How to stay fit while running for a cause with Virtual Strides

Looking for a new incentive to stick with your workout schedule? How about running to benefit charities from the comfort of your home or hometown?

That’s the idea behind Virtual Strides, a Florida-based online business that promotes physical fitness and better health while raising money for charity. 

Founded in 2014 by a small group of running enthusiasts, the small business has raised over $1million for charity, much of it during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Every month a new race is published on the Virtual Strides website, including information about the charity chosen for support, exactly how much of your registration fee will be donated ($5 minimum), and a picture of the personalized medal you’ll receive in the mail. In addition to the monthly race, you can participate in any of the past races that still have medals left, choosing between a 5k, 105k, half marathon, or creating your own custom workout. 

Over the years, participating runners have supported a wide variety of charities from the Florida Lighthouse Association to No Kid Hungry to Space Station Explorers and more. All charities can be found with a brief description and the amount donated on the Virtual Strides website

Whether you walk or run, or even break your race up into multiple days, your money is still going toward a great cause.
“We are entirely non-competitive,” says Mark Petrillo of Melbourne, Virtual Strides Founder. “We include Thank You cards with all of the packages we send out, and each one has an inspirational quote on it. One of them that I really like says ‘A 12-minute mile is just as far as a 6-minute mile.’ I think that sums it up nicely.”

Petrillo got the idea to start this business when he was volunteer Race Director for the Turtle Krawl 5k in Florida. He helped grow the Turtle Krawl from the local fun run it was to what it is today, the largest 5k race in Brevard County landing himself as one of the finalists for the 2014 Volunteer of the Year Recognition Awards, hosted by Florida Today. 

During his time volunteering, participants slowly began asking if they could participate in the race virtually. Then in 2014, dozens of requests came in to buy a shirt and medal to support the featured cause and run closer to home. That’s when it hit him. “My years of web development, fundraising, and race directing had all come together,” Petrillo says. “I was pretty confident that Virtual Strides was a good idea, but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would grow to what it has become today.”

Not only has the business raised over one million dollars for charity, but it has also continued to encourage people from all over the country to stay motivated in working towards their own individual fitness goals. 

The “Coronavirus Relief” event has been their most popular event to date. They launched this race early on during the pandemic when there was a shortage of protective equipment for front line health care workers. “We received a massive response to this, which actually crashed our website (for the first and only time) within five minutes of announcing the event to our email list,” Petrillo says. The race ended up raising $85,000 that was donated to a charity called Direct Relief who works to provide needed equipment to these workers.  

While events are continuing to cancel around us in the midst of this pandemic, Virtual Strides gives everyone the opportunity to feel a part of the community while they support a good cause and their health. From the Upper Tampa Bay Trail, the Tampa Riverwalk, Picnic Island Loop, to Bayshore Boulevard, there are many gorgeous routes to pick from as you begin your virtual race. And remember, “A 12-minute mile is just as far as a 6-minute mile.”

Read more articles by Lauren Wong.

Lauren Wong is a graduate of the University of Tampa with a degree in journalism who is freelancing while she looks for a full-time job. Originally from the Chicago area, she enjoys travel and aspires to be a travel photojournalist. During the summer of 2019, she worked for Premier Travel Media in Chicago and as a correspondent for Input Fort Wayne, another Issue Media group online magazine based in Indiana. She loves spending time outdoors camping, kayaking, and taking pictures.