It's time to get real about virtual running
A touch of virtual reality from our correspondent
There is no such thing as a virtual race, opines runABC reporter Alan Newman. So why is it that everywhere you look, someone is 'racing' virtually and organisers are imploring runners to compete in virtual arenas? Even runABC carries a highly popular 'Virtual Race Listing' section.
There is no doubt the opportunity to test our fitness, and our competency with technology, during the lock-down has been an essential diversion from the seemingly endless slew of horrendous news about the Coronavirus pandemic.
Organisers have to be commended – and have been supported by the running community in their droves – for the brilliantly varied and sometimes free programme of virtual events provided at a time when they could have been forgiven for simply retreating into furlough, awaiting much better days.
So what exactly is our old school correspondent's beef with virtual racing? Well, not much, as it happens. It's just that it's so far removed from an actual race, that Alan feels there ought to be a better descriptor for the genre than the widely accepted 'virtual race'.
A race happens when a motley assortment of runners assembles at a given place and time to run the same course, usually accurately measured, and the finishing order is determined as a direct result of each competitor's performance on the day.
Virtual runs can lack the adrenalin-inducing incentive of fellow runners to rub shoulders with, especially while we must not come within two metres of another person not from our own household for sound medical reasons. So they can become rather sanitised time trials, with a delayed sense of gratification while results are collated, often over several days, or much longer.
Of course, virtual runs can take place on any course at any time, so medal junkies will wait for the most favourable conditions and a few may select rather dubious routes, judging by how much faster they are than their real-world selves! Plus the often vigorously denied inaccuracies of a smart technology that relies on clean contact with at least four out of 30+ navigation satellites, orbiting more than 1,000 half marathons above the Earth, can be a significant factor. Equally, the outcome can be a crushing disappointment if your device decides your carefully selected course is short!
Another anomaly is that you get just one chance in a race, so being able to handle the pressure is a prerequisite. Virtual runners not only have the opportunity to repeat, and perhaps to improve on their times, in some cases they can turn a single run into multiple results, through tactically entering a number of challenges, or simply upload their training log to virtually 'race' an ultra-marathon, thus saving considerable amounts of physical effort.
Hang on, that's doesn't sound such a bad thing. Perhaps there's something in this virtual running lark after all. Now, how do I turn this blasted thing on again...?
Image courtesy Pixabay