Right now, most businesses are adapting and speculating daily to safely thrive in the wake of COVID-19. As much as we’d all like to race forward and forget this global challenge, the more probable outlook is that we’re in for a marathon.
What can we learn from each other to better navigate these transitions? Who are the trailblazers who have seemingly been made for this particular challenge, and can we take a page out of their playbook?
One such organization is Virtual Running Club (VRC).
We visited with Holland Newton, Chief Operating Officer at VRC, to learn more about how their company continues to grow their following, maintain community, and provide incredible remote experiences during this rocky season of our history.
What is Virtual Running Club?
“Virtual Running Club (VRC) provides an avenue for people all over the world to participate in 5K, 10K, or custom length races (as well other fitness challenges and activities) without having to necessarily travel or congregate in large groups.
We work very hard to simulate the full experience and accomplishment of preparing for and completing a traditional race. Participants register in advance, set their own training schedules, receive their bib and race-day swag beforehand, complete the run, and report their finish time.
Shortly thereafter, a jaw-dropping finishers medal is mailed directly to their home. Throughout all of it, participants get to enjoy tracking their results, posting photos, sharing advice, challenging other individuals, and interacting through our VRC mobile app and social media pages.”
Can you tell us how VRC came to be?
“The idea of virtual racing was conceptualized back in 2012. Our original model (known as Vacation Races) keyed in on National Parks like the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, but we quickly realized how limiting that was for a lot of folks who either didn’t have the means or flexibility to participate, or who frankly didn’t feel comfortable with large crowds. So, we put our heads together and really started testing and proving the model that is now Virtual Running Club.”
What kind of feedback do you get from your participants?
“They love the freedom they have to tailor each event to their own needs. Many of them appreciate not having to wake up at 4:15am on race day.
They really like our ‘a la carte’ style registration where they can pick out what swag and materials they get (or none at all), so we’re always meeting those expectations and they’re super excited.
They feel that real sense of community as they share their accomplishments online or amongst their friends. A lot of our runners really get into it and involve their families – often creating their own finish line experiences and posting those videos on social media.
We’ve even had several military families who use our race platform to create priceless memories with loved ones who are deployed overseas, and it’s really heartwarming that they get to race together, even though they can’t presently be ‘together’.
There are honestly so many great stories that inspire our VRC community. Recently, we became aware that a participant in our Stay Home race was actually recovering from the COVID-19 virus herself. Even though she wasn’t feeling her best, she wanted to accomplish something to keep her mind and body as active and positive as she possibly could.
She modified the race to be what she could handle … a slow, multi-session event on her treadmill with her family there to cheer her on. She completed the race and told us how much she cherished the finishers medal that came in the mail.
She absolutely earned it!”
What methods do you use to stay connected as a team, and keep the VRC community engaged?
“First of all, obviously it’s just so great that we have the technology to do all this … whether it’s teleconferencing or mobile apps, fitness trackers, or social media – we live in such an incredible era that has really prepared us to adapt to almost any situation.
In our case, direct email is our most effective way of communicating actual race info. And then for advertising our events, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and word-of-mouth are how most of our participants hear about us.
We have a private group on Facebook where a lot of fun dialogue and interaction happens amongst our followers (i.e. success stories, suggested training routes, equipment advice, lots of chatter about deals and coupons, etc).
Another big way we help people feel valued is with tangible keepsakes. People enjoy receiving a quality item that really reminds them of the challenge they just conquered and how good it feels to belong and be valued.”
Completed my 5th #HalfMarathon today in the, INAUGURAL, and hopefully only, #StayHomeHalf! Thanks @VacationRaces and #RaceVRC for the unique opportunity! #covid19sucks #MondayMotivation #StayHome pic.twitter.com/UM2uFyagNR— Nik & Marley Cat (@ngremmy) April 20, 2020
How Has COVID-19 Affected Your Organization?
“It has actually provided more opportunities to reach folks who are looking for positive, health-conscious ways to deal with uncertainty.
“We’ve worked hard to further develop products and programs like our mobile app Spark+ which makes it easy to ‘gamify’ friendly fitness challenges and other activities that let you earn points to redeem for certain swag items.”
Any Advice For Those Still Trying To Navigate The Virtual Work Environment?
“As far as day-to-day job duties and working remotely, it’s important to have a dedicated space where you sequester yourself to get work done, and be committed to that boundary for yourself so that when you do step away from your desk, you can focus and be present with your family or other commitments.
Be willing to laugh at yourself and see the best in every situation. We’ve all seen the videos on Facebook or YouTube of people accidentally doing embarrassing things on video calls.
Video conferencing can just be awkward in general … don’t stress about it. Also, along those lines, rather than worrying and fretting over their bottom lines, I feel businesses will thrive faster if they’ll choose creative energy.
Figure out some fun ways to relate with your team members or clients … things that celebrate, show appreciation, and provide much needed continuity. If you’re able to convert an event into a virtual experience, think about the things people loved most about actually breaking away from their routine and attending your event.
Was it getting out of the office? Was it the delicious food or the quirky way you arrange for networking?”
Staying Healthy, Keeping Connected
Thanks to Holland and Virtual Running Club for letting us feature your group and hopefully inspire others with a fun new way to get out and stay active during quarantine. If you’re interested in signing up, VRC has a variety of ongoing races to choose from with signups still open: