Pros and Cons of Virtual Urban Mushing Races

Over the last few years, virtual races have been popping up in the news feeds of urban mushers. Virtual races take a variety of forms. Be it a stage race with participants collecting points for different legs of a journey or a one- or two-day race with times results being posted. Urban mushers borrowed the idea for virtual races from the human powered running world, where virtual races have become increasingly common.

Urban mushing teams sign up and pay a fee to participate in the races, and can race against people in their region, country or even internationally. Timing and distance is usually done on an honor system. Entry fees are used to pay for the website, sent medals and prizes to participants as well as pay for the organizers time.

But are virtual races a good thing?  Let’s break it down!

Honestly, parking is the top of my mind! There is nothing more frustrating than finding a well-attended race, but perhaps poorly organized race that doesn’t have room for the participants to park close by. Carrying my skis and managing my dogs as we work our way to the start line can be a little tricky. Looking for a place to stash my heavy winter coat and the dogs’ coats make it a little harder too. A virtual race means I am not stressing about where to park the truck on race day. Cause trust me, that is never pretty.

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By far, the biggest virtue of a virtual race is it gets butts off the couch and onto the trails. Socially, it’s a pretty low risk event to attend, as no one can see you fall or make a fool of yourself!

Some people are further encouraged by the friendly competition. A little friendly rivalry can be a good reason to get out there and rack up the miles. Most online races send you progress reports or allow you to log into the website weekly to track your progress.

Many of the participants in a virtual race welcome the opportunity to participate according to their own schedule. Most virtual races allow for some flexibility, have your times recorded by a certain date and you are still in. It’s also a great option if you live somewhere subject to Mother Nature’s mood swings. With a virtual race, you can get out when, and if, the weather suits you.

At local races it can sometimes be difficult to find enough teams in your class. For years, I raced the local circuit with a two dog skijoring team, and some years there were barely enough people to race against. Numbers of participants in any given event fluctuate year after year, but joining up with a virtual race can allow you to cast your net a little further and race against some other people in the same class as yourself. Which is great if you are just starting out as a rookie or as a veteran looking to tune up your time.

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If you live in a land of few urban mushers, or just haven’t been able to connect to them, then the draw then joining a virtual race may allow you to network. Talking shop with other people who share your passion can be enriching and rewarding. Learn some new tips and tricks or even just motivate each other to get out. There is no doubt that virtual races are connecting people.

Local races support local trail development and maintenance. People with the build it and they will come philosophy are the ones who keep this sport alive! In a world where it is growing harder and harder to find trails to run dogs on, every dollar spent on a virtual race means that money is leaving local mushing communities.

Having been a local race promoter and organizer for many years, I can tell you that races don’t make money. Trail maintenance and the cost of maintaining the equipment to maintain the trails, tack on your insurance costs and prizes, money raised from race entry goes back to the community.

A traditional race gives purse money back to the mushers who have entered. Money that feeds their dogs, pays for their gas and allowed them to stay in a hotel room for the weekend. Virtual races do not usually follow this tradition of giving a prize purse to the participants.

In a virtual race, the organizers and race marshals (if there are any) are not on site. This makes the the enforcement of rules next to impossible to enforce. If a dog shows up at a local race favoring a leg, even in the slightest, the keen eyed veterinary team on site will send the dog back home. No questions asked. They use their years of experience to pick out even the slightest problem. Often times the issue can be so slight, that a newbie may not even have been aware there was a problem. This allows the dog to get help and healed fast, in order to come back and race another time. This first-hand experience is critical for learning. Collectively, we all do better.

While there are a few governing bodies than include urban mushing, most virtual races do not align with them. The list of rules may seem long, but are born from years of collective experience. The rules have been negotiated to ensure the safety of the dogs is foremost. In a virtual environment, these rules are next to impossible to enforce, putting dogs at unnecessary risk.

While joining up in a virtual race gets you experience with an online community, it may mean that you miss out building real life connections. There are mushers with traditional knowledge and years of experience, passed down from generation to generation. True legends in their own right. Pull up a stool, grab a beer or hot chocolate and listen to the stories of the old timers. You will learn more in 20 minutes from this crowd than you could in a lifetime of online mushing events. Online events often don’t attract this crowd of knowledge keepers, which is a shame, we have so much to learn from them.

No matter if your finish is on the podium, or dead last in your heat, the onlookers, volunteers and mushing circuit fans will cheer you and your dogs on like you are a bunch of A-List Hollywood Celebrities. Watch your dogs eat up the praise as they pull for the finish line!

This is the reason we run dogs! For the community, the camaraderie and the connections, something that can be increasing difficult to find in this online world.


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