THOSE who actively participated in organised runs before the Covid-19 pandemic, which resulted in nearly everything grinding to a halt, have been taking solace from virtual events since public events that draw large crowds are prohibited by the movement control order.
Virtual running events are similar to conventional ones but minus the grandeur and on-site excitement associated with the event day.
There is no start or finishing line; rather, participants are given a stipulated number of days to complete the distance they signed up for, from anywhere.
Participants are required to submit a report on their run to the organiser before the race’s end date.
A string of virtual runs have been organised in the last couple of months, including one of the biggest running events in Malaysia — the Kuala Lumpur Standard Chartered Marathon (KLSCM).
Its project director Rainer Biemans said a total of 52,363 people registered for the virtual event that took place from Dec 5 to 13 last year, an increase of more than 7,000 participants in comparison to 45,000 participants which was the maximum limit in the previous years.
However, only 35,000 participants completed the race, he said.
“Nevertheless, it was still a substantial number for a virtual event.
“Participation was free this time around, so that might have contributed to the high number of registration.
“We still had the same categories as in the previous years, which were 5km, 10km, 21.1km and 42.2km.
“Participants were required to run at one go, in the outdoors, and submit evidence of their run.
“The difference this time around was that the runners’ times were instantly updated on the leaderboard, setting a target for the later runners to beat.
“The competitive spirit was very much alive, ” Biemans added.
The Putrajaya 100 Miles organiser, The Comrades All Star director Suzie Widyawati Ganis said response for their virtual edition this year was better than the previous years.
“We usually have three categories, which are 50km, 100km and 160km that will have between 500 and 600 participants.
But this year, we had 762 participants despite only offering the 50km category, ” she said, adding that the run planned for 2020 had to be cancelled.
While the organisers were pleased with the overwhelming response, Suzie said some runners were suspected of being dishonest about their run.
“Fair play is important in sports.
“Unfortunately, there were suspicions that some runners were sharing reports and cheating.
“We found that a few reports had identical routes and time, and there were also some with impossible timing, such as completing 50km in just over three hours.
“We had people who could not finish the race but submitted their reports anyway, and that was okay.
“Our objective is to encourage a healthy lifestyle, so I hope all runners will take pride in their own achievement and run honestly with a competitive spirit, ” she said.
For running club Running Kaki Malaysia, which has been organising the annual 25km Christmas Run since 2016, their event last year was not the first time that it had been held virtually.
Club founder Tan Mei Kee said their inaugural Christmas Run was a virtual one, followed by three consecutive years of the run being held on location in Kuala Lumpur.
To continue the tradition of having the Christmas run, Tan said they went back to having the run virtually, which saw 583 participants consisting of members and non-members.
“The club is more suited for beginners in the running scene.
“Our objective is to encourage more people to start running and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“So, having the event in a virtual format does not alter our objective.
“In fact, it affirms our mission that staying active can be done from anywhere, ” she said.
Runners don’t stop
Tower runner Soh Wai Ching, 27, was one of the many who joined the KLSCM virtual run to remain competitive in the sport.
He said that he had been taking part in the men’s 10km open category for the last nine years and wanted to continue competing with other competitive runners for the best time.
Soh, who is Malaysia Towerrunning Association president, came in third in the most recent race with a time of 35.51minutes.
“I clocked 33.37minutes in 2018 and placed second overall, behind a Kenyan participant.
“In 2019, I finally achieved my goal to be the overall champion while clocking 34.01minutes.
Soh said although a virtual run was not a level playing field to compare the personal bests among runners, it was still a way for individuals to keep a record.
“There are many components that can affect a runner’s performance, such as place and weather.
“Nevertheless, a virtual run is still an event to make us train and for us to look forward to, ” he added.
Aman Redza Radzi, 39, from Ampang in Selangor, took part in the Putrajaya 100’s 50km Virtual Run.
Aman, who is on a weight loss mission, had been looking forward to beating his own personal record at the Putrajaya 100 event last year, after recording 13 hours to complete the 50km event in 2019.
He revealed that he weighed 110kg then and was 12kg lighter now.
“I had been training hard with the aim of improving my time in the 2020 run, but the event was called off.
“I was excited to learn about the virtual event this year and was the first person to sign up for it, so my bib number was A0001.
“The organiser allowed runners to split the run.
“I had split my run but completed it on the same day in 10 hours, ” he said.
He added that he also did it in Putrajaya to simulate as much as he could of what the actual run would have been like, with the road and weather conditions on site.
Sports executive at a university, Ikmal Abdul Jaabar, 38, also took part in the Putrajaya 100 virtual edition with his wife.
Running events are family time for him too, he said, as the couple from Kajang would always take their two children --- since they were babies in their strollers --- along for the run.
“My wife and I like taking part in running events as a fun way to train ourselves and keep moving.
“Virtual events lack the exhilarating atmosphere of race day, but it is still something that runners can look forward to in the current times, ” he reiterated.
Fifteen-year-old Daaraneswaran Siva Kumar, an avid trail runner, ran the Putrajaya 100 earlier this year with his father.
The dearth of trail running events has brought the duo to take part in any running event to stay active.
“I started trail running and hiking at the age of eight and had participated in numerous events.
“My achievements last year included finishing second in the Gunung Nuang Ultra Challenge, fourth place in UITM Ultra Mara-thon in the 52km men’s open category and placing second in the Selangor Marathon 10km junior category.
“I aspire to be the youngest Asia Trail Master champion.
“Such activities keep me motivated and they push me to train harder, ” said Daaraneswaran.
Self-employed Bernadine Chin from Segambut, Kuala Lumpur, said participating in running events was a way for her to maintain her fitness.
Also an ardent trail runner, she has taken part in a number of virtual events, including the recent MarhaenMY New Year 2021 Charity Virtual Run, Cycle and Walk and the Putrajaya 100 50km Virtual Run.
“Regardless of the pandemic, I have to continue training, otherwise I will lose my form.
“Running keeps me going.
“And knowing that I have an upcoming race keeps me motivated to train and my spirits high, ” said the 60-year-old.