The Casual Runner

Nerd Herd Virtual Race Series

Event: 2014 Nerd Herd Virtual Race Series:

Revenge of the Sith 5K (run on 10 May 2014 during Wine in the Woods 5K, Columbia MD)

Lord of the Bling 5K or 10K (5K run on 19 July 2014 during Electric Run Baltimore 5K, Baltimore, MD; and 10K on 24 July 2014 with my friend while on a girls weekend in Fort Lauderdale, FL)

The Rebellion Begins 5K or Half Marathon (5K run on 5 October 2014 at the Victoria Running Festival, Columbia, MD)

Event Date: May, July, October 2014

Event Location: Anywhere!


Why I decided to run this race.

I like to listen to podcasts while running.  During one particularly long weekend run in Spring 2014, my “Let’s Run Disney” podcast interviewed the founders of the Nerd Herd Virtual Race Series.  These are my kind of people — runners obsessed with the “nerdy” parts of pop culture, who like to wear costumes, and are looking to do what they can to make the world just a little bit better.  The Nerd Herd started as a bunch of people who would meet up at various races.  In 2013 they started a virtual race series as a fundraiser for Stupid Cancer, which supports young and mid-life adults battling cancer (people too old for the children’s groups, but not old enough to be lumped into the end-of-life groups).

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Ready for the Revenge of the Sith 5k.

I’d never done a virtual race, but I was intrigued by the concept.  People can’t always travel to a race and virtual races let them experience the community of competing and getting some bling.  Each virtual race has varying requirements for confirming that the race was run during the designated time, for the right distance, and within the time requirements.  In the case of the Nerd Herd, they create Facebook events for each race and people will post pictures of their costumes and Garmin proof of times.  It’s really easy to dismiss virtual races as just a money-making scheme that preys on people addicted to bling.  But, to some degree, aren’t all races a little bit like that?  And at least this race series raises money for a good cause, and like good nerds they have the financial data on their webpage to prove it.

After hearing the themes for this year’s race series (a Star Wars themed “Revenge of the Sith 5K”, a Lord of the Rings themed “Lord of the Bling 5K or 10K”, and a Hunger Games themed “The Rebellion Begins 5K or Half Marathon”), seeing all the medal designs, and checking out the financial records on the donations actually sent to Stupid Cancer, I was in (as was my husband, who was equally excited at the possible costume opportunities).

Getting there/the lead-up to the race

Like many people who do virtual races, my husband and I looked for local races that would fit the length requirement and then wore two bibs for the run (the “real” one on the front, and the virtual one on our back).  Or we set up a meeting to run with friends on a local path.  Anything to make it a little special, instead of just another Tuesday after-work run.  So there was no special training or lead-up to the three virtual races, outside of what we would normally train for a race.  But we did take time to plan costumes.

Nerd Herd Running is more about getting people out and running than about pressuring people to run fast.  In fact, you don’t even have to do all the mileage for the virtual race at one time—you can split it up between several walks or runs during the week.  But they do hold costume contests on their Facebook page.  Clearly we had to participate in that! (Editor’s note: Jennifer and her husband took home first prize for their Hunger Games-inspired costumes. Congratulations!).

Revenge of the Sith 5K

For the Revenge of the Sith 5K, we didn’t put the full effort into our costumes as we will for the 2015 Disneyland Star Wars Half Marathon.  But for something thrown together at the last minute, we were successful enough that our fellow runners could tell what we were going for.  For my Darth Leia, I wore a black skirt from Sparkle Skirts, black Under Armour running capris, a black Nike tank, black and pink Brooks Adrenaline Gortex trail shoes (I didn’t need trail shoes for this race, but the colors worked better for the outfit), my Garmin Forerunner 620, and put my hair in two side buns.  My husband went with a Skater Darth Vader look with all-black running clothes and a backward black hat.

We ran this on May 10, 2014 during the Wine in the Woods 5K in Columbia, Maryland.  The course went around Centennial Lake, a popular running path in this area.  The trail is one that I’ve done training runs and walks with my dog on, so it was a familiar path.  There were other runners and walkers on the trail, but the race was small enough and early enough that we didn’t get in each other’s way.  The weather was beautiful and it was a lovely way to spend the morning.  We didn’t win the costume contest, but we certainly got people around us talking about our costumes and what the second bib was for.

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Jennifer and her friend getting ready to run the 10k.

Lord of the Bling 5k

I ran “Lord of the Bling” twice: once with my husband on July 19, 2014 during the Electric Run Baltimore 5K in Baltimore, Maryland, and once on July 24, 2014 as a training run with a friend while on vacation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

When I ran it as a 10K with a friend while on vacation she’s not a costume runner, so we just did our normal training gear.  I wore my typical black Under Armour running capris, blue Nike tank, Adidas sports bra, Bondi Band headband, Injinji socks, my about-to-be-retired Brooks Adrenaline GTS 14 shoes, Garmin Forerunner 620, and Amphipod running belt.

For the 5K, which we ran during Electric Run Baltimore, we had a hard time coming up with a costumes that were both glow in the dark and looked to be from Middle Earth.  So we ended up just recycling parts of our Tron costumes from 2013 Wine and Dine since those would look awesome on the course.

The Electric Run 5K course went through the Camden Yards Sports Complex and M&T Bank Stadium and was lined with fun glowing inflatables.  Even though it was the middle of July and the weather is normally hot and humid, we were in the middle of a relative cold snap so the temperature was almost perfect.  It was a great night for a run!  The second time was a 10K along a paved promenade along the beach.  It was crazy hot and humid, even at 6 PM when we set out, but it was so much fun to run with one of the people who inspired me to become a runner.  We dodged little kids running from the hot sand to their cars, waved at the families on bicycles, and watched the clouds turn pink and orange from a lovely sunset.  We even located a convenience store we’d been trying to find and needed to stop at…I guess you could say we were multitasking.

The Rebellion Begins 5K

Finally, for The Rebellion Begins 5K (run at the Victoria Gastro Pub Running Festival), we brought out our finest Katniss and Peeta costumes.  I made a multi-colored tutu to represent Katniss’s wedding dress in mid-transition to her Mockingjay dress, stenciled a silver design on a white tank, and did my hair in a braid bun following a tutorial I found online.  My husband wore all white, like Peeta’s suit.

This was a similar course around Centennial Lake to what we ran during Wine in the Woods.  I’ve always liked running this area.  Maryland was experiencing a beautiful fall day, and the organizers put together a great beer garden in the post-race celebration village.

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One SMO to unite them all, one SMO to rule them all.

The SMOpinion

We opted to hold our virtual race medals until the entire series was complete, thereby reducing shipping costs and increasing the donation to Stupid Cancer.  (Almost 80% of the runners doing the entire race series opted to defer their medal shipments, resulting in an extra $1300 donation).  In the meantime, since we found regular races to get our virtual miles in, we did get some swag in real time.

Wine in the Woods 5K (which is affiliated with a weekend-long local wine festival) let runners take as many sets of wine glasses from previous years’ festivals as we could carry.  Seriously, I took enough to host my regular wine tasting group and not require us to reuse glasses when we switch between wines.  That alone was worth the cost of the race.

Electric Run Baltimore didn’t have a medal, but we got to wear glow necklaces and bracelets!  WE were the SMOs for this race!

Everyone who ran the Victoria Running Festival got a medal, regardless of race distance.  It might be my favorite SMO thus far because of its unique design and the bottle opener attached.

Our Nerd Herd medals arrived in the mail the week of the final race.  Not only did we get the three race medals, but we got an additional one for completing the full challenge.  Together they form a shield.  The medals were nice, heavy quality, about 2-3 inches each, forming a 9-inch-ish shield.  These will fit in nicely with the rest of my collection.

Looking back now

I don’t think that I’m going to start doing a lot of virtual races just to get more bling.  I think that might cheapen some of the ones I earn in “real” races over time.  But the Nerd Herd is onto something with this series.  They make a lot of money for a great cause and I love the rich costume possibilities.  It also forced us to find some local races that we never would have known about if we hadn’t been searching for something in that timeframe.  There’s a good chance we’ll do this race series again and I’m excited to find out what the themes will be!