COVID-19 SPECIAL

Coronavirus: Virtual runs gaining popularity in Singapore as many drawn to their flexibility, convenience

Avid runner Siti Aishah completed over 7,000 lateral ski jumps.
Avid runner Siti Aishah completed over 7,000 lateral ski jumps.PHOTO: COURTESY OF SITI AISHAH

SINGAPORE - In previous editions of Spartan Races, Siti Aishah would find herself vaulting over walls and climbing ropes as part of the obstacle race series. But this year's race experience was slightly different for the avid runner.

Instead of conquering a physical course, the hurdles the 38-year-old tackled this year included burpees, push-ups and jumping jacks.

The food and beverage administrator also completed the equivalent of a 36km run in the confines of her home by doing 7,000 lateral bounds, while also finishing a 50km run outdoors.

With the cancellation or postponement of mass participation events due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many events like the Spartan race have been converted to virtual ones that allow people to complete a certain distance in their own time using a GPS-tracking app or device.

The Mizuno Ekiden Race, a long-distance relay, held its first-ever online event this year too.

Virtual race organiser 42Race has seen a two-fold increase in the number of races it has organised this year as compared to the same time last year.

Event management companies like Orange Room, which usually organise live races, have also started organising virtual events.

It had projected organising 28 events this year, but the coronavirus outbreak left Orange Room with zero live events to oversee.

That was when the company decided to add virtual events to its repertoire. Its managing director Elvin Ting, 40, said: "Honestly, we didn't really believe in virtual events last year because we thought that events are experiential.

"When Covid-19 hit and events were cancelled, we couldn't hold events physically, so like all businesses, we needed to transform and this is where we first came on board with (virtual events)."

With plans to hold its annual TRI-Factor Series, a multi-sport event that takes place across several countries in the region, derailed, Orange Room came up with the Run-4-Asia Virtual Run Challenge.

 
 

It has also organised the Circuit Breaker Virtual Run and initiated the Run for Heroes 2020, a 1km virtual run aimed at honouring Singapore's front-line heroes while encouraging people to keep active.

Run for Heroes 2020 is supported by national agency Sport Singapore through the Active Enabler Programme.

Acknowledging that the atmosphere of virtual events is different from that of regular races, Ting noted it is essential to link these online events to a cause.

He added: "With virtual events, the purpose and the emotional connection to the event is important. People who sign up for a traditional event have a personal goal and after completing it, they take a picture and that's social currency. But for virtual events, it has to go a bit deeper."

But for some, the convenience and flexibility of virtual races makes them more appealing than their traditional counterparts.

Vincent Lim, a senior manager at an aviation company, has cut down on the number of live races over the past three years and has participated in more online events.

The 49-year-old said: "I can select the time I want to run without having to have to go to the actual site and jostle through the traffic. It also gives me the flexibility to select my route.

"There are so many varieties of virtual runs. You can sign up for challenges that allow you to complete 50km, 100km or 200km in a month. Non-virtual races cannot maintain that kind of tracking for participants."

Virtual races are generally also cheaper than live races, with sign-up fees often costing less than $10.

 
 
 

While the Run-4-Asia Challenge has attracted slightly below 1,000 participants so far - compared to the 15,000 that signed up for last year's TRI-factor series - Ting believes some features of virtual races will be incorporated into conventional one when such mass sports events are allowed to take place.

He said: "Our perception has shifted and we believe that the new norm will bring a different requirement to events. People will expect a bit of a virtual element and the merging of the online and offline space."

Co-founder of 42Race Augustine Chua added: "Virtual races and traditional events are complementary with each other.

"Prior to Covid-19, we have organised lead-up runs to marathons. People will prefer to have more options to complete their races and will appreciate having more avenue to connect and socialise digitally with their running buddies."