Since the coronavirus pandemic confined millions to their homes across the globe, online fitness and Zoom-led workouts have become de rigeur for fitness fanatics.
But for Samantha Field and Vicky Powell-Carden, virtual exercise was already the key component of their business Virtual Racing UK (VRUK).
And, in a time when packed marathons lined with crowds look to be a thing of the past, virtual racing may hold the key to races like the Boston and London marathons being able to continue.
The company hosts virtual fitness challenges online, primarily distance challenges that members can complete anywhere they like in their own time.
They also offer virtual “cheerleaders”, essentially coaches who provide support and encouragement for races from 5k up to 2,000 miles, whether it’s running, swimming, walking or cycling.
Members, who pay for £12 to sign up, can nominate a charity to donate a percentage to.
“We take lots of time and effort in selecting themes for our challenges, getting the right design for our medals and working with appropriate charities,” says 40-year-old Field. “The flexibility and versatility of being able to work out at your own pace and location, has seen a huge rise in the number of individuals turning to virtual communities such as Virtual Racing UK, to help them stay on track and hit their fitness goals.”
The pair, who are sisters and are both keen – but novice – runners, launched the organization after not being able to find virtual challenges that ticked all the boxes.
“We felt we could create something better, so we did,” says 46-year-old Powell-Carden. “It is a competitive industry in as much as there are lots of ‘virtual’ businesses that offer challenges and reward medals, but we believe very few have created a team community that is both trusted and supportive in the same way that we have.”
The races can be completed at a location of the athlete’s choice, and completed at their own pace and date within the virtual challenge period.
Racing can be completed on a treadmill, spinning machine, or outside, and participants gain a medal upon completion.
There are now 12,000 sign-ups to the site, and the duo have decided to extend into apparel, due to customers wanting matching team kits.
“In terms of the activewear market, that is a congested industry but its saturated by faceless big brands and we have noticed that our market place want to buy activewear that matches their challenge community, gives them a sense of belonging and being part of a team. The competition offering this is limited, and currently dominated by just a few key players but there is little differentiation between them,” says Field.
“Response to these has been incredible, with 14% of customers repeat buying within 2 weeks of their first purchase.”
The company’s success lies in repeat business, which sits at 58%. “So if we didn’t listen and react to what our community wants, we simply wouldn’t survive,” adds Field.
The main competitors are Pow, Virtual runner and Medal Mad, but the sisters are raring to go.
“Our challenges are our love and we will continue to do those and have some very exciting opportunities for markets we can expand into but from a business standpoint our growth will come from product-based offerings,” Field adds.
“We want to be the biggest independent, UK family brand for Activewear. We have only glanced upon the tip of the iceberg. Our community is predominately 37 years old plus and it is jam packed with women and men who are trying to get and stay fit and healthy but have realistic goals and expectations.
“Aspiring to have a washboard tummy isn’t likely to be their prime goal but that doesn’t mean they don’t want stylish, functional and comfortable workout wear that makes them feel body confident with the physic they have right now.”