I’ve just completed my first virtual run, and it’s all for a great cause.

Keeping my mental health in check has always been one of the main reasons I took up running and OCR events. Having a particular goal and event to train for has helped me keep focus, and also opportunities to learn about dealing with stress in a productive way.

I haven’t booked in a larger event for 2019, and instead decided to focus on some of the smaller, quirkier runs throughout the year. A few months ago I came across the Miles for Mind campaign by Runr.

Miles for Mind is a virtual event, were runners aim to tackle a set target of miles for May, to help raise money and awareness for the mental health charity, Mind.

From their site:

We have some great ideas and initiatives to bring people together even more, all in support of mental health awareness and in aid of the wonderful work that the charity Mind do. Mind provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing mental health problems and they won’t give up until everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets support and respect.

Some of the key highlights for 2019 include:

  • 100% of profits go to Mind
  • Link your own fundraising page to our team page on JustGiving
  • Kids can now take part!

You can find out more about it here, and how to take part in 2020.

Virtual runs

For anyone who doesn’t know what this means, it’s essentially a DIY run event. You register, enter your target distance which you do in your own time, which is usually over a week or month, and then send proof to the registration team to receive your medal. I’ve noticed more of these events in the last few years, and never thought of doing one until now.

For my first attempt at this, I set myself the target of doing 50 miles / 80km. Anything above this was a bonus, but I felt it was a reasonable and achievable target.

Route

The distance is set, but the route was anything I could think of. My local parks, park runs, even the gym treadmill – it was all up to me. I just had to make sure Strava was on, or I took photos of any treadmill screens. I was up and down the country for most of May, meaning I could squeeze a couple of runs in at home, in and around Reading and up in Newcastle.

I also took part in the Royal Windsor Trail Half Marathon, which meant at least 21km in the bag for this month. A medal run within a medal run. Medalception.

Results

I averaged 2 runs a week, with the bulk of my km coming from the half marathon, and my longer training runs. For the last 2 runs, on the 28th and 31st, I was up in Newcastle staying with family. The difficulty here was trying to squeeze them in as early morning runs so I didn’t take up the whole day.

  • 1st May – 5.8km
  • 5th May – 15.2km
  • 9th May – 7.24 km
  • 13th May – 4.9km
  • 19th May – 21.64km (Royal Windsor Trail Half)
  • 22nd May – 4.61km
  • 28th May – 11.06km
  • 31st May – 12.76km

Total = 83.21km / ~51 miles 

3 km to spare. Nailed it.

I had to wait a couple of days, but the medal came through – look at it! Top marks for the creative design Runr.

Also, check out #MilesForMind on Twitter and Instagram. Loads of great posts from runners taking part.

Are virtual runs worth it?

When I first came across the idea of doing a virtual run, I was pretty sceptical.

So… I pay money (like an event), run the distance I’ve entered (like an event), but do it whenever I want. And the only way to prove it is if I willingly tell the team (there’s no race day judges or set timers like an event). Even if I didn’t run, the medal is still coming to me anyway.

Running in events and races, you know what the end goal and where finish line is, and you can physically and mentally train for it. What I found doing a virtual run like this is that although I’ve set the target distance, the challenge is in keeping that momentum over multiple days.

I could typically run 40-50 miles in a month when I’m training and not think too much about it. For this, I found it challenging trying to work out the daily and weekly average, particularly if I missed a session.  In a way, I also felt a greater level of guilt if I missed a run.

If I miss a normal training run, it basically impacts me and my training alone. If I miss a virtual run, am I a cheater? My entry fee is still going to a great cause, but would the medal feel superficial and unearned? Maybe it’s just how my mind works, but I did feel a bit more pressure to plan my distances and push on… which, selfishly, does actually help with training.

Accessibility is another positive. Not everyone can afford to go to big race events. I worked out it typically costs over £120 if I’m travelling to an event (stay, train ticket, food) and that’s not including the registration fee. I can see why events like this are becoming more popular. 

A runner recently posted this on one of the Facebook groups I follow (Trail and Ultra running, if anyone’s interested). It definitely triggered a few angry comments from people who felt very passionate about defending virtual runs as a legitimate way of gaining fitness, and earning something for a bit of fun.

Yeah, I know, it’s just a meme and OP was likely just doing it to tease, but to anyone thinking of doing a virtual run, I’d say just go for it. Even more so if it’s for a charitable cause like mental health.

I’ve usually found running groups quite welcoming and inclusive, especially the trail groups. But running communities, like any sport or hobby, does have its purists. The type of people who will often make it clear that, to run properly in its purest form, you need all the gear. You need to stick to regimented training and eating. You need to hurl yourself through insane challenges week in, week out. You need to average 4:00/km. 

And like any sport or hobby, I’d say the same thing to anyone taking part – you do you.

Verdict

From a mental health point of view, I did find myself thinking more about how I deal with obstacles and training while I was out running. Making a conscious effort to set time aside for myself to run helped me appreciate more how much I really enjoy it, and use it as an excuse to get away from TV screens and the normal 9 to 5.

As well as raising money and awareness for such a great cause, it’s another medal on the rack – might as well gain while you train! It’s an interesting type of run, and one I’d definitely try again.

And on the mental health stuff, I’ve used Mind a couple of times. They have some really handy blogs and videos, and tips on dealing with mental health challenges. If you want to find out more, check their website.