It started as a way of raising sponsorship for founder Susan’s first marathon attempt, but over the past ten years Virtual Runner has transformed into something far bigger than she could ever have imagined.
Here, in the latest of a series of special blogs to mark the company’s 10th anniversary, Susan looks back on her top 10 highlights of the past decade (in no particular order) …
1) Every time I manage to send a donation to charity – It just fills me with immense pride that this community we’ve created has been able to help so many charities. I say ‘we’ because it’s about so much more than me, it’s all the fantastic runners that keep coming back time and time again, nominating such great causes, and pushing themselves to complete the races. My initial fundraising target was £10,000 as I didn’t really expect the idea to take off. My next target is £1m and we’re 75% of the way there (£757,919 to date), which blows my mind!
2) The community – Every single day they never fail to make me laugh, smile, and sometimes even cry with their emotional stories. I feel so inspired by them and each and every member has helped make the past 10 years stand out.
3) Virtual Runner Live – While the whole idea of Virtual Runner is based on the fact you can run anytime anywhere, our real-life event series which took place in Nottingham in 2018, 2019 and 2020, saw thousands of people cross the finish line of our 2k, 5k and 10k races. I absolutely loved witnessing people achieve PBs, tackle distances for the very first time and seeing the community coming together.
4) Covid – Not the pandemic itself obviously, but the way Virtual Runner was able to help people stay motivated and inspired during such a difficult time in our history. It bought the community together and really cemented the importance of the basic need to move and stay active. During the various lockdowns our challenges helped people find ways to stay focused and motivated and we raised a fantastic amount for various causes.
5) Run 22 – Our biggest run to date. This was set up in the wake of the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017 and really brought a community together. It raised over £50,000 which was split between the We Love Manchester (Manchester Evening News appeal) and NW Ambulance Trust. I will never forget how the running community came together to run for 22 minutes in honour of the 22 people who lost their lives.
6) The First time I was recognised as ‘Mrs Virtual Runner’ – This was during the Liverpool Half marathon back in 2015 and was a real moment as it made me realise the true reach of Virtual Runner and the fact that people all over the country were involved in, and enjoying, the community we’ve created.
7) Winning awards: I’ve been lucky enough to win multiple awards over the years, but the ones that stand out most are winning Best Online User experience at the prestigious UK Digital Awards in 2017, the Sports Business Awards for best community scheme in 2022 and the Federation of Small Businesses community award this year.
8) Running the London Marathon: I’ve done this 2 times live and another twice virtually over the past 10 years and been overwhelmed by the tremendous support I’ve received from ‘strangers’ from the community. Many of whom tracked my progress and were there to cheer me on from the sidelines. It was particularly special in my 2016 attempt as I was also lucky enough to exhibit at the London Marathon Expo and really felt the community behind me. I also got to meet quite a few of our members in 2016. I completed my 4th attempt at London within 48 hours of major surgery (virtually and solo – thanks Covid) so this race always holds a special place in my heart.
9) Receiving recognition from my sporting heroes: Both Dame Kelly Holmes and Jo Pavey have given their support to Virtual Runner and expressed their enthusiasm for what we do. I was lucky enough to meet Dame Kelly Holmes in person and we coordinated a virtual challenge for her charity; The Dame Kelly Holmes Trust. During the pandemic, the social media platform Clubhouse grew and Jo Pavey made me immensely proud for mentioning the inclusivity of VR on one of her talks.
10) The launch of the Virtual Runner app: As a one-woman business, with no background in technology, launching this in 2019 was a huge achievement for me. The app (available on Apple and Android) makes it easier to find and purchase your races, and submit proof of your times, and has helped make Virtual Runner accessible to even more people.