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Pros and cons of virtual races

woman running on a bridge

Have you been considering running a virtual marathon? Here’s what our health coach thought of the experience!

If you enjoy challenging yourself by running races, you don’t have to sit on the sidelines during COVID-19. Virtual races can still be surprisingly fun and rewarding for participants and spectators. These races can be completed at any location and at any pace that’s comfortable for you. You can compete on a treadmill, in your neighborhood, in a park you love, or anywhere else in the world. I’ve participated in three virtual races so far, and each of them offered a unique experience.

My virtual race experience

So what is doing a virtual race like? There are no other runners, no nutritional support on the course, no spectators cheering you on with fun signs, and no giant clock at the finish line. But racing can still be fun without all of that! There are plenty of things to enjoy virtually. I felt that all the virtual support provided by the Dick’s Sporting Goods Marathon, the UPMC Health Plan half-marathon, and the Pittsburgh Marathon pushed me to continue with my training and kept me moving toward my very own starting line.

Let’s talk about the Pittsburgh Marathon in a little more depth. This is my favorite yearly race because it encourages runners from all of Pittsburgh’s unique neighborhoods to participate. When the race went virtual, I had doubts that I could still do 26.2 miles on my own. What made the difference for me were creative ways the Pittsburgh Marathon engaged their runners. They sent several emails to keep us informed, created #MOVEPittsburgh, and even worked on some virtual course options for the participants to follow. They also created a website dedicated to virtual runners, which provided additional details about the race and allowed us to print our own race bibs.

I decided to run my virtual race on May 3—the day of the Pittsburgh Marathon. I have been running this race for 10 years, and I wanted to stick with tradition. I packed two flask bottles to keep me hydrated and additional nutrition in my racing belt. I planned a flat course that was mostly on the trails, which helps me avoid traffic lights and stay on tempo.

The first half of the marathon went smoothly. I had great music, my pace was steady, and I was feeling good. However, the second half of the marathon was more of a character builder. I started running out of fluids, and I had to use the bathroom. I ended up heading back to the house with about 19 miles under my belt. That’s when the battle of the remaining 7.2 miles began. I fought hard to get out of the door to get my legs moving again, but I did it.

I finished my 26.2 miles at the bottom of the hill, but my wife and dogs were waiting at the top to cheer me on. I ran just a little more to get to her and our pups. Overall, I had a great time, and I am glad I ran the virtual marathon. I definitely earned the shirt and the awesome sunglasses.

Was the virtual race experience worth it?

Here are my pros and cons of running a virtual race:


  • It keeps you motivated to stay with your training plan.
  • You can complete the race any time before the deadline for submissions. Just run it when you’re ready and submit your time to the race.
  • You don’t have to stand in long, crowded lines to use the bathroom.
  • You can have a personal support team follow you along your route without being stopped by race officials.
  • There’s no heavy traffic to deal with on race morning.
  • You don’t have to worry about where to park for race day.
  • There’s lots of social media support!
  • It’s a fun way to connect with other runners.


  • There are very few spectators along your run course.
  • It can get very boring.
  • There are no Eat’N Park cookies at the end!
  • There aren’t many accessible bathrooms. You may have to alter your course to go!

Virtual races can still be fun and challenging, so don’t count them out. Keep an eye out on the different options available. Some even offer creative ways to keep participants engaged and excited. Of course, races aren’t the only option. There are tons of different free virtual challenges out there. Regardless of what you choose, be sure to stay active and keep on moving!