If there’s one thing athletes miss most during the lockdown – other than the ability to head out on training runs and rides – is the thrill, challenge and camaraderie of racing.

With all major sporting and mass participation events postponed or cancelled for the foreseeable future, many athletes are at a loss for what they’re training towards.

Digital technology to the rescue

But if there’s one possible upside to the world’s current predicament, it’s that society has been forced to innovate.

In this new world of social distancing and lockdowns, digital technology has emerged as a saving grace for businesses, our social lives and many of our favourite sports.

For example, many sports fans have turned to esports during lockdowns as a means to fill the void left by a lack of live events. Formula 1 has even organised virtual races between pro drivers and armchair athletes, with millions of viewers worldwide tuning in.

For instance, a virtual race organised to fill the gap following the last-minute cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix attracted one-million views to the online feed, with 515,000 people watching live.

Participation goes virtual

But endurance athletes want more. For them, it’s about participation, not just the spectacle. Thankfully, technology is also helping to bridge that gap.

Locally, the Irene Athletics Club was quick to provide an alternative when the popular 48km Irene Ultramarathon was cancelled amid concerns about the coronavirus. Organisers quickly introduced the Virtual JointEze Irene Ultra, which was held between 30 March and 5 April.

Runners had the opportunity to register online and complete the 48km virtual challenge by logging runs on Strava any way they could, such as consecutive days of shorter runs or, for bolder athletes, the full 48km in one day.

Once completed, participants would receive their medal, which will be delivered to them.

Pros mix it up with amateurs

Cycling is another sport that has embraced virtual racing during this time. Thankfully, the industry already had a thriving virtual training ecosystem established, with a wide range of virtual training platforms and home training equipment.

As a consequence, races on the Zwift virtual platform have rapidly risen in popularity as pro riders confined to their homes find ways to keep fit and engaged while creating opportunities to gain exposure for their sponsors.

Various Pro Tour teams have hosted virtual races, inviting fans to join and race against top pros, while race organisers have also taken to virtual platforms like the Bkool indoor training platform to host popular races.

For example, a select group of Pro Tour riders were invited to race the last 32km of the Tour of Flanders route, which featured accents of iconic climbs like the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg.

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Swim, bike, run online

And with the packed global IRONMAN racing calendar decimated due to the impact of COVID-19, race organisers moved quickly to provide an alternative for all those athletes who have invested significant time and resources in preparing for target races.

The IRONMAN Virtual Club web-based platform has become a new virtual destination for athletes to train, compete and connect, with the IRONMAN Virtual Racing Series events and IRONMAN VC challenges key features.

The inaugural IRONMAN Virtual Race, IRONMAN VR1, was held from 3-5 April and was open to the entire athlete community for free.

The virtual race consisted of a 5km run, 90km bike and 21km run. The segments could be completed in any order, but competitors had to complete each segment in its entirety during one session.

Triathlon Professional athletes will also compete in IRONMAN VR Series races through the IRONMAN VR Pro Challenge, a head-to-head Pro competition. The bike segments are broadcast live through the IRONMAN Now page on Facebook Watch, with pros using the Rouvy virtual platform to race head-to-head on the virtual IRONMAN® 70.3® Boulder bike course.

So, it seems that whatever your sporting preference, advances in modern technology means the lockdown doesn’t need to dampen your competitive spirit.