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Runners Race to Join Virtual Marathon Craze

28 Nov, 2018

By: Michael Popke

The desire to run in the 2019 New York City Marathon motivated 500 runners to participate in their own 26.2-mile “virtual” marathons (no treadmills allowed).

Each paid the New York Road Runners $100 ($120 for nonmembers) for the opportunity, and once done, they logged the mileage in the Strava appdesigned for runners and cyclists. They also earned a medal designed for the virtual race and — most importantly — were guaranteed a spot in next year’s real New York City Marathon.

With only15,500 spotsin the race designated for general entry — roughly 105,000 people applied for the lottery in 2018 — that’s a big deal.

“New York is the only major marathon to trial virtual races for entry to the real thing,” reported the news websiteQuartzin November. “But other companies are also loving them. Lululemon held 8K Ghost Racesearlier this month in 12 U.S. cities, registering 35,000 runners.”

The existence of such virtual races underscores the rising global popularity of running as a sport — according to Statistica, the number of overall participants in the U.S. has risen 44 percent since 2006, to 55.9 million people last year,” reports Bloomberg. “Because races through major cities are capped for security and logistics reasons, however, trying to get a spot in any of the popular marathons has become more about luck than speed.”

Strava, which began as GPS-tracking software for cycling, has helped pioneer the virtual marathon, according to Bloomberg, and is now the platform of choice for New York Road Runners and Lululemon Athletica.

Bloomberg calls 2018 the“beta year” for testing virtual races, including the first-of-its-kind Virtual Turkey Trot 5K on Thanksgiving Day in New York City. Participating runners had the first four days of November to complete the distance in a single shot.

After the virtual event was announced, it sold out in a “matter of hours,” accordingto David Lorsch, Strava’s vice president for strategy and business development, adding thatStrava is talking to other running outlets about expanding virtual offerings. “I think this concept has legs,” he said.

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