Recently I came across an FAQ on a website for a half marathon that both amused and irritated me as a sign of the times. The fact that I haven’t entered a race in a quarter-century probably had something to do with it. Still, it reflected a comical aspect of modern-day road racing, that, had I never seen this FAQ, I would never have dreamed of.
Two Q&A’s on the FAQ appeared noteworthy:
1) Q: What to do the finisher medals look like?
A: All finishers receive an awesome race-themed finisher medal!!!
2) Q: Have you considered adding any kind of virtual event?
A: We have considered, but do not offer, a virtual race at this time.
Question One on finisher medals seemed to imply, that an unsatisfactory-looking finisher medal might disqualify your race from consideration by the questioner. Apparently, the website had neither an actual photo of the medal, or even a piece of artwork. Shame on them! This explains the slightly defensive tone of the reply, in which the respondent not only declared the not-yet-prepared medal to be awesome, but also added three exclamation points to underscore its awesomeness. The “race-themed” description also identified the medal as unique product, not just any old off-the shelf theme-deprived chunk of metal or wood. !!!
Question Two on virtual events suggests that the questioner would like to participate in the race without running the actual course, with all its inconveniences such as: other runners, independent timing devices, mats to verify that the course was completed, inclement weather, waiting in a corral for your wave to start, snatching a cup from the water table without spilling it, etc. It suggests that the questioner might picture running the race on a treadmill equipped with a VR headset with speakers providing applause all along the way that might be missing in real Reality. Then getting an awesome race-themed medal for his or her pains.
If this sounds a bit like buying a medal for a race you never have to run, that’s exactly what it is. According to the website of Virtual Strides, with 44,000 subscribers, “we ship medals to everyone who registered but never submitted their results, so if you don’t complete your run . . . you’ll still get your medal.”
In fact, submitting your “results” shouldn’t be much of a sweat, since Virtual Strides accepts results “on the honor system.”
It gets even better. Per Virtual Strides, the participant can even register for, and get medals for, past events. Say that half marathon you declined to enter because of a heat wave last summer turned up some really slow times when run in the stifling atmosphere that day. You can move up through the pack by entering post facto and running the distance on a nice cool day in November with no wind, and post some fine results to Virtual Strides—that assumes you have even bothered to complete the distance and timed it accurately. You get a medal anyway (as long as they haven’t run out, which they claim is rare), and you can boast you ran the half marathon that happened on a day (not necessarily the day you “ran” it) when the black bulb temperature hit 103! (It doesn’t matter what time of day it hit that temperature; this is after all a “virtual” event. It also doesn’t matter if you ran the distance on the flat when the physical race was chock-full of hills.)
You can even purchase a “real, professionally-printed, tear-resistant, water resistant custom bib within days of placing your ordering!” And wear it to bed with you.
This got me to wondering, how many of you race directors out there already stage a virtual version of your race? If not, what’s stopping you? It expands your revenue stream at minimal expense: you add registration fees (minus the cut by a subcontractor who handles the mechanics) while eliminating many of those pesky physical requirements—extra water, extra barriers, extra corrals, extra volunteers, bigger expo venue, etc.—that are called for when bringing in more flesh-and-blood customers (once we get into the virtual racing frame of mind, we can stop thinking of them as runners).
All in all, the era of the virtually competing armchair runner seems to have arrived. Why not make the most of it?