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My first virtual race – 5K Vestingloop

As for most of you, all my races in the near future have been cancelled. My original plan after my first half marathon in March was to run a 10K race at the end of May with the guidance of another Garmin Coach training plan. The goal, to beat the time I ran during the Genneper Parken Loop in January. In the meantime I also wanted to run a 5K race on March 28. My best 5K time is already a year old and I know I’ve progressed enough since then to be able to get a pretty good PR. I had picked out a race for both the 5K and the 10K, but of course they’ve both been cancelled.

So, new plan: today I’m running my first virtual race: Nationale Virtuele Vestingloop. It’s the same organization as my first half marathon and part of a 5-race series. If you complete all five races you’ll get a special extra medal, not sure if that’s still going to be possible with all events cancelled for the entire summer, but we’ll see.

Today’s virtual event:
Distance: 5K
Time to beat: 34:59

Race day preparations

I’m treating today as a real race. I got up early, checked the weather, made my breakfast, checked the weather again and tried to figure out what to wear today. It seems like it’ll be a sunny day today, but the route I had planned goes mostly through the woods, so that shouldn’t bother me too much. I pick short tights, a T-shirt and my new cooling running visor from Odlo (see picture below). I fill my water bottle, put on my running shoes, double check my route and head out the door. 

It feels a little strange to be going for a race in my own neighborhood where I do most of my training runs. The route I picked starts about 1K away from my home giving me lots of time to warm up. The entire route is a cycling lane through the woods and partly alongside a small village. No crossings, traffic lights or other possible delaying factors. I jog, stretch, run and walk until I reach my starting line. 

The race

No gun shot, no crowd of people, no starting bow. Just me, my watch, the birds and a random man on a bike cycling towards me. I do feel a bit of race pressure as I’ve convinced myself a time of 32:30 could be possible, and I want it. I press start and accelerate, the race starts!

I set up a workout to guide me through the race with pace alerts. The first 1K should go slow at 7:00 – 7:15 min/km and then I’ll speed up towards 6:55 – 7:05 min/km and 6:45 – 6:55 min/km. A bit faster is great, a bit slower… a point of attention.

The first 1K is hopeful. I’m running in the shades of the woods and I feel good. It goes a little faster as intended at 6:58 min, but not too crazy and I have lots of energy left. Still 4K to go, I got to keep this up. At 1,5K I make a 90° turn and soon after, my watch starts beeping that I’m going too slow. Why? I’m not going slower, am I? I assume it must be a glitch and carry on. It beeps again. My average pace is decreasing quickly and I start doubting myself. Maybe this pace does feel a little comfortable? I speed up and quickly figure out that I can’t keep this up. I’ve reached a point on the route where I’m fully in the sun and even though it should be only 12°C, I’m feeling very hot. I take my water bottle, take a small sip and throw some water on my head. Keep going. 

The second 1K is registered at 7:15 min as the friendly lady in my ear tells me. Not good, but I tell myself that I can still make it up. I’ve now accepted a 32:30 finish time is not going to happen, but I still want to beat my 34:59 PR. My determination kicks in and I find a steady pace around 6:50 min/km that I’m able to keep up for 1,5K. As I feel I’m heating up again, I slow down a little at 3,5K and throw some water on my head again. It might look a bit funny, but it’s really helpful. Why am I doing this again? Right, PR. Why do I want a PR? Looks good on Instagram! No, to confirm that I am fitter, that the hard work I’ve been doing is paying off. I know I am able to do this. Just do it. 

I keep having interesting conversations with myself, but at 4K I lose the mental battle and I start walking. I ran the third 1K at 6:51 and the fourth at 7:08 minutes. It’s still possible. Stop walking, start running! One more sip of water and I take off again. The last 1K is long and hard. I see a few people, but they are just looking at me weird. No one is cheering me on, no one is offering high five boosts. Tough crowd.

The last 1K is the fastest of the 5K, I give it everything I’ve got and as soon as I hear the 5K lap sound, I stop running. I’m done. It takes me at least another 30 seconds to exactly pause my watch. Did I make it? I don’t think so. I save the activity, but there is no new PR notification. I’m disappointed, but I had a good run. When I walk home I see how close I was to my PR. Today’s time: 34:59 minutes. Exactly the time to beat. Well, okay…

Looking at the graph below that shows my pace, cadence and heart rate, I’m still not really convinced of the sudden pace drop at 1,5K. I was running consistently at around 6:50 min/km and then suddenly it dropped to 8:30 min/km? Without me noticing? As you can see below, my cadence remained consistent at 155-160 and my heart rate was almost steady during this time. Maybe the GPS glitched, maybe I did. I guess I’ll just have to do another attempt!

After the finish

Since this is a virtual race, there was no medal at the finish, no fresh water, no one waiting on me. Nothing, but a nice and quiet walk back home. At home I take a few screenshots of Strava to prove I ran the race and send them to the organisation. A few days later my medal arrived! It matches nicely with the medal I got for my first half marathon on March 8th. Great addition to my (slowly) growing collection.
Summary

Running a virtual race is obviously not the same as running an actual race, but it did motivate me to get out today and give my best. I wanted to earn that medal. Even though I could’ve probably gotten the medal by just walking 5K, for me I needed to earn it and give the best I had. 

So, whether or not a virtual race will be the right choice for you, I think it’s a matter of mindset. Do you need it? Probably not. Can it help you? Definitely. For me, it was a fun way to push myself just a little further. 

1 thought on “My first virtual race – 5K Vestingloop”

  1. Hi there! I really enjoy reading about your training progress and your races. I also run with a Garmin watch and have experienced the same glitch as you did during your race. In my experience, the pace always drops by about 1-2 min/km when I make sharp or 180 degree turns. My guess is that the GPS doesn’t update continously and that it will therefore “miss” a few meters in these situations, which in turn messes up the pace indication. When this happens, I do my best to ignore the beeping and just continue in the same pace until the GPS is back on track. 🙂 All the best!

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