What is a virtual half marathon?

As you already know, participating in a half marathon is a significant feat requiring hour upon hour of hard sweat training. However, without thoughtfully mapped-out water/aid stations and hordes of supporters cheering you on, a virtual half marathon can come with several peculiar challenges.

What is a Virtual Marathon or Half Marathon Race?

A virtual marathon or half marathon race is a remotely held race managed by a race organization or group of individuals that allow individual runners the flexibility of racing a given distance at their own discretion. The runners are each responsible for running the given distance of a race within a set window of time set forth by the race organization.

Although virtual racing is not a new phenomenon, it has gained tremendous popularity recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced people to practice social distancing in an effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Most bigger race organizations will allow runners to download electronic bibs to place on their shirts. After a runner completes the race, some organizations will ship you race finishing swag for completing your race such as a medal or finisher’s t-shirt.

After the cancellation of a major road race, participating in a virtual half marathon is an excellent option for you to indulge your competitive edge and even assess your fitness. Below is a discussion about what a virtual half marathon race is and how you can participate.

What is a virtual half marathon (deeper dive)

A virtual race can be understood as a race that is run remotely from the locations of the participants’ choice. The participants can walk, jog, or run the half marathon distance based on their own time tables and hectic schedules. The runner is allowed to choose which type of surface they want to run their virtual race on.

Run surfaces that can be run on are:

  • Trails
  • Roads
  • Track
  • Treadmills

A virtual half marathon virtual race will allow you to run your race at your preferred pace and time. It will be up to you to provide some type of log or screenshot to submit to the race organization for proof of finishing your race.

You just have to ensure that you run within the specified window, which could be within a given day, weekend, or even a month. In a nutshell, you can run your race wherever you are, at a normal run effort, or at a race effort, as long as you cover the prescribed distance. After the race, your medal will be mailed to you.

Two different types of virtual races

While you can have several different types of virtual races the two most common are Goal-based and time-based. Both offer you the chance to logs your miles virtually so that you can claim your victory remotely. Let’s take a look at both types.

Goal-based virtual races

These are very common among non-profit organizations where participants are given a window of time to finish a certain amount of miles. This veers from the true sense of a virtual half marathon or marathon in that you’re not accomplishing all 13.1 miles (21.1 Km) at one given stretch of time.

These are primarily used to promote awareness and to help in a good cause to benefit an organization. Virtual runs are perfect for nonprofit organizations because it helps to eliminate costs of setting up a physical half marathon. People sign up online download a bib (if available) and can even donate additional monies to the cause.

Recently my city sponsored a free “Flatten the Curve” Virtual Marathon. To help promote health and wellness the organization wanted us to come out of our homes, if possible, and log some miles daily. They didn’t care whether you walked, ran, hiked, or biked your miles as long as you got out and put some physical energy to use. They gave each participant 45 days to complete their virtual marathon. I finished mine in 5 days running about 5.5 miles a day.

After you completed all 26.2 miles (42.2 Km), you took a screenshot of your daily written run log and submitted the log via their website. At the end of 45 days, everyone that successfully completed their virtual marathon received a free t-shirt (pictures below).

How to Run A Virtual Half Marathon

Flatten the Curve 2020 – Virtual Marathon – handed out t-Shirts for completing the distance of a marathon


Are you looking for a free 30-day challenge of your choosing? Challenge yourself to anything such as run 3 miles a day, walk 5 miles, walk 10,000 steps a day. If you would like a free 30-day downloadable challenge template click below:

30 Day Challenge

Distance-based virtual races

Distance-based virtual runs look exactly like a real half marathon race except for the location and flexible time window to complete your race. These types of races normally want a participant to complete the race in one session just like you would if you showed for a normal race.

While most distance-based virtual races give you a flexible window of time to finish your race, there are some that are more strict and require you to run on an exact day. Other restrictions could also include no treadmills, no tracks, etc. However, almost all virtual races aren’t and can’t be used as qualifiers for bigger races so the rules are a little more relaxed.

How it Works

There may be slight differences from one race to another. But basically, most of them work the same way. If you want to participate in a half marathon, you simply have to sign up and pay the required registration fee. Most of the races will allow you to complete the distance at any time within a given window. After the race, you will post your time online after which the organizers will mail your finisher’s medal. In some races, the race organizers may provide you with race packets and electronic bibs.

Virtual Half Marathon Race Success Tips

If your half marathon race was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, you can still run by signing up for a virtual half marathon race. You can do this through your canceled race or even through another race. A virtual half marathon race is an excellent way for you to ensure that all your winter training efforts do not go to waste.

Of course, not all half marathon race organizers offer virtual options, but the beauty of this kind of event is that you can sign up and participate from anywhere in the world. Whichever half marathon race you decide to sign up for, below are some of the tips that can count on to make your race successful and enjoyable.

Train Hard

Like in conventional half marathon races, success in a virtual half marathon calls for maximum commitment and discipline in training. For you to achieve your goals in training, there are several tips that you can make your experience a positive one. For instance, you should make your goal clear from the get-go. Whether you are aiming to achieve your personal best or you simply want to run the entire race without stopping, making your goal clear will motivate you to keep going no matter how tough your training gets.

Find a training plan

Once you have established your goal, next you need to come up with a solid half marathon training plan. You’ll also need to choose the time of the day will spend training, and this will go a long way in helping to stay organized and focused.

If you need a FREE plan click here to grab my 12-week beginner’s half marathon training plan.

If you would like a customized training plan based on your current fitness level click here.

Run with a friend

Last but not least, running with a friend might help you stay accountable. As you probably know, training for half marathons is a tough task, and therefore, you may need someone to keep you accountable in training. In other words, a running buddy will ensure that you stick to your training schedule and plan.

Considering 85% plus of your runs training for a half marathon will be run at a conversation pace, what better way to pass the time by with a running buddy you can talk to.

Stay Safe

Social distancing is one of the measures that authorities have put in place in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Therefore, when you go out to practice or run, this is a measure that you have to strictly observe. As such, you have to make sure that you do not go to places that are crowded.

As you plan and run your race, you have to remember that the healthcare resources are currently overwhelmed in many cities, meaning that you don’t want to pick up a serious injury. Therefore, it is wise for you to choose a route with safe runnable roads and ensure that your trails have optimum visibility. This will go a long way in preventing you from getting hurt.

If you’ve never run a trail before check out this absolute beginner post about trail running – 8 things to know before you go!

Pick a Convenient Course

You’ve probably seen runners from around the world resorting to running in their backyards, balconies, indoors, and other creative places. This allows you to have the freedom to choose your course when it comes to virtual marathon races. The distance that you have to cover is the only thing that is fixed; everything else is your choice.

Use can make use of tools such as Strava Routes. Strava Routes can show you optimal and convenient routes that other runners have flagged or run themselves.  Alternatively, you can run a loop or run laps if your race organizer allows it. The important thing is for you to cover the given distance.

Run for A Good Cause

As mentioned earlier, completing a half marathon race is quite a tough task, and therefore, you need some extrinsic motivation to stay focussed. To this end, it is wise for you to run for a good cause.

For instance, you can choose to run for a charity. During times of social distancing, nonprofits and other charity organizations are struggling for donations. Most charities rely heavily on donations to help people in need in our society. If you run a virtual race for a specific cause or charity, you will, in turn, be helping those people. Besides, it will give you the necessary inner motivation and strength to push you onward to your virtual half marathon finish line. keep working hard on your race. It will also provide you with sufficient moral ground to invite your loved ones to cheer you on during your race.

For more motivation check out this post – 17 Tips to Help Boost Your Motivation For a Virtual Half Marathon Race!

Have Fun With Your Race

This is your race, therefore, it is your responsibility to make it entertaining. You could wear a silly costume or dawn a silly shirt with some awkward saying on it.  The options are endless. Don’t forget to relax your shoulders and smile. Tight shoulders make for a tensed muscle half marathon virtual race.

Take photos

You should also remember to get someone to take photos for you to preserve the memories and have social proof that you completed the race.

Drawbacks to racing virtually

Racing virtually seems like a dream come true to some racers, right? I get to race at my own time on any course. Although this sounds like a perfect plan for some racers, here are some obvious drawbacks to racing virtually:

No Crowds

The crowd effect has many encouraging attributes for races including motivation and encouragement. When you take away the crowd during a race, some racers will race slower. Also, there are a few of us that really need the extra motivation to make sure that we finish the race.

Another factor besides the spectator crowd is the racing crowd. Other racers feed off of other racers. The race crowd is what helps us grab our personal best records as well as boosting our adrenaline to keep us going at top speed.

No Water/Aid Stations

This one is an obvious problem but easily solved. You’re going to have to run a course that is a loop or carry a hydration pack with you. For more information on how much water to drink for a half marathon race check out – should I carry water for my half marathon?

Integrity is out the window

We all hope that all of the other virtual runners won’t fudge their numbers, but there is always that rotten apple in the bunch. Since the honesty of the entire race is left in the hands of the racers you’ll just have to suck this one up and not hold onto the results too closely. Simply be happy with your end chip time and that you still ran your race distance.

No Finish Line – After Party

You’ll have to use your imagination here. Your normal races usually have something to do after the race. Such as live music, food to snack on, and possibly a couple of beers to drink. You can always create your own party

What Is A Virtual Half Marathon

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Advantages to racing virtually

Your Time

If you don’t like waking up at the crack of dawn, then here is your chance to right a wrong. You can choose the time of day that you run your half marathon virtual race. If you want to run at 12:00 high noon or at midnight the choice is yours.

Your Place

Unless your race prohibits a certain type of terrain or location, your free to run your virtual half or full marathon on your balcony or in your backyard.

Man runs marathon in backyard during coronavirus lockdown

You can pause your run

Like I said above about your race integrity out the window…well…there are some cases this advantageous and it’s not cheating (well maybe a white lie)

  • Your shoelaces might come untied
  • You become seriously injured

Flexible Time Window

A great advantage of running virtually is also the ability to schedule which day you race on. Conventional races require you to normally run on a Saturday or a Sunday. Running virtually allows you to pick a day within the organization’s time frame.

Virtual Marathons and half marathons tend to be less expensive

The sheer expense of putting together an in-person marathon is expensive. If the race is strictly virtual, the cost to hold the race drops significantly. Hopefully, the race organizers will also drop you a discount.

Sometimes smaller is better

A virtual half marathon will definitely have a smaller feel to it – since you’ll be the only one racing. Don’t forget that there are some advantages to small races over larger races.

Did your half marathon race get canceled?

If you find yourself answering yes to this question, check out my detailed post about what to do when your half marathon race gets canceled.

Don’t forget something on your virtual race day, check out this detailed list of pre and post-race kits you’ll need for a virtual half marathon – half marathon checklist (the same checklist can be used for a virtual marathon as well).

The Bottom Line

Overall, it is apparent that if your half marathon race has been canceled due to coronavirus, you do not have to let your winter training efforts go to waste; you can sign up for a virtual half marathon race to continue pursuing your objectives. Signing up for a virtual race will enable you to complete your race remotely from wherever you are. There are many ways in which you can make your race more fun and successful, and therefore, you are allowed to be as innovative as you like. The only requirement is that you must cover the given distance within the window provided by the race organizers.

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Coach Scott is a published author and RRCA certified running coach (Level 2). He has published over 20 books including, Beginner's Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Beginner To Finisher Book 3), which has become an Amazon International #1 bestseller. Scott specializes in helping new runners become injury-free race finishers. He recently completed his 14th half marathon race. 

 To sign up for a FREE half marathon training schedule, log sheet, and pace predictor CLICK HERE.

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