Since COVID-19 put the kibosh on in-person racing, I have been running much less. Currently, a lot of this is due to issues with my ACL (having my first physical therapy session for this today, woo), and part of it is because I really enjoy racing! I hate waking up at the ass crack of dawn, but the 5:00am wake up/coffee and pre-race jitters, plus the race morning atmosphere is a ritual that I do miss. Plus, who doesn’t love a medal?!
I did put off registering for virtual races for a bit because I wasn’t sure how it was going to serve me. The Race to the Stones changed my mind.
Race to the Stones is an ultramarathon held annually in England. They have a few distance options. Runners can do the full 100K, which is spread across 2 days, or they can “just” participate in Day 1 or 2. When I was living in London, I started following a lot of UK-bases running instagrammers/bloggers, and many of them had run Race to the Stones, so it was vaguely on my radar. Several people shared that Race to the Stones was being held virtually in 2020, with a variety of distance options that made the event doable for ultramarathon virgins. Count me in!
Virtual Race DEtails
Distance: The race spanned July 6-12 and participants had the option to cover 21K, 42K, or 100K. If it was now (mid-August), I would have chosen the 42K option. If I was in the midst of marathon training, I would have challenged myself with the 100K option. However, in July I was sedentary, so I opted for the 21K distance, because I knew I could do this. Spoiler alert: I walked most of the distance, but that’s okay! Walking is A-OK in ultras, or really in any race. Plus, the benefit of a virtual race is that nobody knows I’m racing, and nobody cares!
Cost: 20 GBP/$26 – 10 GBP for the medal and 10 GBP for shipping. Would it be cheaper if I didn’t like in Israel? Hell yeah. However, I actually received the medal (eventually), and given the Israeli Post’s infamous lack of reliability…that’s saying something. Participants could also buy clothing, and although the sweatshirt looked nice…I have enough sweatshirts. Maybe if I’d seen the sweatshirt in person, I would have wanted to buy it?
Website: The layout was nice enough, and information was easy to find. The big benefit of the virtual race is the tracking feature. The race tracking platform was salty about Strava not liking them (clearly I glazed over the info), so they refused to use Strava data. Luckily, I run with a Garmin watch (and have the data imported to Strava), so this wasn’t an issue. However, there were a LOT of issues with the tracking for the race. To their credit, the organizers did a very good job communicating issues to participants, and in the end, everything worked out. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that future races will have fewer issues. Website: C-, Customer Support: A…let’s call it a B overall
Social media: Race to the Stones had a lot of running influencers involved, and had an active Instagram page throughout the race. They also held daily challenges/contests where participants could win prizes. I didn’t bother trying (I assume UK residents would be prioritized for this sort of thing), but liked that there was a sense of community. Social media: A
Updates: Every day participants received an email with updates from the race organizer with little tidbits, including who won the daily contests. We also received leaderboards for each of the race distances…however as the tracking software had issues (see above), this information was rarely accurate. Updates: C, since the leaderboards were rarely accurate. It would be an A with accurate info
Medal: The medal is cute. All participants received the same medal, regardless of distance completed. As this likely kept the cost down, I’m fine with it!
I’m happy I completed the virtual Race to the Stones! I think the virtual event was very fun, despite the issues with the tracking software, where my distance wasn’t always accurately recorded. However, in the end my 21kms were accepted and all was right in the world!
I’m not sure participating in the in-person Race to the Stones will ever be logistically feasible, but I’ll keep it in mind, should I ever decide I want to run an ultramarathon!