How to Find a Virtual Half Marathon to Run or Walk

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"A mature Mexican woman jogging on a trail.".

If the COVID-19 pandemic has derailed your fitness plans and race goals for 2020 and 2021, you’re not alone. With the cancellation of most in-person half marathons, and only a few months left in 2020 calendar year, runners and walkers may be wondering if (and how) they should sign-up for a virtual race. 

The “if” is the easy part: If you’re looking for flexibility, convenience, motivation, and a schedule that works on your time, you might want to consider a virtual half marathon. It’s the “how” that requires more information and super sleuth work on your part.

The good news is we searched high and low, talked to two running experts, and gathered a list of websites and races worth checking out. Here’s everything you need to know about finding a virtual half marathon to run or walk.

What Is a Virtual Half Marathon?

A virtual half marathon is a 13.1-mile race you run wherever you are located in the world. Yes, you read that correctly. You can sign-up, train, and complete a half marathon in your own backyard—or at least the surrounding neighborhoods. Or, if the weather is less than desirable, you can opt to sweat it out on a treadmill while binge-watching your favorite show. 

“In a virtual race, you essentially become your own race director—which means you call the shots when it comes to route planning and timing,” says Thomas Watson, head coach and founder of Marathon Handbook.

But it also means you're responsible for planning out your hydration, your nutrition, and your support team. Watson reminds racers that even toilet stops should be considered before you head out for your virtual half marathon. That’s why he often recommends running a virtual race near your house. 

“You can plan to run by your house a few times, giving you the option to stop and refuel or visit the facilities,” says Watson. It can also be fun to have your family cheer you on as you pass since you’re missing out on the buzz from other runners.

How to Find a Virtual Half Marathon

The easiest way to find a virtual half marathon is the internet. Local running clubs, running shoe stores, athletic centers, and gyms also publish lists of half marathons, especially local races. 

Since you have a ton of races to choose from, the first step is to browse through published lists that divide the races by date, state, or event type. 

Here are some well-established running websites that feature race calendars, with information about each half marathon and links to the race. 

Choosing the Best Race for You

If you’ve warmed up to the idea of a virtual run, it’s time to pick your event. This is the one area that virtual races have an advantage over in-person runs. In addition to a flexible schedule, you have the option of signing up for a race in another part of the country.

That said, most virtual races are often very similar, so Watson often tells runners to choose a "local" virtual race or one that has a special significance to them, such as a race that raises money for a particular charity like Alzheimer’s or heart disease. Another critical factor in choosing a virtual race is timing.

“Remember that it can take two to four months to get ready for a half marathon, depending on your current running abilities, so ensure you give yourself enough time to train and taper sufficiently,” says Watson.

With that in mind, you’ll want to research the different events and compare the “race window” of each half marathon to your training schedule. Many of the virtual races have an established start and end date. 

In other words, they give you a one or two month window to complete your 13.1 miles. But others give you the freedom to complete it on your own timeline. And in a few instances, some races are sticking to their original race date but changing the event to virtual only. This is an excellent option for runners who were in the process of training when their event got canceled. 

Fees are typically lower for virtual events, but you should still compare the costs before choosing a race. And if you have a friend or family member that wants to join you, but they’re not quite ready for the full 13.1 miles, look for a race that offers other distances like a 10k or 5k.

When you’re ready to narrow your options, Kent Pecora, a professional runner and running coach for Tagalong tells potential racers to keep the following tips and questions in mind before signing up for a half marathon.

  • Think about your purpose for racing. Do you have a goal you're looking to accomplish with each and every race? Are is it just for fun?
  • More experienced runners should consider variables such as their competition, potential prize money, how their "goal time" compares to previous years’ results, whether they will be running the race alone or if there will be a large pack of runners they can work with to accomplish a personal best.  
  • Less experienced runners should start by looking at the racecourse and the purpose of the race in the context of their training. “If this is your first half marathon, I recommend seeking one with an easier course — preferably one where the last three miles aren’t uphill, for example,” he says. The goal is to have the initial experiences be positive so that you’re motivated to continue training. 
  • Can the race be used as a "fitness check" in the overall picture of your training plan? In other words, Pecora says if your goal is to run the Boston Marathon, you should target races that have a similar course to Boston (i.e. includes some hills).

Well-Known Virtual Races to Consider

If you want to run a virtual half marathon before the end of 2020, you’re in luck. There are several races across the country that you can select. For a detailed list, go to halfmarathons.net and search by month.

Here are a few events to get you started. All of the virtual half marathons listed below have a “due date” between October and December 31, 2020.

A Word From Verywell

Running a virtual half marathon may not be as exciting, energizing, and fulfilling as being in-person, but it still allows you to cross the finish line. To get the most out of this experience, consider recruiting a few friends, map out a scenic run close to home, and remember to reward yourself when you hit the 13.1 mark.

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