Virtual Challenges

In these days when gyms are closed and exercising alone at home can be dull, I have discovered the joy of virtual fitness challenges.

The first one I heard about was Ottawa Race Weekend, to replace events that had been scheduled for late May 2020. It is on again for this year, with more than a dozen different running challenges for kids through to team events. Both it and the Canada Army Run, which runs in September, are going virtual again this year, and you must complete events during the weekend or week that they would normally take place in person. There also a couple of virtual triathlons, but, oddly, I couldn’t find any bicycle events in Canada; there are virtual cycling events in other countries.

The first challenge I tried was offered by Masters Swimming Ontario, to get swimmers into open water when all the pools were closed last summer. We could do any or all of four distances from (1, 3, or 10 km) by Labour Day. I did three of the four distances, but didn’t feel ready to try 10 km in the river because of the current. Maybe this year, if I can get a friend to provide support from a boat.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been playing along on UK-based Henley Swim Brass Monkeys challenge. This series of cold water swims, which must be completed before April 30 in any unheated outdoor water, has distances ranging from 50M to 1500M, in water temperatures from under 6C to under 14C. There are 18 possible swims, with difficulty rankings from Plucky through to Intrepid. I completed the 1,000M swim on Saturday.

Diane in a blue swim cap and goggles, floating in the river

I’m also tempted by the Lake George Virtual 32 Mile Open Water Swim, for the months of July and August. Lake George, in the Adirondacks, normally hosts a major open water swimming competition in August each year. My friend Nadine did a virtual double crossing of this virtual swim last year. She says she knows full well she could just swim it on her own, but the virtual swims through an event are uplifting and the support on social media is a bright spot for her.

Many of these events are fundraisers for local causes, and all seem to have fun swag. That’s great if it’s what gets you motivated. It doesn’t do much for me though.

I walked Hadrian’s wall through a very large organization called The Conqueror Challenge. You can do any distance-based exercise to complete 20 virtual trails on virtually every continent. The medals are gorgeous, and there are even social media groups so participants can connect and get advice or share successes. It was okay, but not has fun as I had hoped. I was disappointed by all the chat about weight loss. It was, however, the first one I encountered that was great for people with mobility issues because there is plenty of time to complete each challenge, and assistive devices such as wheelchairs are an option.

The one I am focused on right now is Walking to Mordor. It is delightfully low-tech, and perfect for this unsocial hermit. The distance achievements are simply locations along the route from Bag End to Grey Wood, as laid out in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That’s 3,109.17 km in total, a very satisfying walk. There is no swag; there are no completion medals. It’s just a simple distance log with the feature of being able to follow your friends along the way. The best part is that it gives me a great excuse to re-read the trilogy, something that will probably be as gratifying as completing the walk.

A round white medallion from the 2020 virtual OWS challenge beside a red and gold rectangular Hadrian’s Wall medallion on a black and red ribbon