As runners settle into the starting line for this year’s TriStars Sooke 10K race, they’ll be there, alone.
With races around the world cancelled, on hold, or up in the air, a new kind of event is gaining traction: virtual races. And the Sooke race is no different.
The TriStars Sooke 10K is part of the widely popular eight-race Vancouver Island Race Series, which runs from Victoria to Courtenay in the first four months of the year.
Midway through the series in 2020, race organizers were forced to call off the remaining three races, including Sooke, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year the Island Race Series went virtual, with some surprising results.
“People really got behind it,” said Louise Hodgson-Jones, general manager of the Vancouver Island Runners’ Association.
“It’s gone really well. I’m kind of blown away, to be quite honest.”
So far, 369 people have signed up for the race series virtually, on par with the number of people who run in the in-person races.
The virtual format offers two challenges per race: a run challenge and a photo challenge.
In keeping with the tagline, “run series, fun series,” race organizers want participants to have fun so they can choose to race or just run for fun. Participants also have the option to post their results on to Race Roster, an event registration system, during the week of each challenge.
The TriStars Sooke 10K race is set for the week of March 31 to April 7.
The run challenge includes a Coffee Climb where participants are asked to cover the most elevation in a 10K distance. The run can be on trail or road. And the photo challenge? Take a selfie with a coffee or treat from a favourite coffee shop.
Hodgson-Jones said many participants run the designated course (in Sooke’s case from EMCS, down Sooke River Road and back) on race weekend, but they’re free to pick any course they choose. Some participants even registered thousands of miles away from Denmark to Newfoundland.
“It’s rather unique that way,” Hodgson-Jones said. “It opens up all these races to anyone in the world, really.”
Hodgson-Jones is surprised virtual races continued to evolve over the last year. She pointed out part of the reason is that race directors are more inventive and creative in presenting their events.
With all the virtual race series’ success, does Hodgson-Jones look forward to another year of virtual racing?
“I’ll admit I’m looking forward to getting back to in-person racing,” she said.