Conquer These Fun and Fierce Races Virtually This Fall
Best Virtual Races, Fun Runs, 5Ks and Marathons
Product photos from retailer sites.
To the dismay of runners everywhere, fall marathon season came to a screeching halt in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, many organizers switched to a virtual format, meaning that there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the season and keep your runs competitive this fall.
Virtual races were trending a little bit before the coronavirus shutdowns, but they've certainly surged in popularity since, well, there's really no other choice, right? That's not to say that taking on a virtual race is just "settling" for whatever you can get, however. While some runners may thrive in a big crowd setting, using nearby competitors and a strong sense of community to fuel their fight to the finish line, others actually prefer the flexibility and freedom that a virtual race affords them.
Consider this … you get to choose your own route and start time, you get the whole road to yourself, and you'll have a range of dates to complete your mission without having to worry about a weather washout. You also don't need to worry about parking, porta potties, lines or any other pre-race annoyances that can distract you from your goal. It's just you and the miles ahead as you push yourself to beat your personal best or take things at a more leisurely pace. Best of all, a virtual race is something you can do with friends and family no matter how far away they may be. So, whether you plan to run, jog or walk your way to the finish line, it’s easy to see how a virtual race can keep you and your "quaranteam" moving this fall.
How Do Virtual Runs Work?
It's actually pretty simple to get in on the fun. Just pick your race, register online, run your route and record it according to the organizer's terms. For some, you'll be able to use your treadmill, while others will require you to head outside and hit up a track, trail or whatever route you please. You'll also have to have some sort of fitness tracker on your person to record your activity, and that data will likely need to be synced with a particular app, such as Strava or RaceJoy. Once you follow all the rules and upload your race time, you'll receive your finisher's medal digitally or in the mail. Most races provide some nice swag for you to enjoy, too.
So, whether you were hoping to complete a full or half marathon this year, or you're just looking to do a little "fun run" to shake up your Turkey Day, we gathered some of the best virtual races for runners of all levels.
For Serious Runners
Virtual TCS New York City Marathon Run for the Medal
Dates: Oct. 17 – Nov. 1, 2020
Distance: 26.2 Miles
Cost: $50 for NYRR members / $60 for non-members
Has it always been your dream to run the world-famous New York City marathon, but the stars haven't aligned for you yet? This could be your chance to push yourself to that epic finish line and get your official (albeit digital) medal … and a branded running buff. This year, an unlimited number of runners can race through the five boroughs of NYC virtually by uploading their activity to the Strava app. There's no time limit, but you'll have to complete your 26.2 miles in one shot on one day anytime during the racing period. The one caveat? Treadmill runs don't count, so you'll have to plan your route outdoors somewhere.
For the record, you could also opt for the free option to just Run for the Love of Running. You won’t get any swag, but you’ll still have all the bragging rights.
For the Love of Chocolate (and Charity)
2020 Allstate Hot Chocolate 5K or 15K
Dates: Sept. 1 – Jan. 1, 2021
Distance: 5K or 15K
Originally set to take place in several cities across the country, "America's Sweetest Race" is going virtual this year so chocoholics can participate in the sugar rush from anywhere they please. Participants get an official full-zip race jacket with removable hood, keepsake medal, personalized race bib and, of course, that sweet, sweet Chocolate Finisher's Kit full of hot chocolate packets and delicious dark chocolate squares. (Because, after all that hard work, you better get a good treat at the end, right?)
You’ll have until the end of the year to complete your miles by either running or walking outside or on a treadmill. Just be sure to register before the date of the “official” race depending on the city you pick. For example, the Chicago race was set for Nov. 8 while the Tampa race was set for Dec. 20, so if you missed the deadline for one, just pick a different virtual location! Then, once you've gone the distance, you’ll upload your time to your EnMotive account to download your very own Finisher's Certificate.
Best of all, the race supports the work of their official charity partner, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital®, in the fight to end childhood cancer. Now that’s pretty sweet.
For the Most Consistent
2020 Utah National Parks Virtual Challenge
Dates: Sept. 1 – Dec. 31, 2020
Distance: Up to 369 miles
Cost: $65 (plus additional cost for optional races)
This series of virtual races challenges participants to log 369 miles by the end of the year. That's the distance through all five of Utah's absolutely breathtaking National Parks, but your miles will count wherever you track them, whether you’re on your local streets or the treadmill. To help push you closer to that epic goal, you can also sign up for one or more of their five park-specific runs: the Zion 5K, the Bryce Canyon 8K, the Capitol Reef 10K, the Arches Half and the Canyonlands Marathon. They're all totally optional, but each one offers its own finisher's medal and stylish runner's swag, and all the miles you log in the races count toward your overall goal. Alternatively, you can choose to do one or a few of the smaller runs instead of the massive overall challenge, which is a great option to suit runners of all levels.
Each individual race takes you through a guided virtual route through the National Park of your choice — all virtual, of course, via the RaceJoy app. Plus, it's all for the benefit of the Natural History Associations for each park, so this is definitely one for the nature lovers.
For the Good and Strong
Boston Athletic Association #finishSTRONG Challenge
Date: Oct. 1 – Dec. 31, 2020
Distance: 5K, 10K and a half-marathon
Cost: $45 – $120
Get ready to challenge yourself to three distances in three months, all with the singular goal of ending 2020 with a strong finish. You'll complete each distance in one continuous attempt, though you don't have to worry about any time limits or specific dates. Choose from either the Finish Line Package with physical shirts and bibs or the all-digital Starter Package. Either way, you can feel good that $10 of your entry fee will be put towards B.A.A.'s charity partners: Special Olympics of Massachusetts, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund.
For the Beer Lovers
Hops Trot USA
Date: Oct. 15 – Nov. 30, 2020
Distance: 1 mile, 5K, 10K or half-marathon
Want to challenge yourself, celebrate with a beer and give back to the community? This fun race allows you to choose from the Malty Mile, Stout Route 5K, IPA 10K or the Hoppy Half Marathon. They're all the same price and you get all the same swag, including a cool finisher's medal that not only doubles as a bottle opener, but triples as a cork-lined coaster. You'll also score a CDC-approved cool-comfort buff, a "Will Run for Beer" koozie and two post-run beer tokens that can be redeemed at a partnering brewery. If you live in a big city, you can browse and sign up for a location-specific Hops Trots here and score some extra perks; otherwise, the nationwide virtual option will do just fine. But even if you can't get to the nearest participating brewery, you can always BYOB and kick back with a post-race cold one at home. Best of all, 25 percent of proceeds go to their charity partner, Feeding America, to help local food banks in your area.
For the Fall Fans
Gourdy's Pumpkin Run
Date: Sept. 1 – Nov. 22, 2020
Distance: 3.1 miles
Formerly known as "The Great Pumpkin Run," this long-standing 5K is for all the fall aficionados out there. Your entry fee will get you a lightweight tech hoodie with Jack O'Lantern graphic and zippered pocket, Gourdy's Apple Cider Spice Blend and a finisher's medal shipped to your door around Halloween, plus a virtual race bib and finisher's badge. You can also choose to add on the Tough Pumpkin option and carry a pumpkin during your run to make it more challenging. It's just a couple extra bucks for some extra bragging rights and an exclusive Tough Pumpkin finisher medal.
For the Ones That Will Get There When They Get There
Sloth Running Team 5K/10K Challenge
Date: No deadline to complete, but must register by Oct. 31
Distance: 5K or 10K
If you're looking for a laid-back "run," this one is just the right pace. Choose from either a 5K or a 10K, put on your official Sloth Running Team Champion shirt and walk, jog or run your 3.1 or 6.2 miles anywhere (including a treadmill) and at any time before the deadline. You'll also get a race bib and a finisher medal to show off, and a portion of your entry fee is automatically donated to Stand Up to Cancer.
For the Thankful
America’s Turkey Trot
Date: Nov. 23 – 26, 2020
Distance: Whatever you choose
If you’re looking to put in a little work to earn your Thanksgiving dinner, this pre-feast fun run is a great choice for the whole family. You pick whatever distance you want to complete and then walk, jog or run it in one session leading up to Turkey Day. Your entry fee gets you an official America's Turkey Trot full-zip jacket, a pumpkin pie-inspired finisher's medal and a branded beanie. You can also choose to upgrade to score a Turkey Trot blanket and pet collar, too. Just be aware that race packets begin shipping on Nov. 5 so you'll want to sign up before then to make sure you get your stuff in time.
What You Need for Virtual Runs
No matter which race (or races) you choose to run virtually, there are a few things that you may need to make it as enjoyable as possible. First off, you'll need to track your activity, preferably with a fitness tracker that's compatible with a wide range of running and race apps. This simple, mid-range Fitbit makes for a reliable choice.
Also, if you're heading out for a long-distance run, it's crucial to keep in mind that you won't be afforded all the usual amenities along the way, such as water stations and emergency relief, if needed. So be sure to let someone know your route ahead of time or, even better, have them follow along in a car to keep tabs on you. You could also invite some pals to set up checkpoints along your route to cheer you on and provide you with some much needed hydration, energy gels and whatever else you need to keep you going towards your goal.
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