Virtual Races in the time of COVID: Yay or Nah

Virtual Races in the time of COVID: Yay or Nah The Chafe

Right now, it is early June 2020, possibly the most insane year of our lifetimes (so far…. oh god). Since many of us are still in some form of lockdown and COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country, I thought I would reach out to the community and get some thoughts on the new trend SWEEPING THE NATION: Virtual Races.

That’s right. You know them, you’ve seen everyone doing them, and you either love or hate them. Boy howdy, do y’all get WORKED UP about Virtual Races.

One of the poorly-built trails I’ve been running on near my house. Yikes.

In March of this year, the Chuckanut 50k was the first major local race to be canceled. One by one, other races both locally and nationally started to cancel or attempt to postpone, all through March, April, and May, for races going through the summer, some into fall, and even a handful already canceled for early 2021. Once the races were gone, full-time RDs were left to wonder how they might make a living. A few had to let go entire staff, a few hunkered down and hoped for the best, and many others began to plan and host Virtual Races of varying degrees of cost, complexity, involvement, causes to donate to, and similarity to their usual race.

As participants began flocking to the new banner on the Ultrasignup page designating “VIRTUAL RACE,” I couldn’t help but wonder: why were people so interested in some of these, and not others? What are people looking for? And is this going to be an ongoing part of our sport after COVID?

I posed a question on a local trail running forum about how people feel about Virtual Races, and yikes. I had not anticipated the pitchforks. Fortunately, I was able to calm the ones coming for me and get some good feedback from different perspectives. Here are the major takeaways.


  • I think we can all agree that virtual races are not a substitute for being together in person. Dana Larson, a friend of mine in Seattle, argues that the entire reason she does races is for the people, and virtual races are mostly lacking that sense of community.
  • Safety is another concern. Did RDs consider everyone’s safety in the same way that they would for an in-person race? Do women or others feel any safer, or less safe, doing a virtual race?
  • The word “race” suggests a competition with all things being equal: course, time, day, weather. Virtual races have none of that. Should we call them something else entirely?


  • Rob Lowry, another Washingtonian, has found some virtual races that attempt to build some community.
  • Virtual races are raising a lot of money for great charities, and are helping to keep Race Directors afloat during this tough time, therefore hopefully helping the community to survive as a whole.
  • Others are just plain fun and silly, and we could all use a bit more of that right now.

Check it out the podcast above for a more in-depth conversation about this, and comment below with your own thoughts.

Do you think Virtual Races will become a new part of our trail running normal? What is drawing you to the Virtual Races you have signed up for? And do you think that Virtual Races are breaking down barriers to entry, or throwing up new ones?

2 thoughts on “Virtual Races in the time of COVID: Yay or Nah

  1. Some excellent discourse here! Definitely feel like this is a worthwhile question to be asking as trail and ultra running adapts to our new COVID-19 realities.

    Personally I’ve been a Virtual Race skeptic for some of the reasons discussed here, but it will be interesting to see how this phenomenon will evolve as we get deeper into what is increasingly feeling like a long-term change to our lives.

    I note that many orgs appear to have dropped the Race from their event names opting for Challenge or Event instead. I can’t say that this does much to alter my proclivity, but I wonder what effect time might have on this. I’d be lying though, if I said that there wasn’t a small part of me that was starting to get curious about how it feels socially. It has been a barren few… check’s calendar… months. *GULP*

    Great start, excited to see/hear new Chafe content and community discussion!


    1. I agree! I haven’t taken part in any yet, but there are a few that have caught my little eye. And I do appreciate the change of tone from “race” (suggesting competition) to “challenge” (suggesting self-growth? Maybe?).


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