Week 17: Racing for Awareness: Virtual Racing Offers a Flexible Way to Foster Your Charitable Spirit
Is a busy schedule and a hectic life preventing you from participating in charity activities? Finding time to volunteer or support a charity can feel impossible in our fast-paced, over-scheduled day-to-day lives. With that in mind, I went on a quest to find super-flexible avenues for involvement in charities. Options that were adaptable to whenever I had time and wherever I happened to be. Virtual racing met that goal.
The idea is straightforward: you register for a race on-line then complete the distance at your pace whenever and wherever it is convenient for you, timing your performance yourself. You then log your results into the website and a short time later your medal (and any other “swag” you may have ordered) arrives at your doorstep via the mail. Often you can choose your distance (5k, 10k, half marathon) and it does not matter how you complete it (run, walk, jog, hike) or where (on a road, trail, track, treadmill).
There are many virtual race websites. I picked Virtual Strides (visit: https://www.virtualstrides.com/ ) because I felt they had a good selection of charities. While they are not a non-profit, Virtual Strides partners with non-profit charities to create, oversee and promote virtual races. A portion of your registration fee is donated towards that charity. They also have a “charities” page that allows you to learn all about the charity featured for each event and you can click through to the charity’s own website as well.
A few things I like best about virtual racing:
- Everyone can do it – no matter your physical abilities (because you go at your own pace)
- It’s very convenient – you can complete your time wherever and whenever you want
- It’s amazing for awareness of local charities outside your home area – One of the charity races I chose was “Bee Healthy” which supported the Planet Bee Foundation, a nonprofit in California that focuses on supporting the honeybee through environmental stewardship and education. Without exposure to it through Virtual Strides, I would never have had the opportunity to learn about this San Francisco-based organization. It was fun to be able to support their efforts from the other side of the country!
I ended up running four 5k races and one 10k race over the course of a month (photos show medals and my race times). The charities I ran for included:
- Ocean Conservancy
- Sight Savers.org
- Planet Bee Foundation
- Joyful Heart Foundation
Because I wanted to really connect with the charities, before I ran each race I made sure to read the information posted about each one and then click through to their websites to learn more. In some cased I had an email conversation with a representative from the charity about their programs and mission. Then, after I received a medal I went back to each charity’s website and made a direct donation.
A few things you should consider before signing up for virtual races:
- There’s a fee for each race and it varies anywhere from about $19 to $50 depending on the race and the “swag” you receive for participating.
- While a portion of your registration fee is donated to the charity featured in the race, it is a small portion. Virtual Strides is very transparent about how they handle that. $5 of your registration fee (most races are $19 – $25 on their site) goes back to the charity. While that may not seem like a lot, the focus is on education and awareness. They suggest that if you want your donation to be most effective you donate directly to each charity (they provide direct links to each charity site). I opted to donate an additional amount to each charity after I received my medal. In this way I was maximizing my contributions.
Doing my races all through Virtual Strides meant I was able to easily look back to compare my times. Plus, I was able to link my Virtual Strides account to my MapMyRun account to make uploading my results a snap. Most virtual race sites allow you to link to whatever app you may use (or you can your distance and time manually).
I think virtual racing offers a chance to connect and participate in unique ways. You could gather up a group of friends and run one on a Saturday morning then celebrate together when you’ve all received your medals. You could choose a race with family or friends from another state then run it on same day, sharing photos and times with each other afterward. You could make it a work competition or tie it to a family reunion. It would also be great to do with children. Have them pick out a race, walk or jog it together, then learn all about the charity and display your medals at home along with a family photo (wearing your medals of course!). I’m not an avid runner but I could see tying virtual races into a training plan as you work towards a marathon.
I enjoyed my experiences with virtual races and am looking forward to upping the lengths of the races, maybe working towards a half-marathon in the future!