Photo collage with six photos, five showing a man and woman standing together. Text in the middle says, "Lessons from running in a virtual race series."

Lessons from running in a virtual race series

Like many runners, my running goals and plans for 2020 were thrown for a loop due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.  I started participating in virtual races and challenges, which helped me stay on track.  Most recently I undertook a virtual race series, which has made me think about my running and what I learned from running in a virtual race series.

Fusion Racing organized the Don’t Worry, Be Hoppy Virtual Race Series.  It was five races of five different distances over the five weekends of May 2020.  I decided to participate for two reasons.  First and foremost, I had already signed up for the Hopping Across America virtual challenge, and this series would help ensure that I logged miles for my team.  Secondly, I had previously run all the distances so I knew I could complete all five races.

My wife Katie joined me in the challenge, which made things interesting because we run at very different paces.  Regardless I was excited she chose to undertake a unique challenge.  We talked about our paces and agreed that we would each run our own race and catch up to each other whenever the first one was finished.  The best venue for our races was a nearly one-mile loop road around a local par-three golf course.  The loop is 0.94 miles, which added another wrinkle to the challenge.

2 miler

When I started running, I struggled to run two miles without stopping and being out of breath.  I typically ran about a mile, stopped to catch my breath, and then ran about a mile back home.  Eventually I did not need to stop to catch my breath and was easily able to run two miles without a break.  However, before running in this virtual race series I had never run a two-mile race.

Two miles is not a sprint, but I chose to treat it as one.  I completed the race in 13:52, which is by far the fastest I have ever run two miles.  However, when I work out, I do not run at top speed.  So, naturally the race would be my fastest two-mile time.  I was out of breath, but quickly recovered and jogged a cool down lap at an easy eight-minute per mile pace.


A man and woman wearing athletic apparel standing in front of a golf driving range.
Katie & I before our 5K race.

Since last fall I have run a handful of 5K races.  The local fitness center sponsors one about each month, so it is a distance I am familiar running.  Mentally I treated it like the 2-mile race because it is a relatively short distance.  I did not sprint per se, but I started my run aiming for a fast time and knowing that I was going to push myself physically and mentally.

I finished in 22:04, which is by far the fastest I have ever run a 5K.  There are a few people in my local running club who have the goal of running a sub-20:00 5K, but that was not my objective.  Honestly, I did not have a specific goal in mind.  However, according to Strava I had my best 5K and 1K efforts, so I now have times to improve upon in future races.

5 miler

A five-mile race is a unique distance, but five-race series are apt to have atypical distances.  Going into the race I had become frustrated about not placing in the top-three of my age category (40-49 males), so instead of putting everything into it and trying to run at maximum effort I set the goal of trying to finish with an 8-minute per mile pace.  I hit my goal and finished in 39:12, which is a 7:50 pace.  I finished eighth in my age category, which was a bit disappointing.  However, I am not upset about my placement considering that I was not focused on achieving my best time.


A man and woman stand next to each other wearing athletic apparel in front of a golf driving range.
Katie & I before our 10K race.

Besides the 5K, the race I was most excited about running was the 10K.  Before the global COVID-19 pandemic, I had registered for the Cincinnati Reds Redlegs Run 10K.  In February I ran 10 kilometers around a track and finished with a great time, so I looked forward to competing in a “real race” and aimed to finish in the top-three of my age category.  However, due to the global pandemic, I did not travel to Cincinnati as planned.  Despite missing out on a “real race,” I wanted to push myself and finish with a good time.

Coming into this race, I did not have a specific goal because I had failed to look at my previous best effort.  I know that running a 10K is different than a 5K and that I cannot put my maximum effort into the race and hope to finish with a good time.  However, I wanted to finish close to my February time, so I hoped to average around 7:30 per mile.  Unfortunately, the humidity slowed me down, and I finished my 10K race in 47:58 (7:43 per mile).  I fell a bit short of my goal, but considering the conditions I am happy with the result.

Half marathon

Races are always a mental challenge, but having done four on a nearly one-mile loop I expected the half marathon to be particularly difficult.  Running over 13 laps around a track or road course can get boring.  I do not own headphones that would allow me to listen to music or a podcast while running.  However, I run enough that I find ways to occupy my mind.  So, I was not worried about getting bored or losing focus.

Before starting the race, I had two goals: finishing in less than two hours and hopefully finishing around an 8:00 per mile pace.  If I ran an 8:00 pace for the entire race I would finish in about 1:45:00, but if I ran a bit slower, I would still likely meet my sub-2:00 goal.  My final time was 1:47:18, which is an 8:11 per mile pace.  In hindsight, I started too quickly and tried to catch up to another runner on the course during the first two miles (my only two miles under 8:00).  I did not have any water on hand, so as I tired later in the race, I was unable to re-hydrate.

Recapping what I learned

Digital running bib with times for five distances as part of a virtual race series.
Final bib.

Over the past month I learned a lot about myself by running in a virtual race series.  Here are the five biggest lessons…

#1: Running with your significant other, even if you do not run the same pace, can be fun.  In each race that Katie ran with me, I finished before her.  However, I caught up with her and jogged along as she finished her race.  We ran our own races, but still got to run together.  It was uplifting having someone clap and cheer me on as I ran by.  It was equally fun to clap and cheer for her.

#2: Every runner has a preferred time they like to hit the road.  I prefer running mid-morning; however, for this race series Katie and I decided to get up early each weekend.  We ran early to minimize the effects of the heat and humidity.  Additionally, we treated ourselves to a hearty breakfast afterward.  I was not excited about waking up early, but I felt great after enjoying a filling meal following our run.

#3: Hydration is an important part of exercise.  So, I typically drink at least two cups of water before running.  Although I drank my usual amount of water before the half marathon, I was thirsty and dehydrated over the last few miles.  In hindsight, I should have stopped at the car for a few water breaks.

#4: Runners hail the sense of community they encounter at races as one of the best parts about running.  Due to various restrictions people have not been able to gather in group settings.  However, the online community has been a great replacement.  Although the Facebook group focuses on reporting times, people offer encouragement and connect on various topics.

#5: My biggest running goal is to complete a marathon on all four of Japan’s home islands.  I have proven that I can complete a half marathon, but the last race demonstrated that I need to follow a training regimen before attempting a marathon.  Mentally I feel prepared to run a marathon, but I need to train properly so I can physically meet my goal.  So, I will be searching for the best training program for me.

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