While thousands of runners descend upon Cape Cod for the New Balance Falmouth Road Race today, an additional 100 are planning to compete from the comfort of their home or gym. Whether they failed to snag a coveted bib or are serving overseas in the military, the displaced runners can grab a tablet computer, hop on the treadmill and take off while watching video of the actual course of today's race. Falmouth is among the first races to let runners compete virtually from the treadmill, an idea that others are considering to widen their reach and boost their revenue. The goal is to draw runners who can't attend in the flesh. For Falmouth, that includes 3,000 runners who were turned away this year because of size limits, along with others who couldn't travel to Cape Cod.
"This gives them an alternative to experience a little bit about what the race is all about," said Dave McGillivray, director of the storied 7-mile race. Treadmill competitors simply download an app to the tablet and are off and running. Virtual runners at Falmouth will pay $40, compared with $65 for the outdoor race. Those fees cover race costs only, McGillivray said, and anything leftover is donated to charity. The video for Falmouth was filmed on a Segway about half an hour before the race started last year. It includes throngs of cheering fans along the course's ocean vistas. When the video approaches a hill, it prompts runners to increase the elevation on their treadmill. If runners want to pick up the pace, they increase the treadmill speed and then adjust a pace setting on the video, which can speed up or slow down. But as close as virtual running gets to the real thing, race directors predict it will always fall short. "Truth be told, I don't think you can compare the two," said McGillivray. "It'll never replace obviously the experience of running the race in person." The grand prize for virtual runners: A chance to run in-person next year. (Read more Falmouth, Mass. stories.)