Virtual Challenges: Built to Last

While events continue to trend back towards in-person (or at least hybrid), don’t neglect the virtual option that’s truly built to last: virtual challenges. A virtual challenge is typically a longer-term event (weeks to months) in which a larger goal is achieved through many days of activity and the winner is the first person to reach the goal, not the one who ran the fastest.

Four Reasons Virtual Challenges Will Outlast the Pandemic

Unlike a virtual race, which can feel like a watered down version of the real thing if not done perfectly, virtual challenge are unique experiences that are designed to be virtual. They have a few unique qualities that will help them succeed:

  1. Long-term engagement. Unlike a one-and-done race, virtual challenges allow you to engage your supporters for days, weeks, or months, bringing them back to your website regularly to log progress. Especially for nonprofits, there’s no better way to build lasting sense of loyalty within your supporters than to engage with them each and every day.
  2. Inclusivity. Because virtual challenges reward persistence over speed or strength, they are accessible to participants of different fitness levels as well as those with non-traditional schedules. Many challenges also provide multiple options (I.E., 50, 100, or 200 miles in a month) to give people of every fitness level a challenge that is hard but achievable.
  3. Community. Virtual challenges are virtual, meaning your supporters can join from anywhere. What’s a better way to connect with friends and family than to take on a challenge from disparate corners of the world.
  4. Beyond Fitness. While many challenges focus on common types of fitness (miles traveled, elevation gained, etc.), a virtual challenge can be anything. Broaden your community with unexpected challenges like new recipes cooked, books read, or hats knitted.

Thinking about your own challenge? We recommend getting creative. To get started, take a look at a few of our favorite (and most popular) challenges from 2021 and why they resonated with so many participants.

The Original Challenge: The Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee

While we know it wasn’t actually the first virtual challenge, The Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee (GVRAT) was the first event that really demonstrated the reach and possibility of a virtual challenge in early 2020, surpassing 20,000 participants.

How does it work?

GVRAT participants have four months (May through August) to complete 1000 Kilometers of running or walking for exercise (your steps to the kitchen don’t count. For super-ambitious participants, there are also options to stretch to 1000 Miles, 2000 Kilometers, or multiple crossing back across the state.

Why Does it Resonate?

GVRAT’s “something special” comes in the form of a man called Lazarus Lake. Best known for organizing the infamous Barkley Marathons, the subject of a popular documentary that aired on Netflix, Laz is something of a celebrity in the the ultra-running world (and the world of ultra-running admirers). This virtual event was based on a real race across Tennessee, and Laz leant his personal words to the challenge via a widely popular Facebook Group, inspiring participants and making them feel like a part of a real Laz event – something few mortals are usually able to do.

The Team-Builder Challenge: The Great American 5000

How Does it Work?

The Great American 5000, hosted by Sports Backers, challenges teams of 2-24 on a virtual crossing from San Francisco to New York City (5000 miles). Teams log their collective miles and in male, female, and co-ed categories, using digital files from trackers like Garmin, MapMyRun, and Strava for extra validation of completion.

Why Does it Resonate?

In two words, community and accomplishment. As a true team event, The Great American 5000 brings family and friends together with a common goal and encourages teamwork and communication. The flexibility of team size (one category for 1-12 team members, and one for 13-24 team members) means participants of every fitness level can find a team size to make the 5000 miles achievable. To reward every accomplishment, the challenge set up an array of individual and team badges celebrating milestone distances, holiday runs, running streaks, and more.

The Hardcore Challenge: Max Vert Challenge

How Does it Work?

Organized by the Cirque Series in 2020 as a replacement for in-person events and brought back by popular demand in 2021, the Max Vert Challenge pushed participants to complete as much elevation gain as possible during the month, and ranked them by their total vert. No cheating by climbing up and grabbing a ride back down, though – all activities had to be round-trip.

Why Does it Resonate?

Outside published a fantastic article that really highlights what makes this event a success: the chance to challenge oneself amidst a community of other people. The winner of the October challenge, Christopher Fisher, logged more than 400,000 feet of elevation in a month and explained why the challenge resonated with him like this: “I look at it as just being able to grow myself mentally. I see it as a way to get stronger, so I can do harder things in the future.”

The Virtual Tourism Challenge: The Hawaiian Airlines Holoholo Challenge

How Does It Work?

The Holoholo Challenge, also in it’s second year in 2021, lets Hawaiian Airlines bring virtual tourists to Hawaii with fun adventures around the islands. The 2021 edition offered multiple Maui-based “courses” for different activities, including running, walking, biking, and swimming, with individual and team options.

Why Does it Resonate?

No one ever gets to travel as much as they would like – making the opportunity to immerse oneself in a different location virtually a golden ticket. With custom swag (pick from a t-shirt, tank top, or long sleeved shirt) and highly stylized badges that reflect Hawaii, this challenge helps transport participants to a faraway land.

Ready to Get Started with Your Virtual Challenge?

The sky’s the limit. Review our Virtual Challenge Hub for all the tips and tricks you need to make a more engaging virtual event that’s built to last.

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