© Lululemon SeaWheeze Half Marathon

©Lululemon SeaWheeze Half Marathon

I have written about the rising trend of virtual challenges and runs before, in other words participating in a race whenever you can and wherever you are. As much as I am a big supporter of the digital world, I was not sure, whether a GPS watch and an online challenge were enough to provoke the feeling of a competition. 21.1 kilometers later, I can say that it turned my regular morning run into a fun experience. 

I have not heard about the Lululemon SeaWheeze Half Marathon before and only learned about the event, when I received an e-mail from Strava asking me to take part in the online version of this race. I was hesitant at first, but when I read that you compete with a global group of runners and even receive a medal once you complete the race, I was hooked and signed up. I have mentioned before that I have conducted research in the field of gamification and how it can be applied to motivate people by using game elements in a non-game context. In this case, the key for me was to receive a physical medal upon completion.

SeaWheeze is an annual event that takes place in Vancouver, BC in Canada. Over the years, the event has evolved into more than just a running event. Throughout the weekend, they host a series of yoga and meditation classes, vision and goals workshops, ambassador panels, film screenings, live music and more. They even host a post-race Sunset Festival in Stanley Park. In “real-life”, participants got to run along the Pacific Ocean and Vancouver’s seawall, as well as making their way through some of the city’s best-known neighborhoods, like Gastown, Kitsilano and Chinatown. Along the route, runners also got to enjoy 23 on-course activities to keep their spirits high. From spin bikes to drag queens, a high-five wall, an indigenous band, runners would not go a kilometer without seeing some form of entertainment.

For the first time, runners were able to run the SeaWheeze Virtual Half Marathon from anywhere in the world meaning that you can find your favorite route and participate in the race. Virtual participants were able run their half marathon any time between August 17 to 24, 2019. So, all I had to do was to go, run, track my 21.1 kilometers and upload my activity into Strava. In return, I would receive a special trophy badge in my Strava account and an exclusive finishers medal for completing the half marathon, which will be delivered right to my door a few weeks later.

Due to the increase in popularity in recent years for events like the SeaWheeze Half Marathon or the New York City Marathon, where a lottery system decides if you can join the race, organizers have started to adopt a new format and invite runners to join a virtual race on Strava. From a business perspective it is a smart idea, as it allows the organizers to engage with runners, i.e potential clients, capture relevant customer data and reach out with various offers in due course. It is a clever extension of the business model and a smart way to generate additional revenue with only a marginally low increase to the operating cost of the organizers. In the case of SeaWheeze, it cost USD 28,00 to sign up for the event, which is not very little considering that there is not much of a return. In fact, the only physical return is the medal, which was enough of a catch for me to sign up, combined with a virtual badge in my Strava profile. So, if you look at it from a business perspective, the only cost that occurs is the production of a medal, which one can imagine is most probably less than USD 2,50, as well as a potential collaboration fee with Strava, but overall it is offering a very attractive additional profit margin. With that being said, the emotional value and the experience is probably worth it.

I happened to be in Aberdeen, Scotland on August, 17th, so I took it a welcome opportunity to complete my half marathon at the beach and use it as my long run for my Ultra-Trail Du Mont Blanc preparation. It was a wonderful day. The sun was shining, the sky was crystal clear and I started my mission at the esplanade in Aberdeen. Without a specific goal time, but with the event at the back of my mind, I set off. I started running. 10.1 kilometers up and 10.1 kilometers back down the beach. It was windy and the sand was deep. Every now and then, I was thinking how cool that I was able to take part in an event that I was not actually physically attended. I was thinking about what motivated me about attending and whether it offered me with additional motivation to get out and run. I was part of a tribe that was scattered around the globe all with the same mission in mind. In a strange way it kept me going, not to beat my personal best, but to run exactly 21.1 kilometers. I was excited by the thought to receive this physical medal. After 1:44:17 hours my watch showed 21.26 kilometers and I was back where I had started. Shortly after, I received an e-mail from Strava congratulating me on my achievement, and a few days later I found out that I have placed 205 out of 6.193 virtual runners. It felt good!

The idea of taking part in an event is great, and receiving a medal for your regular long run is also not bad. With that being said, the cost certainly should not be more than around USD 30,00. In the end, all this event did was to offer me a medal for my long run. I guess a way to make it a bit more special would be to share this virtual race with a number of friends or a group of runners, which is something that the Wings For Life World Run has implemented. In addition to the hosting cities, there are selected locations, where the race is measured via the app and Red Bull has set up water stations and turns the given location into a Red Bull event incl. their crew and mad music trucks. This could certainly be another innovative way to bring a different kind of experience of the New York City Marathon to other destinations and engage with the local runners, maybe even offer way for them to gain exclusive access to the actual race in the future. Would I do it? Probably yes.