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  • Heather Steel

The Virtual Race

This year has been like no other for races with the majority of the race calendar being impacted by Covid-19.

I have a lot of friends who had big races planned this year, including world marathon majors. Race entries are hard to come by for the 6 biggest marathons in the world, let alone the effort that goes into the logistical planning and physical training. I feel for those who have had these races cancelled and had to ditch all their plans. In the grand scheme of things, I know it’s not important but must make adapting training difficult after doing weeks and weeks of long miles.

I didn’t have any big races planned but was looking forward to the ones I had entered, which included the Blyth 10k, North Tyneside 10k, Edinburgh Half Marathon and some club relays. I didn’t get into the Great North Run but was looking forward to joining my daughter in her first race, the Mini GNR 3k. Does the fact I called it a race mean I am going to be a pushy parent?

Many cancelled races have opted for still giving runners a chance to ‘race’ by doing virtual runs. If you haven’t done one then you may be thinking how can you do a virtual run. Easy...you run the distance of the race at your own location and time but in the spirit of the race! You then post your time to the event organiser.

I’ve done two virtual races this year, both relays because to be quite honest without the pressure of being in a team and not wanting to let other people down, I’m not so sure about the virtual race!

Like many clubs Wallsend Harriers decided to run the annual Gordon Smith relay as a virtual race. The race takes place every May and consists of a 3 person team each running a 2 mile leg. If you have done a 2 mile race before you will know it’s a super hard distance to run, a bit too long to go sprinting flat out but you need to push harder than a 5k. It’s a tough one!

I entered the relay as part of our running clubs women’s team with my two friends who are also the fastest two female runners in our club (so no pressure).

My first virtual run was the Good Friday relay and I was part of the same team. It took me two attempts to finish the 2.1 mile leg. Attempt one I really struggled and gave up half way for no reason at all, messaging our group chat saying I couldn't do it and I was sorry for letting my team down. I didn’t really pre-plan the route and ran with no real goal, this made running fast on my far too hard.


Without the nerves and adrenaline a race gives you it’s hard to get to the speed you want. I was running feeling awful and looking at people strolling along enjoying their walks and I just didn’t have it in my legs to keep pushing. Fast forward 20 minutes I pulled myself together, jogged to a new location completed the run by doing laps of a lake in my local park. Of course I would never let my team down.

I set out today to do the Gordon Smith virtual relay. I had a week to complete my run and submit my time. It was 1pm on the final day with a 5pm deadline. So despite the hangover, a bit of sunbun, the blazing heat and the fact my route of choice was a mid day quayside run (destined to be busy) it was now or never!

I learnt from my last virtual run and I planned my route. I decided on Newcastle quayside as my race course and I ran the ‘course’ at an 8 minute mile pace for a warm up, and started the 2 mile race from the millennium bridge. Running at mid day at 19 degrees wasn’t easy but today I had in my mind that I didn’t have another chance to ‘try again’ like I did in the Good Friday relay and I just needed to run the 2 miles. There is no getting away from the fact a running alone makes it harder to run fast, I was still about 15 seconds a mile slower than if I was actually racing. But despite the heat and dodging walkers and cyclist I actually enjoyed the run, and annoyingly I think maybe I could have pushed a little harder (sorry girls).

The virtual race definitely gives you more of a focus for your run. But it by no means is the real deal. If you have entered a race and they are running it virtually why not incorporate it into your running plan, it will give you some added motivation.


Before lockdown ends, I might another, because who knows how long we will be racing virtually.





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