Lifestyle

Virtual Running Lets You Join a Race at Your Own Pace and Location

And it helps you support charities too!
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At least once a month, often on Sundays, a portion of a major highway in Metro Manila is closed off to make way for the hundreds of runners racing for at least five to as far as 42 kilometers. Running has seen a rise in popularity lately that, at times, there are two to three race events simultaneously happening on a single day in the metropolis.

But leisure runner Joric Gonzales argues these events aren’t really for everyone.

“Not everyone wants to get up early at 5 A.M. on a Sunday to race,” says Gonzales. “And how about the rest of the running communities in the country? Sometimes there are only two to three major race events in their provinces.”

So in 2016, Gonzales, with his work colleague and fellow leisure runner, Archie Dolit, introduced virtual racing to the local running community with the online platform, VirtualRacePH

Virtual running allows runners anywhere in the world to participate (they cannot win, however) in a race at their own pace, time, and preferred locations. In exchange, these participants can receive freebies such as finisher shirts and a medal for a minimum fee. 

The idea isn’t entirely new. The concept has long been been accepted in Western countries, particularly the USA and the United Kingdom. Last year, the organizers of the prestigious New York Marathon allowed 500 runners worldwide to participate in a virtual race of the sports event in exchange for a slot in this year’s race.

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With VirtualRacePH, the platform launches race events (at least four in a year) with distance categories ranging from five kilometers to 200 kilometers. Unlike the usual Sunday fun runs, participants are given a specified duration, usually 30 days, to finish their chosen race.

When they’re done, racers are asked to provide proof of their accomplishment “such as a photo of their recorded performance on smartwatches or running apps that are readily available on their smartphones.” Once their proofs are verified, participants will receive their freebies through mail.

It's true that the idea may seem pointless to some runners. After all, if you’re used to running on your own anyway, why bother paying a fee when you don’t have the support and amenities of usual race events?

A quick look at VirtualRacePH’s website shows why the idea isn’t so absurd. On the site, runners post their reviews of VirtualRacePH and share their experiences in the races. One user shared how virtual racing is enough motivation to lace up and log in the miles without the pressure of seeing other runners. Some simply like a tangible reward for a good run. But for many, it’s the charitable cause behind the platform that makes them sign up for a virtual race.

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“In terms of distance, we have logged more than 800,000 kilometers [for] charity, and in terms of cash, we have donated around that number, too,” Gonzales says.

The founders consistently share proceeds of their events with charities, including Caritas Manila, Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, and Habitat for Humanity.

So far, VirtualRacePH has held 11 events with around 10,000 sign-ups and the founders hope to have at least four more this year. Gonzales says the platform has surprisingly also gained the attention of runners outside the Philippines, including sign-ups from all continents, save for Antarctica.

“We have a three-point objective: advocate, motivate, and celebrate, and just recently, we added the fourth, innovate,” Gonzales says. “But I think, personally, [our] aim is to motivate, especially new runners and encourage them to join [the sport].”

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Elyssa Christine Lopez
Elyssa Christine Lopez is a staff writer of Esquire. Follow her on Twitter @elyssalopz
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