How to Compete When There Are No Races

April 30, 2020
virtual races
Rob PylesThe author on an early-morning training run in the Middlesex Fells in Medford, Mass. From virtual races to FKT attempts, runners have to get creative to remain competitive in an era of race cancelations.


If you’re like me, you want your training runs to build toward something—a test or competition that will show you what’s working, and what’s not. Racing accomplishes this for most of us, and back in January, I shared a model trail race calendar to keep us all competitive in 2020.

Then, a pandemic hit. Everything, it seems—especially large gatherings like races—is canceled. No one can guess how long we’re going to be in this strange limbo, but most agree that the races through the summer and early fall are in jeopardy.

First off, we need to acknowledge the obvious: Public health always comes before individual athletic endeavors and sports. AMC fully supports the public health measures, and our direction is still to limit your outdoor activities to brief, local outings, always keeping in compliance with state and federal stay-at-home guidance. Saving lives is more important than training plans or peak races.

That said, for runners, the cancelation of races for which we were training and the unknown date when we’ll be able to compete again can add to the depression of this season. Add to that number the many who’ve found running during the COVID-19 pandemic—it being among the few distancing-friendly workouts—and you have millions of Americans who are primed to put their training to the test, but can’t.

Or, so it seems.

There are at least a few ways runners can compete while staying safe and in compliance with physical distancing recommendations:



Several running analysts have observed that this summer could be a golden era for fastest known time, or FKT, attempts. And for good reason. FKTs are typically achieved when individuals successfully complete a trail or segment of trail faster than anyone has done it before and submit their performance to a clearinghouse like Being most often a solo endeavor on a lightly trafficked route, FKT attempts are, by definition, friendly to physical distancing measures.

Is there a peak you think you can bag this spring or summer faster than anyone else? Maybe a portion of a long trail?

To keep yourself and others safe, be sure to run alone, choose off-times like early mornings or weekdays, wear a mask, and give others a wide berth on trails. You should also stick to within an hour of home so you don’t have to stop on your way to or from the trailhead, minimizing contact with others. If you do it safely, training for and attempting an FKT near you could be just the motivation you need to keep up your training during these strange times.


Strava Segments

The popular activity tracker, Strava, includes a pretty neat feature that appears tailor-made for times like these. Strava Segments are portions of road or trail you can complete and compare your time to others. If you’re really fast, you might break into the top-10. Segments are sort of like FKTs, but more localized. You can even add a segment to Strava and, even for a moment, occupy the fastest time on that route.


Virtual Races

These are what they sound like: a race of a particular distance many people do on the same day (or month), except on their own. Back on April 4, 2,000 runners from around the globe—on treadmills and in living rooms and on cul-de-sacs by their houses—toed the line for the 2020 Quarantine Backyard Ultra. The virtual race, organized by Barkley Marathons founder Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell, required runners to complete a roughly 4-mile “lap” every 60 minutes until only one runner remained. (The winner, Mike Wardian, completed 68 laps—totaling more than 283 miles—and ran continuously on the street in front of his house for more than two days.)

A backyard ultra is, of course, extreme—though Laz Lake is organizing a 1,000-kilometer virtual run across Tennessee, for those who are interested. Virtual races exist for every distance and skill level are popping up in the COVID era, with many of them even offering to mail you a participant’s medal and T-shirt:

In most cases, participants who run the race submit their time to the race organizers, who tally list the results. Virtual races are of course no replacement for a foot race along the same course at the same time in the same conditions, but if you’re just looking to be part of something bigger than yourself, it could be just what the running doctor ordered.

How are you staying competitive in this time in which we’re living? Tell us at



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Steve Holt

Steve Holt is the associate editor of AMC Outdoors and edits AMC's Running Wild blog.