Updated: May 7, 2022
Virtual medals are becoming a thing but are they worth your efforts? Even the London Marathon among others became 'virtual' during the UK lockdown. Perhaps you've seen one? They come in all shapes, sizes and distances. There's even one for a distance to the moon and back. Having experienced a virtual medal, let's take a look at what they are, the pros, cons and my own anecdotal experience.
What is a virtual medal?
Virtual medals are challenges that can be completed away from an event location over a period of time. These can be fixed times or requirements or can even be the most amount of X in a time frame. Most are for some distance travelled be it cycling, swimming, walking and most commonly running. Others can be squats, steps, sit ups, push ups. You name it, there's likely a medal you can find online to complete.
How do they work
Usually you track your activity via the medal providers app/website or link a 3rd party app such as Strava, Runkeeper, Nike+, Apple Health etc. The activity requirements add up until the target is achieved. Some providers offer a way to enter your results manually. Select your medal from the vast array out there, set your distance or time if appropriate and crack on!
What do you get
A medal but of course! Some organisers give you a certificate alongside, some do merchandise like t-shirts and hoodies, others offer you virtual postcards and organisers like Conqueror (more on them later) plant trees for milestones reached. Once completed, your medal should be posted to your door within a few days.
Now we know a little more about what virtual medals are, how do they help above and beyond just doing the distance? Accountability! Having paid real money for something you're more likely to see it through when you would otherwise miss a session(s). The providers, at least the good ones, offer a visual representation of how far you have to go which can help those who find visual aids of more benefit.
The medals also help with motivation by giving you a specific goal (get from A-B) goal. The goal is measurable, possibly achievable and can be relevant to your fitness goals if you choose the right one for the right reasons. For example, doing any medal will increase your activity levels thereby, burning more calories, which is great for those looking to achieve weight/fat loss.
Sticking with the weight loss theme, the medal gives you something else to concentrate on, besides the bathroom scales. For those that get anxiety over what the number will be on the scales these medals offer you another way to keep tabs on your activity AND get some bling at the end of it!
You can get more people onboard with team medals. Having people around you to help spur you on can get you off the sofa on even the rainiest of cold days. Inching up your activity levels, helping you to stay healthy and improving your social fitness. You also don't have to be physically near someone, being the benefit of a virtual medal, long distance friendships and collaborations can work together. For those competitive types it also offers the opportunity to beat your teammates last distance or time.
There's a glaring disadvantage in that it's all to easy to cheat by entering numbers into the app without actually hiving done them. If you were to do this, then you're only cheating yourself out of the goal, so more fool you. However, some people may be a little too tempted to add on the 1 km they were short or just add in the week they missed.
These medals seem very much more focused on endurance, cardio exercise and the workouts associated with such activities like running, cycling, swimming and even walking. Granted this is a limitation of what is available to track. It would be nice to see things like lift the weight of a bus, or building etc etc and have a way to enter in the weights you used multiplied by the reps to progress over time towards a volume goal.
Oddly enough the challenge itself could be made too easy or too hard as with some companies you can set your time frame. Some may set such a long time frame as to comfortably get the challenge done, which defeats the point of it being a challenge to push yourself more than you otherwise would. Others may set the time limit to be too short and sail by the deadline in our busy lives.
One more disadvantage is for the team medals. Like group homework activities at school there'd always be that one kid that would cruise whilst the others did the hard work. So far as I can see there's no way, other than team policing, to make sure each participant does their fair share by way of a minimum distance to complete. Say 5 of your are in a team but 4 do the work....the 5th still gets the medal at the end.
First of all I have no affiliation with this company, it's just the medal I went for.
I have always liked the look of the Conqueror Virtual Events series of medals and had been eyeing them up over time debating their worth. After a client of mine did the Channel Crossing medal I pushed the button on giving one a go. I liked that you can do anything distance based and with some imagination could marry up what you do with the medal you went for. For example using a stair machine or hill walking for medals based on climbing mountains like Everest or Fuji.
At the time I was looking to start running with minimal shoes aka unshod running. Like the Romans of old whom work little more than leather sandals I felt the Hardian's Wall challenged married up to how I wanted to complete a challenge. Thus began the journey to run from coast to coast of the Scottish border, barefoot.
The plan without going into too much detail, as we are here to talk about the medal not how to transition running styles, was to start with small distance and increase the time ran by 10% each week until I hit 60 mins or 10 km then repeat until the end of the challenge to establish that my body can take the strain of running barefoot.
Why this medal though? Why not the Icelandic medal or some other generic distance medal that's cheaper. Well the quality for one. The Conqueror medals look great and I'd be happy to display them. The Roman theme went well with my business branding and the distance was achievable in a realistic time frame. 90 odd miles is a challenge for me but not extraordinary.
How did it go?
Initially, I got off to a good start with smaller distances and a novel workout learning how to run barefoot. Not much to do with the medal until later on...
Once I hit 5 km around the 30 min mark motivation to keep running, as I find distance somewhat boring, started to waiver. However, this is where the medal came in. Seeing the flashy quality and knowing I'd be wasting money if I stopped kept me going for some time. Then I started German Long sword training. Admittedly, if I didn't have the medal to complete I would have stopped running all together and spent that workout time doing sword training drills simply because I enjoy it more. This is where the medal earned it's money as yet again, I didn't want to waste my money dropping running at the time.
Planting trees, or at least being notified a tree was to be planted on my behalf, was a nice addition to the challenge that not many other providers do. Likewise, having postcards at certain milestones describing landmarks was nice to see and learn about the area or history that I probably will never see for real. There is a scene in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves next to a large tree, little did I know that was along Hadrian's wall until a virtual postcard popped up on my app.
Will I do another one? Most likely yes! The value of having that external locus to help pull me towards getting my barefoot running on the way in addition to the internal locus was worth the £30 for sure.
If you've been thinking about getting the additional motivation of a virtual challenge you can browse the collection and get 10% off a Conqueror Virtual Challenges here *
*Using the link provided enables me to receive a free medal for every 2 link purchases