No, we aren’t talking about some high-tech, virtual reality exercise. We mean choosing a race online from one of a number of outlets, registering just as you would for a live race, sometimes even electronically picking up a race bib and expo packet, but running it on a day and at a time of your choosing (within a certain time frame) and competing with people from across the country—who you may never see or meet.

According to Active.com, the early model of virtual racing began “years ago, before national championship meets, [when] high school runners mailed in their times to a national postal competition, and a champion was then selected and announced.”

It is kind of unclear when this method went “online” so to speak, but it has—in a big way.

Some more traditional and prominent road races have begun to allow runners to participate in this virtual way. Most notably, it was recently announced that New York Road Runners (NYRR)—the group responsible for putting on the New York City Marathon—is adding nine virtual races to its annual calendar, three of which are already open for registration (January and February 5ks and a March 10k). The rest should be posted as spring and summer approach. NYRR is also offering a virtual program called Virtual 6. According to the organization’s website, “Program participants that register for and complete six (6) NYRR virtual races at the NYRR Virtual 6 program rate before December 31, 2018 will be eligible to receive a non-complimentary entry” to the 2019 Popular Brooklyn Half and a virtual training program to aid in race preparation.

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The process is the same for most virtual races: select a race, a distance, sign up and pay registration fees. Then run your distance within the required time frame, post your time (and required evidence) where required and wait for your finisher’s medal to come in the mail.

If you’re interested in earning medals for distance, but not for races you haven’t actually run the true terrain for, try teaming up with a virtual running club.

Below are a few organizations that can help you get your feet wet:

●     Will Run For Bling

●     Virtual Running Club

●     Gone For A Run

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Each of these links will connect you to a group that designs great medals to reward you for the work you do on your own. Another group, Run The Edge, encourages you to pledge to run as many miles as the year (2017 in 2017,  2018 in 2018, etc.) and supplies you with incredible merch (all sold in incrementally increasingly package pricing).

So, what do you think? Is it fair for someone to earn race bling and swag from a race and a course they didn’t actually run or is it ok for race medals to be given as long as the distance is the same (even if the terrain isn’t)? Is virtual racing for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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