The last few months have been challenging for many of us in a variety of ways. I had no idea the damage a single virus could do to the entire world let alone the multisport training and racing community. When the initial three-week quarantine was issued and the pools closed, I didn’t worry too much. Then everything started to close. People were buying out all of the cleaning supplies and toilet paper at Wal-Mart and suddenly things felt more serious. IRONMAN started postponing/canceling races that were months away, race directors were canceling local races, and I started to worry. I worried that I was going to miss an entire season. A season that I had been, up and to this point, killing myself to be ready for at the start line of my first race. Not to mention that this is my last year in the 20-24 age group and I wanted to make the most of every race. Needless to say, I was in a dark place as I am sure many others were as well. I was running and cycling more than I had ever before with no racing/motivation insight.
Enter IRONMAN Virtual Racing. I had heard of virtual racing before but never really gave it any of the credit it deserved. I watched some of the IRONMAN races on Facebook with the professionals and thought “that’s so much easier than a regular race”, “they’re in an air-conditioned room”, “there’s no wind or different terrain”. I still didn’t think that the virtual racing would catch on.
Enter IRONMAN Virtual Championship Series. Almost two weeks ago I got an email from IRONMAN announcing that they were going to be allocating World Championship slots from the virtual race results. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I actually had to read the email three or four times before I fully understood the situation. There are quite a few requirements that every athlete must meet in order to have their times scored and counted which can be found here. Basically, if you are able to complete two Olympic and one 70.3 distance events on three out of the possible four weekends in June, and you have completed either an IRONMAN VR Olympic or 70.3 events, or you have completed any IRONMAN event in the past, then you are eligible for the World Championship slots that will be allocated based on respective age group placing. It sounds like a lot. I know. And it is a lot.
On each of the four weekends, IRONMAN hosts a new VR race. The first-weekend being IRONMAN VR 10, the second VR 11, and so on. I recently completed VR 10 this past weekend. I had my doubts and I thought that it was going to be much easier than it was. That race was one of the most difficult I have ever participated in. You would think that it would be easier since they give you a 12-hour time window to finish everything and no penalty for breaks in between events, but somehow, it’s still not that easy. I’m not sure why it seems so much more difficult but maybe it’s because you still get the pre-race jitters, you don’t have any race volunteers cheering you on or providing liquids, you have only yourself and that’s dangerous. You get in your head more. You’re riding in your garage (or in your house) and all you have to do is unclip your pedals, get off your bike, and go back to bed. The level of self-motivation has to be so much higher than usual. There is no race location motivation of showing up in the dark hours of the morning with everyone else who is nervous and ready to get started. No music blasting at the start line. There were at least two moments that I can actively remember when I was riding the course on ROUVY (pre-selected by IRONMAN) and thought to myself “why the hell am I doing this?”. That has never gone through my head during a race before. The whole experience is just different.
Having said all that, the satisfaction of completing the race is relatively the same as real racing. It’s harder to get through, but once you do, you feel that same sense of relief and joy that you do when you race real events. Of course, there is no finish line and crowd of supports at the end, but we all have to make sacrifices, right? Anyway, that’s my take on the virtual racing at the moment. I’ve still got two more races to go including the 70.3 distance coming up so maybe something will change. If it does, you’ll see it here. Stay tuned and good luck if you decide to take on the IRONMAN VR Championship Series.