trail running
Cultivate Community

Virtually Run the Race Together

A virtual marathon can bring a church together while apart
by Emily McQuillan | October 21, 2020

Virtual marathons became an answer to an unspoken prayer while I was in seminary. Hiking and trail running had been a passion of mine for decades; but between seminary and full-time work, I ended up not having enough time to prep and drive out to any of the trails nearby. Instead of picking up some kind of exercise to replace it, I just stopped working out. Exercising indoors was just too boring for me, but it was all I had time to do.

Then, a whole new world of possibilities opened up for me in 2017 when I learned about virtual marathons. These marathons—ranging from a few miles to hundreds and even thousands of miles—are done at your own leisure from home over the course of many days or months. Mileage is tracked online on a website or over an app, and some virtual marathon sites even let you experience real runs by showing your progress on a map and letting you click on it to see the landmarks you’d pass if you were there in person. In this way, I got to virtually enjoy running through places like France and Ireland while working out at home on an elliptical. Suddenly, indoor workouts became meaningful for me, and I felt connected to the bigger community of virtual marathoners. 

Of course, the shiny medals I got in the mail after running hundreds of miles were a big bonus too!

So, when I began serving as a pastor at a two-point rural parish and heard about a statewide virtual marathon I knew I had to invite the community to get involved. In early March, a small group of people from each of the churches I served—across two counties—signed up, bringing together members and their families to try something new. Participants could walk, run, or count any exercise in 15 minute increments as a mile—making this event accessible for all.

Then, the pandemic hit. Suddenly, our virtual marathon took on new meaning.

Over the next two months, our team—named the Scrappy Lutherans—walked, ran, and exercised together while apart. We entered our miles on our team board through a web app, where we were also able to chat about our progress. It was exciting to see our group placing among the top teams in the state for total miles walked. People texted and emailed, and we kept the congregation updated on our progress over Facebook and even in online worship videos. 

This virtual marathon strengthened our community, got members who were not always able to attend worship involved, and gave us each another outlet for connection during the state shutdown. God used this virtual marathon to help us run the race of faith together.

Want to Try This?

As the pandemic continues and conditions worsen around the country, a virtual marathon (or two) is an excellent way to bring people together safely. When the weather is poor and you are forced to stay inside, a virtual marathon also helps with boredom and gives a boost to your mental health. Thanks to the accessible nature of being able to count any 15-minute exercise as a mile, the whole family can get involved.

To get started:

  • Search for virtual marathons online and compare platforms. Look for one with interactive online tracking and the option to purchase medals upon completing miles.
  • Consider setting up a shorter and longer marathon to make it more accessible.
  • Use texting, email, or a social media group to come together as a team.
  • Invite members to call or text one another while they are doing their walks or workouts.
  • Post updates on your congregation’s social media; encourage selfies and interaction.
  • Create a blessing before you start the marathon and a blessing for completing it.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Hebrews 12: 1-2a NIV

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