The (virtual) Great North Run

Published September 19, 2020

I did the Virtual Great North Run last week, which is the first virtual race I've done, and I have to say that it was a pretty underwhelming experience.

The Great Run Company hyped it quite a lot by promising an app that would deliver some kind of 'experience', but it didn't work properly and it ended up being 'just' a long run.

The app they chose is called viRACE, which wasn't doesn't look like it was developed specifically for the Great Run company.

I used to work for a company that developed low budget apps, which it did by offshoring development (mostly). Every so often I'd get called into my boss's office, where he'd ask me to rescue the latest disastrous project and I'd be shown an app that, generally, would look abysmal. When I opened up viRACE, I had (unwelcome) flashbacks to working for this company. It just looks like an app that won't work properly. Beauty is skin deep, but software often looks exactly as well as it works because people who do a good job tend to make their work look at least presentable.

viRACE disappointed in every way. Standing on the (virtual) start line at 9:30, viRACE wasn't connecting so I had to forget the app and just run. Fortunately I have a Garmin watch so (unofficially) recording my run was not an issue, but viRACE was the official means of actually recording it. There was no instructions from the Great Run Company explaining what to do in the event that viRACE didn't work, so that was a pretty bad experience.

As it turned out, though, viRACE did connect, after about 1.5km. The first clue I had to this was that every so often my music (from my phone) would pause. I learnt at about the 10km mark that it was attempting to play audio, as it then informed me I'd run 5 miles. Well I was actually part way through the 7th, but never mind... This would happen every so often - sometimes it would manage to play a sound clip, other times my music would just pause.

Eventually I finished and stopped my Garmin and had a look at the app, which told me I still had a few km to go. I ended up running almost 23km in total so that I would officially finish.

Overall I found the experience extremely poor, and the Great Run Company haven't issued any statements or apologies about it or indicated that they will learn from it. Unfortunately, this is not surprising to me as the Great Run Company have previously disappointed. The last non-virtual Great Run event I took part in was the 2019 Birmingham Half Marathon, which they announced at the last minute was a mile short (though it was around 3-4km short according to my Garmin).

Filed under: technology, running, virace
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