Technology has significantly changed how we approach health and fitness, from phones that count our steps to watches that measure our heart rates, but one thing remains the same: exercising is often perceived as uncomfortable. The desire to avoid discomfort is one of the major hurdles preventing people from adopting healthier lifestyles.
Lowering that hurdle, or attempting to eliminate it completely, is the mission of Virtual Racing UK. By creating fun running, swimming and cycling races, the company has motivated scores of individuals and created a supportive community of fitness enthusiasts.
Sisters Sam and Vicky founded Virtual Racing UK after completing a marathon together. Through their company’s unique platform, they hope to replicate the exhilaration that comes from pushing oneself towards a finish line and help people live healthier lives.
WiFB sat down with Sam and Vicky Field to discuss their unique business model, the steps they took to ensure its success and the pride they feel from the encouraging community they helped build.
Photo by Dimon Bir on Unsplash
How did you first get the idea for Virtual Racing UK?
Sam: Around 12 years ago, my sister Vicky and I participated in the London walk the walk for breast cancer marathon. It was 26.2 miles long, and neither one of us were very athletic. We went to the gym often, but we both hated running. Despite that, we finished the marathon in pretty good time thanks to our aerobic conditioning.
It was an amazing experience, and we started running more afterwards – even entering more live races. There’s nothing compared to running in that sort of environment, with cheering crowds and other elements that make the experience extremely motivational. Live races, however, can be expensive, and not everyone has time for them.
We’ve always wanted to start our own business, so when Vicky completed her first virtual run, it got us thinking. I have a marketing background and saw the potential of virtual experiences in other sports like cycling and swimming. Not everyone can run, but engaging in physical activity that raises the heart rate is something everyone should do.
We’ve always wanted to start our own business, so when Vicky completed her first virtual run, it got us thinking. […] Not everyone can run, but engaging in physical activity that raises the heart rate is something everyone should do.
What racing options does the platform offer to your customers?
Vicky: Each month, we host a variety of distance-based challenges. We have two-kilometre challenges that are suitable for beginners or children, as well as complete marathons, which are 26.2 miles. Our offerings have evolved over time. We started off hosting only one challenge a month, and we now host up to four or five. Customers have their choice of distances as well as the option to complete the race anytime between the beginning and end of the month, and we send the medals to the winners by post.
Entrants can complete as much or as little of a race as they’d like every single day. Some go out and smash 10 kilometres in one go, while others cover the same distance over several days. Throughout the month, we offer a lot of support. We motivate our community members through emails and encourage them to share their photos and progress. We have created a strong and united virtual community, and when someone receives one of our medals after their accomplishment, the entire team is delighted.
What was the greatest challenge in implementing this idea?
Sam: Vicky’s background has been instrumental because she is able to recognise trends that we can build on. For example, Prosecco’s popularity began to surge a couple of years ago, so our first challenge was a ‘Prosecco Challenge’ that came with a nice shiny Prosecco medal upon completion.
Despite our efforts, 80 per cent of our audience is still female, even though our male clients are active and vocal members of the team. We are very conscious of not leaving them out, and we make sure that there are unisex challenges as well as challenges that have a more female mass appeal.
Motivating people will always be challenging, but that’s where our concept excels the most. When the envelope drops through our team member’s door, and they feel the heft of a medal they’ve earned, they’re often compelled to share their achievement, which not only keeps them motivated but also spurs motivation throughout the entire community. The medals really are a very important component. We want people to have something tangible that makes them feel like it’s worth getting off the couch and out of their comfort zone. I believe the motivational aspect of the platform is what really helped our business succeed.
We want people to have something tangible that makes them feel like it’s worth getting off the couch and out of their comfort zone. I believe the motivational aspect of the platform is what really helped our business succeed.
The rise of technology is often blamed for our sedentary lifestyles, yet you have leveraged it to achieve the opposite. How have you used technology in your business?
Sam: We‘ve used technology differently than, for example, fitness tracking devices, which offer a solitary experience. We’re using it to reach the masses, making fitness affordable and accessible for everybody, and we have ideas about how to embrace technology even more as it evolves.
Vicky: Technology is an advantage for us because it makes it easier for our team members to provide evidence of their achievements through uploads or other means if they’re not wearing a fitness tracker. It makes building the virtual process much easier for them, and we like the connection it gives us to them.
It is not always easy working with family. How has it been working together?
Vicky: I think what continues to surprise us both is how ambitious we are. I believe we were destined to work together at some point. We had both come to a point in our corporate careers where we wanted to try something new. As a result, we were both prepared to take the same risk. I knew Sam had my back, and she knew I had hers.
It was a lot of hard work, and we experienced a steep learning curve. In the beginning, we were both trying to do each other’s jobs, but we learned very quickly how to give each other the freedom to tend to our specific responsibilities. Once we got that out of the way, we found that the 200 miles between our physical locations had worked out well. If we had worked in an office together, I don’t know if it would have been as pleasant an experience. The virtual aspect of our business has also allowed us to meet up on a regular basis.
Sam: Another thing we realised was the need to take our business seriously. When we have meetings, we take minutes, we follow an agenda and try to keep family correspondence separate from business correspondence. We have always been close, but I think embarking in this adventure together made us even closer. We’ve had ups and downs, but there’s no one else I’d rather be working with on a daily basis; that feeling of family has been even more accentuated by the virtual community we’ve created. We have a repeat entry rate of 52 per cent, and lots of those people have started to feel like family members rather than customers.
What is your strategy for the future?
Vicky: We have one-, three- and five-year plans. Sometimes, we’re a little impatient and want things to happen much faster than they can. However, we are careful not to let our ambition detract from our core business.
Sam: Physical health is a crucial aspect of our company, but we also want to contribute positively to people’s entire well-being. We would also like to broaden our appeal across the UK and the world. The wider we can cast that net, the richer and stronger our community becomes. That’s plenty on the horizon for us.