Preparing for My First Virtual Marathon

Even though I’ve completed 63 marathons I’d never done a virtual marathon before (and really had no desire to try one). But when the Pittsburgh Marathon was cancelled and offered the virtual option I decided to go for it (and my sister did too). It seemed like a good opportunity to get outside my comfort zone. Here’s what we did to prepare:

Preparing for My First Virtual Marathon

  1. Taper for two weeks pre-marathon. This gives your body extra time to rest and build reserves which you can use on marathon day. Most marathon training plans will have a 2-3 week tapering period built in. Be sure to follow this when you’re preparing for a virtual marathon.
  2. Support your body with good nutrition leading up to the virtual race. We made sure that we were getting a balance of protein, carbs, and healthy fats as well as plenty of hydration.
  3. Choose a course in advance (and scope it out if you can). We’d used this rail trail for our 16 & 18 mile long runs so were very familiar with what to expect.
  4. Get a timely start. Just like an in-person race starts at an exact time try to get your virtual marathon going as early as you can. The more you put it off the more onerous it will seem (and the weather may get too warm). Plus there are often larger numbers of people out later in the day.
  5. Make a plan for your fueling and hydration. Much of this will depend on the course you choose. If you stick close to home and run loops around your neighborhood you can do an aid station that you loop back to. Other runners chose to have a support person who appears at certain intervals to hand out supplies. We choose to carry all of our hydration and fueling in hydration packs. This does add extra weight but is convenient if you’re going it alone.

  1. Treat it like a “real” race as much as you can.  This includes tapering before the marathon, paying attention to your nutrition and hydration in the week before the race, using your tried and true race gear, and having a fueling and hydration strategy.
  2. In the age of Covid-19 it’s wise to wear a Buff around your neck (or some kind of mask) so that you can pull it over your nose and mouth if you encounter other people along the path.
  3. Decide how you’re going to stay mentally strong. This may include thinking about encouraging mantras, cuing up a good playlist, or listening to podcasts that will keep you in the right frame of mind. Remind yourself that you can do hard things.
  4. Have something to look forward to after the marathon.  Obviously some normal celebratory things won’t work right now. But things like planning a special meal, taking an Epsom salt bath, or watching some “guilty pleasure” TV can be fun.

​We had a great experience for our virtual marathon and finished in 4:13:49. The only issues we encountered was being a bit underdressed for the weather, the trail bathrooms being closed, and my sister dealing with some stomach cramps during the run.

Doing a virtual marathon is a great way to build mental (and physical) toughness.  Plus, it will really help you appreciate the supported races once they’re running again.

To hear my full recap and more tips check out this podcast episode!

2 Responses to Preparing for My First Virtual Marathon

  1. Sasha B July 27, 2020 at 10:58 pm #

    This will be my first marathon ever, a virtual one, most training books mention not having to do long run(s) over 20, because race day excitement, cheering, crowds, and the event will carry you the last 6 miles. Yet, this won’t be the case with a virtual run…she a training run go over 20 miles? Thanks

    • Angie Spencer July 30, 2020 at 1:40 pm #

      Hi Sasha 🙂 Thanks for the great question. There’s no need to do more than 20 miles as your longest run even when training for a virtual marathon. There really aren’t any fitness gains to benefit from and doing more can take more time to recover from. Since you won’t have the benefits of things like crowd support for those final uncharted 6.2 miles it will be important to be working on your mental strength now. Having encouraging mantras, motivating songs and podcasts, or engrossing audio books can all be a great way to keep you going strong. Keep up the great work with your training!

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