You can't have missed it in 2020: "the virtual racing boom", "virtual races are the new answer", "are virtual runs the future of racing?"
Race organizers were forced to cancel (or at least postpone) their events during lockdown, so the virtual race appeared and soon became the answer to keeping athletes motivated, staying connected to fitness communities and, equally important, providing brands with a source of income during the pandemic.
And now? Real-life competitions are picking back up again but the buzz around virtual races isn't running out of steam. Organizers have experienced and enjoyed the solution's many advantages (flexibility, easy to launch etc.) and shall continue running connected and hybrid competitions.
Do you want to give it a go? Here's all the information you need.
What is a virtual race?
Virtual race: definition
It all happens online: entrants sign up to a dedicated platform where they can purchase their bib and kit (or some organizers provide it for free). Then they just have to run, walk, ride, ski or swim on the big day! Where they want, when they want, within a time limit, using their tracker, smartwatch or submitting their activity. Once it's all done and dusted, the experience is rounded off with rewards, medals or charity donations.
Real-life events tend to be pitted against virtual races but they shouldn't be. Organizers provide a completely different experience. It's for hardened competitors and keen racers as well as people who have yet to (or may not want to) experience the thrill of competing but want to challenge themselves.
The pros of virtual races
- A seriously flexible and easy-to-launch format
Anyone, anytime, anywhere. There's no limit basically. Connected competitions mean you can recruit entrants from all over the world and engage an audience you couldn't have with a real-life race.
- A new showcase for your partners
Do you have close relationships with sponsors or partners? Connected races can be a new way to put your sponsors centre stage.
- A tool to keep in touch with your community
The perfect compliment to your real-life events: if you organise several virtual races a year then you secure long-term engagement from your fans, staff, clients, athletes etc.
- No logistics… and zero waste!
A major competition produces about one bag of unrecyclable waste per every three participants. In 2018, the London Marathon used more than 900 000 bottles of water -- which represents about 6 tonnes of plastic waste. Unlike physical events, a virtual race is more eco-friendly.
- An additional source of income
Say good riddance to hellish logistics! Virtual races are easy to organise, much cheaper and potentially far more entrants meaning far more bib sales. A new long-term and welcome source of income in the world of post-Covid events.
Who can plan a virtual race?
Are you an events planner?
Virtual races can be the perfect compliment to your major annual events (marathon, half, 10K etc.). It's a format that keeps your athletic community motivated all year long.
Are you a charity/NGO?
You could boost awareness among athletes, raise funds and rally up your partners and sponsors with connected races.
Are you an employer?
How about using a virtual race as a milestone in your internal communication? Celebrate a company anniversary, a partnership with a sporting event or just bring your staff around the world together... There are all kinds of reasons to use this new engagement tool.
Are you a brand involved in sport?
Get your fans and clients on board with your own branded virtual race. It boosts your profile and is a new way to generate income (e.g. by providing discount vouchers).
There are a 1001 reasons to launch a virtual race. And 5 essential steps to make it a success.
Plan a virtual race in 5 steps
#1 Flesh out your event
You're in the starting blocks and you need to ask yourself 4 vital questions to flesh out your virtual race.
Who's your audience?
Worldwide athletes, your staff, your partners, your community? This is the first question you have to answer to decide if your event will be limited to a select group of fans, clients, staff, partners, athletes or open to the general public.
Now it's time to set a target: charity fundraiser? reward your community with gifts or vouchers? or just to make your real-life event digital for an all-round experience that anyone can take part in?
It's simple if you plan it during your real-life event: replicate the distances and durations. If not, it all depends on who your event is for. The general public? Go for something doable and provide a range of formats with different distances or durations. The most inclusive experience could see you give entrants the chance to achieve their goal in several stages (e.g. running a 10K in two lots of 5K). Anything is possible!
A virtual race gives organizers far more options: you can recruit entrants from all over the world and let them take part when they want within a certain time frame. A month, a week, a weekend, a day... the choice is yours!
Coway Run went all out for its 2020 connected race, see how they did it here.
#2 Choose the best platform to create your race
Lots of companies have appeared in recent years to provide myriad solutions to virtual race organizers. Feeling a little lost? Here's a helping hand! Let's take a look at the functions you need to pay attention to when you choose a virtual race platform.
Activities and compatibility
It goes without saying: which sports are available on the platform and how are they tracked? Go for an option that connects with most sports apps and watches to give your entrants a smoother experience. Syncing activities also gives you the opportunity to get access to a live leaderboard during the race!
Web or mobile platform? How should participants register on the platforms? And save their performance? Go over the entire user journey to ensure your event is visible and accessible.
Can you customize a branded registration page? With your own logo, images, products and storytelling?
Does the solution provide a communication plan to get entrants involved before, during and after the race? It will save you a lot of time!
Assistance and support
Do you need a dedicated team to support entrants, answer their questions and ensure they have the best possible experience before, during and after the race?
Your event is ready and the registration page is live. Great. Now what? It's all for nothing if nobody signs up so get the word out!
Use your communication channels (website, newsletters, social media) to reach out to your existing community and advertise to get the word out and get more people registering.
Turn your top fans on social media into ambassadors so they spread your event far and wide. Don't forget to create a hashtag too.
Entrants have to pay to race: why not provide an early bird rate to boost registrations? Entrants can race for free: reward the fastest to register with discounts or gifts (medals, packs)!
#4 The Big Day*
*or rather big days
You've done the hard part.
Track your community's progress, encourage them, congratulate them and share your members' stories on your communication channels.
Encourage entrants to post photos on social media with the hashtag you've chosen. E.g. run a photo competition with prizes (limited edition medal, one-off pack).
#5 Post-race: keep up the momentum
We've come this far, let's not stop now.
Stay in touch with your entrants post-race: you could ask them to complete a survey to get their feedback and testimonials; it will help you identify any areas for improvement for future events.
Don't forget to reward the finishers! Prizes, medals, exclusive discounts and more. It's a great way to gain loyalty and ensure they'll be back for future events.
And make sure you schedule more! If you're planning or considering another virtual race then now's the time to let them know and get them involved.
Virtual race example: Maybank Marathon Anywhere
Covid-19 didn't give the Maybank Marathon organisers in Indonesia much choice: the 2020 race was cancelled. So rather than rest on their laurels, the teams got back on their feet and staged a virtual race to keep athletes' spirits up.
The Maybank Marathon went with several free virtual races that anyone could take part in over 2 days: MAYBANK MARATHON ANYWHERE.
2020 was an unprecedented year so the Maybank Marathon let entrants choose between 3 race formats:
- 10K in 1 session
- 21K in 2 sessions (11K + 10K)
- 42K in 4 sessions (12K, 10K, 10K, 10K)
It was a roaring success with 19,000 participants! For further information, walk this way:
A turnkey solution: Vrace by Sport Heroes
We won't leave you hanging.
Vrace is here to help you organise your virtual races.
Vrace is a platform that enables you to design your own branded virtual race in a flash. Basically, you send us your features (images and texts), choose your race type and let us take care of the rest.