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Michael Capiraso on the Advantages of Virtual Races During COVID

After a year of lockdowns and social distancing, a lot of runners are feeling pretty desperate for interaction and a sense of normalcy. According to Michael Capiraso, an entrepreneur and avid runner, virtual races have been helping run through these challenging times. After a year of mostly only virtual races, Capiraso recommends several points for running safely during COVID.

"During this time period it's more important than ever to keep in touch and stay connected with family, friends, and fellow runners," said Michael Capiraso. Virtual races can help keep the running community connected despite the challenges of the pandemic.

But with guidelines, such as social distancing, event planners have found a need to get creative when hosting and planning these events. It started with the first significant running event cancellation, the Boston Marathon, which was canceled in the spring of 2020. It left many runners who had spent months training for the event wondering if they would still be able to compete. The Boston Marathon planners wanted to continue to encourage runners who worked so hard and decided to create a virtual race that took place the following September. The event came complete with a finish line break tape that participants could download for their photo finish. And as spent most of 2020 engaged in virtual races, this has continued into 2021 with the hope that we'll start to see some additional in-person races added this year.

1. What Is Involved in a Virtual Race?

In essence, a virtual race is the same as competing in the race, though instead of running with a crowd of people and thousands of spectators watching, you will be completing the run distance and event at your location. You can run, jog, or walk. Some participants complete their challenge on the road others prefer trails. Your virtual race may provide a t-shirt or a medal shipped directly to your home. Virtual races are offered in almost all the race events that were previously available live. 5Ks, through marathons, are available throughout the year.

2. How to Get Involved in Virtual Races

Getting started in virtual races is relatively simple. First, find the race you want to participate in either through a quick internet search or through a runner's forum. Some of the races will support different charities. Sign up, and download the race's particulars, complete your virtual race and submit your results.

3. Completing a Virtual Race Safely

Exercising outdoors is one of the safer ways to get healthy and stay active during the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, with many people home due to state restrictions or stay-at-home orders, more and more people are turning to running as a way to improve both their physical and mental health. During his time as president of NYRR Michael Capiraso was responsible for organizing the New York marathon, and he discusses the draw to running that many people are having during the COVID-19 pandemic. "Running is a great way outdoors, and maybe to challenge yourself with a virtual race, especially in these times when in-person races are not happening," he says.

With so many people eager to participate in these virtual events, they must be still done following some basic safety guidelines to protect both runners and those they may encounter during their challenge. Below are a few simple tips to help you complete your virtual running challenges safely.

4. Maintain Social Distancing

It is still critical to maintain social distancing. It is recommended by the CDC to stay at least six feet apart from others when outdoors. But the distance for runners should be greater. The simple reason is that when you are running, you are exerting yourself much more and, due to heavier breathing, may be able to transmit the airborne disease further than six feet.

The good news is, since you are going faster, you will be more heavily move the surrounding air, which helps to dilute the virus. So even though you are breathing harder, you are not creating more of a risk to those around you by running instead of walking as long as you keep the proper distance. So how far is enough? While running experts recommend a 10-foot distance, the CDC thinks that doubling the distance to 12 feet will be more effective. To help maintain the appropriate distance, it is best to complete your events in areas with lower pedestrian traffic and at times of the day when there are fewer people out, such as earlier in the morning or later in the evening.

5. Wear a Mask if You Expect to Encounter Other People

Wearing a mask has been a point of contention with many people when it comes to getting exercise. Heavy breathing can make masks even more uncomfortable when working out, and some people feel that the inhalation of more CO2 can lead to problems. Researchers have found that there are no health risks with wearing a mask while engaging in physical activity and recommend a cloth face covering be worn in any instance where proper social distancing cannot be maintained. So if your race path takes you to areas where you will not be able to stay 12 feet away from others, you should wear a mask. If you are unsure, you should bring one along in case you encounter other pedestrians on your route. Many runners will wear neck gaiters, to pull up over their nose and mouth when necessary.

6. Take it Easy

While running groups continue to urge members to stay physically active to maintain physical and mental health, the need to stay safe means making adjustments and maybe starting easier than you normally would. Michael Capiraso and others encourage runners to take it slow when they take on these virtual challenges or even when they are simply running for exercise. Backing off a little may mean that you have to make adjustments to ensure that you can keep proper social distancing. This could mean running at other times than you are used to or completing your run at a slower pace. Pushing too hard or trying to make a specific time can increase your chances of injury and may cause you to forget social distancing guidelines.

Michael Capiraso encourages runners to focus on the number of minutes they run instead of miles, allowing them to set a better pace. He also recommends taking a few days off from running outdoors and instead of taking some days to focus on indoor training, such as weightlifting, yoga, and stretching.

7. What About the Camaraderie?

While virtual races are a great way for runners to continue to stay active and on track when events cannot be publicly held, but there is one important thing missing. That's the camaraderie between runners. Even though they can be technically in "virtual" competition against each other, running events bring runners close together, allowing them to draw support from each other and enjoy a sense of community. Even though running can be mostly a solitary activity, many runners enjoy these interactions as part of the event experience. And if you're looking for someone to run with check out for a great way to connect with a running partner.

To help create this sense of community even though runners can't be together, many runners turn to the many digital running platforms (for example Strava), and running groups where they can share their challenges and success with others who are going through the same experiences. It is in these groups that many runners can learn more about virtual events. Capiraso is proud of New York Road Runners' connecting runners virtually through their training programs and available resources.

And for those who enjoy the competitive edge of the sport, there are apps where runners can enjoy some friendly competition and track their progress along with fellow runners. These apps are also great for runners who enjoy the support of others to push them to meet their goals.

But for all runners trying to keep up with their passion in these uncertain times, Michael Capiraso urges them to take it easy and stay the course. "I've been advocating just to give yourself a break and back off a little bit," he says. "It's OK. We'll run another day."


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