Adapting to Virtual Races as Athletes and Brands
Did you know that in excess of 10,000 people in the UAE participated in virtual events during May?
When lockdown closed down the world as we know it, running small circles of our apartment lounge and balcony did not really appeal. The turbo trainer was quickly calibrated, Zwift subscribed and with the Runderwear 60 day challenge streamed live on Facebook a training routine emerged.
My first virtual event was the ADSC Virtual Duathlon organised by Gulf Multi Sport. The event was a 2.5km run, 10km bike and 1.25 run, with the run being able to be completed either in your own home or in or around your immediate neighbourhood. Times are uploaded by a link and the event organisers add a nice touch requiring you to upload a picture to evidence your sweaty exertions. There are participation certificates. I was also called by the Virtual Race Director himself who queried my bike split. Cheating can obviously take place in these virtual events but as with the real thing, you are only cheating yourself. Through the use of technology and fitness apps this can be reduced.
The event was a 2.5km run, 10km bike and 1.25 run, with the run being able to be completed either in your own home or in or around your immediate neighbourhood. Times are uploaded by a link and the event organisers add a nice touch requiring you to upload a picture to evidence your sweaty exertions. There are participation certificates. I was also called by the Virtual Race Director himself who queried my bike split. Cheating can obviously take place in these virtual events but as with the real thing, you are only cheating yourself. Through the use of technology and fitness apps this can be reduced.
There were many virtual challenges which took place to raise money for great causes. Gulf For Good organised the Burj Khalifa Virtual Climb Charity Challenge and raised over AED 22K for children around the world with 188 participants. We witnessed others such as Matt Dewhurst ride 24 hours to raise money for the NHS and Velo Presto Ambassador Sean Thomson managed a vEverest to support well deserving causes.
Virtual race reports from TriDubai’s Leanne Carson
“Every athlete on the planet must be feeling the frustration of the current situation interfering with their training plans! We have to adapt and refocus on our goals and ambitions and that’s not easy when the world around us is going bonkers. When the reality of the Covid-19 impact on the racing schedule hit home, my motivation hit rock bottom, I made half hearted attempts at a few hours of haphazard ‘training’ for the first few weeks.
I opted for strength with the mindset of I’ll just get strong and be ready for when races begin again but it didn’t go anywhere, I couldn’t get my butt in gear. We have a pain cave with a Wahoo Kickr indoor trainer which hadn’t ever really appealed compared to riding outdoors and the heat of summer was beginning to set in so running outside with a mask wasn’t exciting me either! I started to see social media coverage of the newly developed Ironman VR series and coincidentally managed to get hold of a decent treadmill and I was off!
The thrilling prospect of a race got the adrenaline going and I started taking part in the weekly VRs – I had missed the first two. The race format is duathlon, run/bike/run and in the UAE you have from 10pm Friday night until the pre-dawn hours of Monday morning to complete the race. The rules are pretty open, register, sync your data and complete the race in whatever order you like, indoor or outdoor and your data uploads directly through linking to your Garmin Connect. Check the rules and timings first because in the first race I screwed up my registration and I ended up doing the race two days in a row! Initially it wasn’t rewarding, I was slow and disappointed with my first race (VR3) a sprint distance.
I was sluggish and my body had forgotten what to do, the trainer set up for resistance was wrong and I struggled big time! Looking at the results there was clearly a HUGE amount of race manipulation and blatant cheating going on globally, there was of course a backlash, mass revolt at Ironman on social media and my own personal disappointment in the attitude of fellow triathletes but nevertheless I chose to continue to race for my own physical and personal wellbeing. The Ironman VR series gave purpose to the week and I started to feel physically and mentally stronger and ultimately happier! I have so far competed in 5 VRs back-to-back.
The series runs on a distance rotation, Sprint, Olympic and Classic/half and it’s all free! I’ve enjoyed all the races but it’s not the same as outdoor racing for many reasons, you have to adapt your hydration and nutrition for one as you work harder on the bike and sweat a lot more! There’s no scenery to pass the time, no breeze to cool you on the bike and if you don’t have Zwift or Rouvy it’s incredibly boring! You can however stop the clock for a loo break or to receive a delivery at the door!
Mentally the toughest race by far is the Classic, there’s no early morning nervous tummy, no buzz, no athlete vibe, no excitement, no crowds cheering you on, no TriDubai camaraderie on the bike and run, no fun signs to read and no TriBelles ringing their cowbells with their fancy outfits, no podium or chance for a qualification spot! On the plus side there’s no drafting!
But it’s just you racing against yourself, motivating yourself and that makes this much much harder than the real deal and in a way, more rewarding at the end, even if it’s only for a virtual medal and some social media glory! In true Ironman style everything is merchandised and you can visit the shop to get your race goodies as usual and then pray that eventually one day insha’allah it might arrive!”
Inphota virtual events
Locally one of the most active virtual events platforms is run by Inphota on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council (ADSC). Throughout the lockdown, in conjunction with Gulf Multi Sports, the platform has hosted a series of challenges and races to encourage people to stay active and healthy. These have included the running and cycling challenges and multi-sport events through the virtual duathlon. The events reward participation and not just the athlete who is the fastest. The development of leaderboards and Age Group categories adds to making it close to the real thing.
Andrew Laitey, Owner of Inphota shares his thoughts on virtual races
“We launched virtual events to the region with the aim of helping people to stay healthy and active with either at home or physically distanced workouts. For many, real world events provided motivation through goal setting, knowing this, it was important for us to offer a free product that helped provide an alternative to having target events to work towards. For us virtual events will never replace the real thing and nor should they, but by providing incentives for completing workouts and a product that make it easy to participate and submit results, we can encourage people to continue exercising even during the most difficult times.
Through our partnership with Sported™ we have been able to offer desirable rewards to those who have participated in our series of virtual events that includes running, duathlon and cycling challenges.”
Adapting as an athlete and brand
From my own perspective I have thoroughly enjoyed competing in the Virtual Duathlon series. It’s not quite the real thing but the requirement to upload your times and go on a leaderboard gives you that motivation to go as hard as you can. Of course you miss racing your main adversaries head to head, face to face. However, there is always last week’s time to beat and the chance to get a new PR. So from that perspective virtual events have enhanced my training efforts during lockdown, provided an element of competition and proved to be an enjoyable experience (afterwards!). What is interesting is that these races attract competitors from overseas and on the flip side athletes based in the UAE can enter overseas events without having to travel!
From a brand perspective virtual events have allowed us to stay in touch with our customer base during what has been a very challenging time for everybody. We teamed up with Inphota to offer the “My Sported Marathon” during the month of May. Participants could sign up to complete either a half marathon, the full distance or an ultra -distance (100km) virtual event. Over 700 people entered and prizes were awarded on a lucky draw basis rather than to those who just ran the furthest.
Sported Race Calendar Update
The Sported Race Calendar has been updated to include virtual events!
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