Race #21 - Operation Jack Virtual Half Marathon
While other folks were taking advantage of after-Christmas sales or enjoying a third helping of Christmas leftovers, I was completing my twenty-first half marathon. Operation Jack benefits Talk About Curing Autism. Sure, I’m a half-marathon fanatic, but that’s not the only reason to race the day after Christmas. I wanted my challenge* medal.
Virtual races are a cool option if you can’t make it to the actual event. I was up till 2am Christmas Day and appreciated the option to skip waking up at 6:30am to get to a 7:30am race. That said, virtual races are a unique experience and one I wouldn’t recommend to anyone who hasn’t completed at least five, preferably ten, actual races.
- You pick your race time. Expect to complete the race on the same day of the regular race. Beyond that, you are in control of when you start. Most virtual races do not require that you start at the exact same time as the regular race.
- You choose the location. I completed a virtual half marathon in July, 2017. One of the places I enjoy walking on hot summer days is the Bolsa Chica Nature Preserve along the coast. The Shoreline Half Marathon was smack in the middle of a heat wave. I chose a favorite location, starting at the cooler part of the early evening and finishing just as bonfires were lighting up at Bolsa Chica beach. It was a beautiful walk.
- You get all the swag and the finishers medal.
- You’re on your own. At regular races, the organizers provide water, electrolyte drinks and port-o-pots along the route. With virtual races, you bring what you need and plan out locations for nature calls in advance.
- You are your own medical support. By the time you’ve completed five or more races, you know how much training you need to complete the race without any difficulty. This is important. Actual races will generally have paramedics on stand-by. They are ready to transport anyone who can’t finish the race to the finish line. See the recommendations below to keep safe.
- There are no volunteers cheering you along. Wait till you’ve completed several races and built the mental endurance to complete a half-marathon.
- Finisher medals are at the official finish line. Virtual racers receive their swag in the mail. Many race organizers are busy people with full-time jobs and regular lives. Don’t expect that your medal and swag will get dropped in the mail the moment you confirm that you’ve finished the race distance via email.
o Plan your route. Google pedometer makes it pretty easy.
o Use a pedometer app to track your distance. Double-check that you’ve enabled the location service on your phone for accurate tracking. Even if you plan your route, your app will allow you to make on-the-spot adjustments if you need to take a detour or alter your plan and still meet your distance.
o Share your plans with someone. Most races require you to provide the name of an emergency contact. Since you’ll be racing on your own, let at least one person know your start time, route and expected finish time. Let the person know the latest time you’ll call to either report that you finished your race or to adjust your finish time.
o By your fifth actual race, you’ll know whether you need a mid-race bar or energy gel to keep you moving. Bring everything you need to finish with you. Roo Sport is my favorite race pack. It’s less bulky than a fanny pack and has plenty of compartments for phone, keys and a gel or two.
o Identify locations of public restrooms at least every couple miles.
o Have a back-up ride. No matter how well you plan and train, life can throw you a curve. Have your Uber or Lyft ready to roll or a friend on stand-by. Hopefully, you’ll never need it.
o Be safe. Race organizers plan their routes and staff them with volunteers. I’ve walked very small races in natural settings where I was out-of-sight of others for a quarter-mile or more. Still, I felt very safe because there were organizers on golf carts along the route and I knew someone would come find me if I didn’t make it to the finish line. Choose a safe route with little potential for surprises during daylight hours.
Walk That Half!
*For those of us participating in the California Half and Full Marathon Series Challenge, it was the last race of the year to complete and pick-up challenge medals. This series includes a few dozen races in both Southern and Northern California. In addition to the usual finisher’s medal, anyone completing 4, 7, 10, 15 or 20 races from the list of included races earn an additional challenge medal. The catch is that you can only pick up the challenge medals at one of four races at year’s end—two in Southern California, two in Northern California. Operation Jack is the absolute last medal race.