London-based Race Roster offers virtual alternatives for pandemic-hobbled runners

A London software firm that builds technology to organize running events, has changed lanes in this COVID-19 pandemic.

Race Roster, which was bought by Japanese running shoe company Asics in December, has moved to support online running events now that outdoor marathons with mass gatherings are not happening.

Instead, runners are taking to the streets in their home communities and measuring their performance, comparing that to other individual runners using technology offered by Race Roster, said Alex Vander Hoeven, chief executive Race Roster.

“All these running events have flipped to a virtual format and we are quite busy,” said Vander Hoeven.

“We are working on new solutions because the virtual experience is different from real life events. It is what the market demands and what we are spending most of our time on.”

That difference is Race Roster now offers an app called Runkeeper, developed by Asics, that will “seamlessly” take a runners information and post it to an online leaderboard for the event in which the runner registered to compete.

While Runkeeper is an Asics app, Race Roster also makes supporting technology helping make that connection between Runkeeper and the leaderboard, smooth.

“We think of them as a sister company and we are working closely. Virtual races are being used to substitute for normal races and Runkeeper is helping,” said Vander Hoeven.

For the London running community, virtual events are no substitute for the competitiveness of the real thing, but they applauded a London company working to support runners in a pandemic.

“Anything that encourages people to get out the door these days is good. A lot of runners are goal-oriented and this is the next-best thing to going to an event,” said John Ferguson, a running coach who offers clinics under his business JF Running.

“It is a safe way to compete.”

He has used Race Roster technology for running events he has organized, and it is a point of pride the city has a business with a global profile when it comes to running, he said.

Steve Walmsley, manager of the Running Room on Richmond Street, agrees, adding Race Roster technology is helping maintain and build the community at a time it can not meet.

“It can help keep training up. It is the best that can be done at this point. It is not competitive. You really can’t compare times, but it helps build the community,” said Walmsley.

“Having a technology business here that is forward-thinking is good for London.”

Race Roster’s clients are running events held around the world and a runner in London can register, for example, for the Gold Coast marathon in Australia, and the runner’s time here will be posted to the Australian event, with the help of the Runkeeper app. Under this new virtual format, the Gold Coast marathon in July boasted about 30,000 participants this year, said Vander Hoeven.

“We have been hit hard by the pandemic but we are now trying to figure out what the industry will be like,” he said. “We are interested in helping create the next virtual technology.”

Race Roster may have been hurt by the pandemic but it has not cut jobs, still employing more than 80, he said.

Vander Hoeven is hoping for a 2021 return to organized, mass running events where Race Roster technology will once again be used to take registration and entry information as well as handle the financial transaction. But it will continue to work on developing its virtual technology.

“We are definitely well positioned to help our clients with virtual offerings,” said Vander Hoeven.

“We work with hundreds of events that have now moved over and flipped to this format.”

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