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Virtual Is The New Normal

Virtual runs have become the new norm in these strange times.

With sports facilities closed, the events industry on pause and Covid-19 lockdown in place; walking, running and cycling have become the only exercise in town.

But the appetite for community connectivity in these socially isolating times has driven people to digital platforms to continue to take part in shared experiences, like Joe Wicks’ weekday workouts on YouTube attracting nearly 1m live viewers per day.

Even for those without a high profile, the digital world has enabled the active to stay connected with their networks at this time and beyond.

On Instagram one of the biggest successes has been Edinburgh runner Olivia Strong who struck a chord with her 'Run For Heroes' campaign encouraging people to run 5k and then donate £5 for charity and nominate five others to do the same. Already the campaign has raised over £2m.

Driven by support for the NHS, 99-year-old war veteran Tom Moore walked 100 laps of his garden to raise an incredible £14m, and counting, for NH Charities together, going viral via JustGiving.

There are also examples of running clubs getting creative to get their competitive fix while the events calendar is side-lined.

My own running club has set up a mileage challenge on Facebook for the duration. On a national level, the English and Scottish Road Relays switched to virtual events this month (working with athletics’ platform OpenTrack) when the actual events in Birmingham and Livingston fell by the wayside.

Now the mass participation events industry are reacting to the new normal by launching the 2.6 Challenge on April 26 – the same day London Marathon was scheduled.

The initiative encourages people to create their own 2.6 themed challenges and raise funds for charities, mitigating the knock-on effect for good causes threatened by the wholesale cancellation of events.

The move to virtual has been swift and may cause a rethink for running events in the long-term. The full potential of how digital media can be used to engage people in shared physical activity has been explored like never before. Will a by-product of the coronavirus be a fundamental shift in mass participation event experiences to digital media?

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