Nelson Selvaraj (MSc 2015) is a staff member and former student who has just completed an impressive Great North virtual run to raise money for research at Cardiff University. Here he explains what motivated him to take on this test of physical endurance and shares his words of wisdom for those considering doing the same.
What is a ‘virtual run’ and how does it work?
A ‘virtual run’ pretty much works exactly the same as any other ‘official’ running event, but the difference is that you can choose your own location, when to do your race, and run at any pace to complete the distance you choose. It can be fun, and you have great control over how you want to run the race, but it still requires a lot of preparation and commitment, especially if it is long-distance running like a half-marathon or marathon.
Most virtual races work the same. Participants sign up and pay the registration fee, although some virtual runs are free. During the registration, you can select the distance that you want to complete. Once you’ve completed the race, you can upload your times online and then receive the finisher’s medal posted to you by the event organisers.
How did you get the idea for this challenge?
My plan was to run this year’s Cardiff University/Cardiff Half Marathon in October and raise funds for Cardiff University, but due to the current pandemic, a number of popular running events were cancelled or postponed. But this didn’t stop me doing what I wanted to do. I was very determined and started digging out information about virtual running events. You can get so much information from various runners’ blogs, and the local running community has some amazing ‘virtual’ runners. Without a doubt, their passion for running gave me the confidence to do a virtual race.
Do you have any previous running experience?
I wish I could say that I loved running from the very first time but actually, that wasn’t the case. I was never an ‘athletic’ person at school or university, although I was quite good at long-distance walking with my friends.
Running is pretty new to me; it was a slow and steady process and took many years to fine-tune my running techniques. I have many friends and colleagues who are experienced runners, and it’s fascinating to listen to some of their running stories. So, I decided to challenge myself and run my first long race. That was Cardiff Half Marathon in 2016 and I guess I must have picked up the ‘running bug’! After that I started to love long-distance running and began to see myself grow and improve. So far, I have done several parkruns, 10Ks and five official half-marathons (Cardiff, Manchester, Bristol, Great North Run and Virtual Great North Run) – of which I am very proud!
What motivated you to raise money for Cardiff University research?
It is clear that the current pandemic has had a huge economic impact on various sectors across the globe and cancelled fundraising events have resulted in a significant loss of research funding for institutions like Cardiff University. Cardiff University is already leading on several life-saving research initiatives relating to coronavirus, and as a member of staff and former student, I wanted to spread the good news and raise awareness of some of the amazing work our team of scientists do at Cardiff, especially the current work around developing a new vaccine for COVID-19.
What obstacles have you faced while training for your event?
One of my biggest concerns facing lockdown was not being able to run. With local lockdown rules in place, I couldn’t stick to my original training plan and it was quite frustrating. But it didn’t stop me doing ‘at-home’ workouts (jogging on the spot, planks, squats and press-ups) to keep me physically active. When the local lockdown restrictions were eased, I was so happy and resumed my running routines. It was tough at the beginning as I had to have a new training plan and start everything from scratch. Despite the initial struggle, I started to love every run and my pace of training was back in full force eventually.
These runs were like lifelines. Not only did they help me log certain miles per week, but they also helped my mental well-being and put me in a positive mood for the day.
Do you have any advice for people considering a similar task?
Running is not everyone’s cup of tea, but you’re not alone. I’ve been there like many of you. My running journey began with bit of a ‘brisk-walking / jog’ and my first ever long-run was just under 2K! I felt so terrible on that day, but I have never lost confidence in myself and always tried to remain positive, which I believe is crucial for anyone.
There are loads of training plans available online for free, which are great but may not work for everyone. My advice is to listen to your own body and try to develop your own training plans and routines. This will definitely help you to enjoy every single run you do and achieve what you want to do. In addition, be part of a local running club and you’ll get a great deal of information from runners’ blogs and the community. Involve yourself, and never shy away from sharing your ideas and experience (including the ones that didn’t work!), someone will hugely appreciate your help. And, you will soon realise that you’re doing far better!
If you want to raise funds for a charity, go for it! It doesn’t matter whether you’re planning to crawl or run, people who are willing to donate will be keen to know about your progress so keep them posted of your achievements and update them with ‘selfies’ or photos.
And most importantly, say ‘thanks’ – which doesn’t cost anything!
Do you have any future fundraising plans?
My experience of fundraising was positive and encouraging, so the answer is yes. I would like to register my interest with #TeamCardiff and support some of the upcoming fundraising events.