, and clothes for after your race.
Also consider if you will need a hat, visor, sunglasses, bluff, or cooling towel.
Since you are self supported, you won’t have a timing chip on your bib to keep track of your distance and pace. Be sure to charge your watch or phone so you can track yourself without interruption. I use a Suunto watch, but before that I used a Garmin. And, even before that, I used the Map my Run app. There are many options for you to use to keep track of your stats while on your run.
If you are not sure of how long your battery life is for your device, it may be a good idea to bring a portable charger in case you need to charge on the go. Don’t forget the cable to go along with the charger!
Fueling is important when you are running a long distance race. You will want to keep your calorie intake up so you don’t bonk. It is typically suggested 100-200 calories every hour. It is best you use what you train with and not introduce a new item on race day since you don’t know how your body will process it.
There are so many fueling products out there from gels, Gu’s, wafers, gummies and natural items like Spring, and even homemade fuels. Many people rely on salt sticks or tabs to replace your electrolytes. Be sure to plan what you will eat and when. There are times you will find you don’t want to eat, but eat any way. If you don’t, you will bonk. So eat, drink, and stay strong!
YOUR WATER AND ELECTROLYTES
Be sure to have extra water in your vehicle if you are going to use it as an aid station. I brought a cooler with ice so I had cold water, and also left some water outside the cooler for room temperature. There are also a lot of additives that will replace lost electrolytes. You should be sure to carry at least one container, if not all your water, with electrolytes. Tailwind will provide electrolytes as well as calories for your long runs. Using their product, ideally, you wouldn’t need other fueling. Be sure to test that during training!
Accessories doesn’t mean earrings and a necklace this time. There are a lot of little things you don’t want to leave home without. Chapstick, sunblock, Band-Aids, anti-chaffing cream, sports tape (like KT Tape), Tums, Advil, Insect Bite Cream, chair, and a foam roller to name a few. Sometimes it the small things that help get you to the finish line. Think about your training runs and remember all the times you thought, “if I only had…” and bring that. You don’t need to carry everything with you if you plan on using your vehicle as an aid station. Having it and not needing it is better than needing it and not having it.
Running a virtual race is a new and exciting experience. Self-supporting shows how more bad ass you are than you already thought! There is no race day adrenaline, people on the course with the same finish line goal to push and motivate you. You still have the race day excitement and the drive to finish the best you can, but it is more peaceful. Virtual racing may fizzle away once society opens back up, but I have a feeling you will see a virtual option in many races to come.
If you are running a virtual race, I want to know! Let’s support each other.
Happy Miles, Friends!!