Virtual Races – Here to stay?

Why Virtual Races Should be Here to Stay

The last couple of years have been a rollercoaster. The Covid pandemic has affected every aspect of life, including races. While in-person events were off the cards, virtual races stepped in their place. These have been met with a mix of emotions. While there is no match to the build-up and excitement of lining up for a real race and running alongside hundreds of competitors, virtual events offer a range of benefits going forward.

The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet. Of these, several can link directly to the sport of running and races. SDG3 – Good Health and Well-being, SDG10 – Reduced Inequalities, and SDG13 – Climate Action.

Considering these three SDGs, are we really getting the maximum out of them the way we’ve been going? To be honest, I think we’ve barely even started to.

1 in 10. That was the chance of getting into the London Marathon in 2019. And the odds aren’t much better in other major marathons. How can major marathons promote health and well-being through running when the odds of getting a race place are so low? Of course, promoting health and well-being isn’t down to them personally, but a huge number of people want to take on the challenge of a marathon for that reason, to prove they can do it and to change their lifestyle.

There’s the first advantage of virtual races. Virtual events can provide a much more inclusive,  supportive and motivational platform for individuals to participate and improve their physical and mental health.  Running has long been known as one of the best sports for improving cardiovascular health, sleep quality, and general mood. About 28% of adults in England were classed as obese in 2019, with a further 36.2% being classed as overweight. The more people that can participate in races the better. More participants would also mean more money raised for charities. Marathons are a major source of fundraising for charities who have suffered in recent years.

Another advantage of virtual races is reducing inequalities. Entry, travel, and accommodation, especially in the cities where these major events take place, can add up to hundreds, if not thousands of pounds. Virtual races offer the chance for more people to take part in races when they otherwise couldn’t. This may be due to high costs, travel restrictions, health issues, or timing issues. Virtual events could allow millions of people from poorer backgrounds to participate. They could be used as an effective tool to tackle inequality in this sport.

The next, and possibly most significant benefit, is the positive impact on carbon emissions. Upwards of 90% of race emissions come from international travel. Virtual races significantly reduce the travel required to attend an event. This reduces carbon emissions and lowers the carbon footprint for organisers, which helps reach emission targets and improve air quality in hosting cities. Significant reductions in emissions due to transport are vital in preventing rising temperatures.

This is a short introduction into some of the benefits of virtual races. While a lot of people disregard their validity post-pandemic, I believe they are a vital part of races’ sustainability strategies and deserve as much attention as in-person events.

Sean Ross

The Green Runners

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