Sept. 9 Lakeland Race is a Memorial to Phil Brown

08/24/2017 - 15:56

By Mary Marcia Brown

VIRTUAL PHEEL GOOD 5k.jpg(Editor’s note: This race will be held at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, at the FITniche running store in Lakeland, Florida. A virtual race is also included for the memorial event.)

The crowds, the clock, the competition, and the newness of an untraveled course … these are things that many runners find very attractive about participating in an organized road race. Interestingly, the absence of these very same things are also fueling the growing appeal of virtual races.

Many runners cringe at the thought of being caught up in race day morning traffic, standing in packet pick-up lines, racing against aggressive runners, and traveling atop unfamiliar terrain in unknown conditions. Yet, they still like to run. They still like to realize new PRs. They still like to support great causes, and they still like the bling!

For these runners, virtual races are the logical alternative. Virtual races allow runners to register for great events, run (or walk) them from anywhere, and typically complete them at any time during a specific time frame (usually during a week-long period, and often one that directly correlates with the date of the physical race of which the virtual race is an extension).

Katy Cook, of Lake Mary, Florida, enjoys participating in virtual races.

“For those who are into the swag (medals and shirts), it's a motivational factor, but for me, if I can't be (at a race) physically, it's an awesome way to contribute to a cause close to your heart. Not only are you boosting the charity and raising awareness, but also improving your health along with it,” Cook said.

Roxanne Youngs, of Auburndale, Florida, agreed by adding that virtual races are a great choice “when you want to support a good cause but you can't physically be there.”

Those with opposing viewpoints sometimes reference the anticlimactic “finish line” as reason not to run virtual races. Yet there are plenty of ways to enjoy the rewards of realizing a successful virtual race finish, and the growing possibilities seem to have no end in near sight.

Yes, most virtual race organizers mail participants finisher medals and sometimes even shirts after completing a virtual event, but some runners are being proactive and planning ahead. Varied groups across the nation are reaching out to organizers, requesting their swag in advance and creating their own mini-races in their favorite (and often most familiar) venue. These groups (that include: running clubs, weight loss groups, fitness classes, PE classes, Couch to 5k hopefuls, friends, families, colleagues, non-profit supporters, etc), receive their shirts in advance, complete virtual events (while wearing the event’s shirts) in groups, and create their own finish line festivities by ending at a favorite coffee shop or café and presenting one another with the virtual race Finisher Medals they requested in advance.

“It’s a great way to have fun with friends and stay motivated throughout the year,” Will Morrell said.

On a personal note, I had never really given due pause to think about the many benefits of running a virtual race, until recently. Running friends of mine at local running store FITniche in Lakeland, Florida, are directing a memorial race to celebrate my husband’s life on September 9. It is called ‘Phil Brown’s PHEEL GOOD 5k’ and it will benefit the PHEEL GOOD Foundation non-profit organization that I founded in his honor. This event will start and end in front of the FITniche running store, but it will also have a virtual component.

It has warmed my heart to learn of the people who are participating in the Virtual PHEEL GOOD 5k. People who never knew Phil, people who knew Phil in years past, people who are participating in large events on September 9 but still want to run that week to celebrate Phil’s life and the contribution he made to running, people in different states, people in different countries, and even people with running celebrity status, are all participating in the Virtual PHEEL GOOD 5k in September!

I look forward to sharing the full post-race recap with everyone after the run. In the meantime, if you are interested in logging some meaningful miles, wearing a special running shirt, and earning a quality custom medal (bearing Phil’s photo), all the while supporting a worthwhile non-profit, head over to to learn more about Phil and how to virtually join in celebrating his life the week of September 9th. ‘After the run,’ please email your photos and stories to me, and let me know if the PHEEL GOOD 5k lives up to its name and indeed helps you “pheel good” about completing 3.1 celebratory miles.

(This article appears in the September issue of Running Journal. Mary Marcia is a runner, fitness professional, and Race Director of the TICK TOCK ULTRA MARATHON & TEAM RELAY in Lakeland, Florida. Reach her at or by visiting

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