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If you are a race organizer whose plans for year 2020 have gone for a toss due to the Corona Virus Pandemic then you are not alone. Tens of thousands of in person events got cancelled due to the pandemic. Marathon races which are known for large number of participants and huge spectator crowds certainly were no exception. However, virtual racing has opened the doors for such race organizers to stay afloat and keep their participants engaged in a new and meaningful way.
What is a virtual Race?
Virtual races are similar to live races in the sense that participant is still required to run a predetermined distance that he/she has signed up for to receive the timing certificate and medal etc. However, there are a few major differences: 1. Participant can choose to run anywhere they want. It can virtually be anywhere in the world, indoors or outdoors. 2. Most virtual races don’t have a designated start time. Generally the participant is asked to run a distance on a given day or a week or month depending on the nature of that particular race. 3. Most in person races are timed using rfid chip. Timing and distance for virtual races need to be self-reported by the participants using apps or websites.
Why organize a Virtual Race?
As a race organizer, there are very limited options currently for you to hold an in-Person event. As such organizing a virtual race keeps you relevant in these social distancing times. If you were holding a few regular in-person events each year, you can convert them to virtual races and give your loyal participants a way to still be a part of your events. For event organizers, virtual races offer a few advantages like: 1. Easy to expand your reach and scale up. Since the race is held virtually, you are not limited by geographic catchment area for most of your participants. You can reach fitness enthusiasts all over the world through the virtual running platform. 2. Virtual races require less investment. With no physical presence you are not burdened with route planning, expo, permissions, volunteers, crowd control etc. All you need is a good technology partner and excellent online marketing campaign to get going.
How to Organize a Virtual Race?
A good technology platform is the backbone of any virtual race. Look for a partner that is not a technology company but an organization that has experience of actual in person races and who also offers a virtual running platform. Realize that it is still a race albeit virtual. And many things which runners care about in an in person race hold true in a virtual race as well.
Key things to consider for a virtual race platform would be a robust online ticketing system, ability to generate virtual bibs, enable virtual race data submission, real time race results, leaderboards and updates on multi day challenges, finisher certificates, race day photos and ease of sharing on social media channels. Although the cost per runner for virtual races are much lower than in-person races, the payment gateway fee, platform cost for bib, certificate, photos, tax etc. can add up quickly. So do compare all the costs and features before signing up with a partner. Beware of any hidden charges and taxes.
Once you have decided a technology partner and date for the event, you need to focus on marketing and registrations. While you can do some in person marketing in your own city, most of the marketing effort would be online. You should try to reach as many participants as possible at the lowest cost. Your technology partner may be able to market your race to their own database as well as through their social media channel. Your own social media channels need to be optimized and you can run targeted ad to spread the word. You should still market your virtual races using all the channels you would use to market your live events: email, social media, posts in regular running groups etc. You should try and list it on various running calendars too.
Organizing a virtual race may seem daunting but it is in fact a much easier feat to pull off. Key challenge for each race is to get the targeted number of registrations and that is where you, as an organizer, should be focusing your efforts on. Let the technology partner take care of the actual logistics and reap the rewards of a good partnership to conduct great virtual races.