Many people in the running community use the terms "virtual race" and "virtual challenge" interchangeably. There is actually a pretty significant distinction to be made between the two! Read on for the nitty gritty definitions of each, and why it matters.
A virtual running (or biking etc.) race usually refers to a one-distance event, like a virtual 5K, that happens over the course of one specific day. Virtual racing can be a more accessible way to participate in a well-known event; it can also give us incentive to try for a new distance without the pressure of a course and crowd, or it can be a very necessary adaptation of a canceled "real life" race that was supposed to take place. These virtual events are a great way to dip your toes into the world of walking/running to achieve a certain distance. It’s a good low-commitment way to set goals and motivate yourself. Many even offer all the usual trappings of a real race, such as leaderboards, shirts, and medals!
A virtual fitness challenge is defined by having a much more flexible structure and longer-term impact than a virtual race. A fitness challenge does not necessarily rely on competition, but encourages participants to answer a call to action. Can you complete 3,521 miles with no time limit? Can you run and/or walk over 2,000 miles in 365 days? What if you divide the miles in a team? What if you take into account all of your daily steps? The answers to these questions will, and should, surprise those who undertake a virtual challenge. It offers all of the benefits of a virtual race (convenient, low-pressure, lots of fun swag) without any of the competition, and can lead to life-long healthy habits.
If you want something more than a one-day event, you want to surprise yourself, and you want to fall in love with exercise, think about taking on a virtual fitness challenge. You can choose how you want to challenge yourself: set your goal for a long time-frame (a year!), a daunting distance (say, the breadth of the USA!), or even forming a healthy habit (exercise every day for a month!). You’ll be amazed at what you can actually accomplish in a virtual challenge!