Maybe you’re an avid runner and would love to combine your athleticism with one of your other hobbies. Or maybe you loathe running and need more motivation to pound the pavement or hit the treadmill. Either way, virtual running clubs are a fun way to get some miles in.
Registering for a virtual race is a lot like registering for a real race. Runners can choose their distance and have to pay a fee to enter. But here’s where the difference comes in: There’s no physical location where the participants gather to run at the same time. Each person runs whenever and wherever they want (sometimes a specific day or time is suggested, but not required), and everyone is on the honor system to get it done. Runners can also split the distance up over several runs, instead of doing it all in one go.
Why, you might be asking, would I give my hard-earned money to run by myself, without a real course?
The short answer: The themed bling. Because participants in a virtual race can be from anywhere, races can have very specific themes. This results in some pretty sweet hardware (check out the photos below), which is solid motivation for a lot of runners.
The long answer: It’s a good way to incentivize exercise, have some fun, and give to worthy charities. Since they don't have much overhead, many running clubs donate a large chunk of the registration fees to deserving causes. There’s also more camaraderie than you might think: Most of the clubs have communities on Facebook where people cheer each other on and post pictures of themselves completing their runs.
Intrigued? Here are five virtual running clubs to look into.
1. THE HOGWARTS RUNNING CLUB
If a Dementor or Death Eater hot on your heels seems like the motivation you need to get moving, the Hogwarts Running Club is right up your alley. HRC puts on six Harry Potter-themed runs every year, and awards an additional "Perfect Prefect" medal for participants who complete all six. Runners can log miles under their chosen house, and at the end of the year, the house with the most miles wins the virtual House Cup.
Past races have included the Department of Mysteries 6.2442K Run, the Platform 9 3/4K, and the Voldemort V-Miler. In its first two years, HRC raised more than $420,000 for various charities—each race benefits a different organization.
2. GEEK’D OUT RUNNING CLUB
Can't pick your favorite fandom? Then the Geek’d Out Running Club may be for you, since this organization caters to all things geeky. Unlike the other clubs on this list, Geek’d Out offers a live race in addition to a virtual race, so if you happen to be in Salt Lake City, Utah, you can bond with your fellow running nerds in person.
This year’s races include the Hobbit Hustle, the Trekkie Trek, and the Baker Street Bound 22.1 Miler, which asks you to solve a mystery as you traverse the virtual streets of London.
Runners who would like a little pixie dust during their races should look into Disney's virtual runs. Over the summer, runDisney offered a three-part Mickey-themed running series with a suggested completion date of June 30. Each of the three 5K races came with its own medal: The Yellow Shoes medal, the Red Pants medal, and the White Glove medal. Participants who registered for all three could also opt to pay an extra fee to receive a Virtual Running Shorts Series medal featuring Mickey. A portion of the proceeds went to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
The next virtual series hasn't been announced yet (more info will be available in early 2017), but there are plenty of real-life Disney races to choose from as well, most of which take you through the parks.
For a wide variety of themes and distances, look no further than Yes.Fit. Runners pick a race—themes include everything from the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the Wizard of Oz to Route 66 and the Road to Hana—then start tracking their progress on the Yes.Fit site. When a participant logs miles, the corresponding location shows up on a map. As the runner hits milestones, he or she unlocks Google Street Views and can also receive fun trivia about the theme or the route itself.
5. ZOMBIES, RUN!
The Zombies, Run! app for smartphones came out several years ago. During runs (or walks), Zombies, Run! tells users a story about a mission they need to complete in a fictional post-apocalyptic world. When zombies appear in the story, runners are prompted to pick up the pace in real life to avoid them.
The app was so popular that the people behind it decided to launch virtual Zombies, Run! races. When participants sign up for a race, they get access to a special storyline created just for the event. (The plot for the fall race, which takes place from October 20 to November 1, is about breaking into "Xia-Hifa Biologics" to steal medicine.)