What is the one thing you can’t live without? For me, it’s a good book I can’t seem to put down, where the pages pull me into its story one word at a time. The second is a freshly brewed cup of coffee shared with my husband, or over that good book I can’t seem to get enough of. The third is an early morning run where the sun is just beginning to rise, and the world seems to come alive the second my feet hit the pavement. On good days – no, on great days – I manage to savor every last one of these things.
So what exactly does that say about me? It says I am a runner. When I’m happy, I run. When I’m sad, I run. When I want to spend time with my family, I run. For me, running is not only the cheapest form of therapy but it also makes up a big part of who I am.
For years, running and racing have been an integral part of my existence. Thanks to my little sister who suggested we run a half-marathon together eight years ago (never mind neither of us had ever run a half-marathon before, much less a 5K – go big or go home in this house!), running and family suddenly became inextricably intertwined. We planned family trips and events around running.
And then running became something more to me. It became my outlet, my time to grow and stretch and push myself to my limits, testing my body, just to see just how far I could go. As my love for fitness grew, I spearheaded a running group with my local church.
Running and me, we were quite the item.
And then, just when everything seemed to be going right in my running world, the bottom somehow imploded on itself. Hello, 2020. Suddenly races and plans and vacations already mapped out came to a screeching halt, along with the part of my life that brought me so much joy.
As I scrambled to make sense of what was happening in the world around me, I heard about this thing called virtual races.
In the beginning, it seemed a little ridiculous to pay money for a medal and a t-shirt only to run the same route I would for free. What was a race without the spectators and the fellow runners and the incredible volunteers always there with a smile?
I dug my heels in. I was not going to be one of those virtual runners. Absolutely not. What was I going to do, run around my neighborhood wearing my race bib, waving at passersby like they were spectators? Not happening. For some reason, virtual racing seemed to be cheating the sport in some way. Racing meant running alongside strangers, crossing that finish line with a feeling of accomplishment. Was participating in a virtual race going to bring that same sense of satisfaction? I was sure it wouldn’t. But then, somehow, it did.
The very first virtual race I signed up for was the Wonder Woman 10K. In all honesty, it was the swag that sold me. I wanted the super cute jacket it offered with the purchase. A bit of a superficial reason to sign up for a virtual race, I know, but it opened the door to the world that would get me through 2020.
As my first virtual race came and went as quickly as it took to hit purchase online, I found myself with a sense of pride and accomplishment – nearly the same kind I felt after a live and in-person race. Nearly.
But, as the months went by, I needed a challenge. I needed a goal. I would run a half-marathon completely virtual. Clearly, I had hit an all-time low, or at least lost my mind completely. I signed up for the Vacation Races Home race, where I was in charge of my own distance and when and where it was to happen. I set a race date on my calendar, planned out my training schedule, and worked as hard as I would for a regular live race.
On race day, my sister was running her own Vacation Races half-marathon in Tennessee. Even though we were three states apart, we planned to begin together in true virtual race fashion. While each of our respective races were completely different , I couldn’t help but feel a little bit that life felt slightly more normal this way. Sure, we weren’t together in person. Sure, I had a homemade sign as my welcome banner to the finish, and a husband willing to bike alongside me the entire way, but for the moment, I was racing again.
But, in typical runner style, the moment one race is completed, another race plan begins.
This time, however, I was approached by a childhood friend who wanted to try her very first 5K. Naturally, I wouldn’t pass up another opportunity. For the month of October, we purchased Gone for a Run themed medals and shirts, set out a route, and my friend achieved her very first race.
And then our little virtual group grew in size. Maybe success is truly contagious. Two other friends offered to join in on the mix; one was already an avid runner and the other was simply trying out her busy mom feet. One cold, November morning, wearing matching Thanksgiving-themed shirts, we took off for another 5K. Who cares that the starting line was a quick wave through a FaceTime call?
Since November, things slowly started opening back up.. This meant I actually had the pleasure of completing three non-virtual races again. Life feels, well, more normal this way. But, as I look back on the past year and the opportunity to run these virtual races, I can’t help but realize that the spirit of running is alive and well. No matter whether it’s virtual, in person, on a treadmill, or in the same neighborhood you’ve run for years, running is still there and ready for the taking.
So dust off those sneakers, start that favorite playlist and let’s hit the street. Race you to the finish!
If you’d like to join us in some virtual races, you can find some amazing options on these fabulous sites.