The new Ironman Virtual Club, rolled out this week, is both slightly confusing and not confusing at all. There are still a handful of questions—like how Ironman plans to crack down on cheating if it’s going to hand out 70.3 Worlds slots from the virtual racing series—but for the most part, the system itself is fairly straightforward. Here’s what I learned from testing it.

How Do I Sign Up for Ironman Virtual Club?

Go to IronmanVirtualClub.com and register. You can sign up with your email, a Facebook or Gmail account, or an existing Ironman account. The Virtual Club system then uses Sports Heroes to run their digital platform—so you now also have a Sports Heroes account. You then connect your fitness app—Garmin Connect, Strava, Nike+, Fitbit, etc. There are 12 of the most common fitness apps supported.

[UPDATE: As of April 16, due to some complicated inter-company fighting, Strava is no longer supported as one of the synced apps on the Ironman Virtual Club.]

How Does the Ironman Virtual Club Work?

Once you’re set-up, you then see a dashboard, which shows your most recent workout activities. Activities earn you “credits” and “points.” Think of it sort of like Strava, in that it’s a place to see and compare your workouts to others in a community spot.

The main thing here is the “credits” and “points.” I don’t exactly know how they’re different yet. You earn “points” based on distance, and those then convert to “credits,” which you can cash in for rewards.

For example, my 30-minute jog earned me 11 credits. If I get 315 credits, I get 25% off a pair of Hoka Rincons, and 200 credits earns me $20 off an order of $75 or more at the Ironman store. One downer, however, was my hour-long trainer ride earned me zero credits. Granted I do not have a smart trainer and it might work differently if you were operating directly into a smart trainer platform, but given that lots of people are riding indoors these days, that seems like a flaw.

Other things in the Virtual Club include:

– Ironman+ resources and articles about training.
– Coaching app from PKRS, which we’ve written about before, and training plans and workouts from IronmanU coaches on FinalSurge.
– Events, which is where a bulk of the interest is: in Ironman’s new VR race series and its “challenges.”

What Are the Ironman Virtual Races?

There are, as best I can tell, two major forms of events in the Virtual Club: challenges and races.

Challenges are kind of like Strava challenges (or, really, any sort of challenge your triathlon club might do—a push-up challenge, a run streak challenge, etc). The perk here is each Ironman VC challenge is set up by a coach, like Mark Allen, or a brand, like Hoka, and has prizes for entering and/or completing the challenge, structured as simple raffle giveaways. For example, I signed up for the Hoka challenge, which suggests doing a tempo run each week and increasing the effort, and I *could* win a pair of shoes for doing it. The downside is challenges are really more loose suggestions. As far as I can tell, Hoka has no way to know or care if I actually do the weekly tempo workout, so long as I complete the distance.

Races are races. Ironman is calling its race series “VR” and the first one, “VR1,” is this weekend. VR1 is free to sign up for so that people can test it out. It will be a 5K run-90K bike-21K run (essentially a half-duathlon). You have about a 54-hour period to log those distances on your GPS and upload them to the Ironman Virtual Club platform (via whatever app you use). At this point, it does not appear they have to be sequential, so long as they are completed within the timeframe. The prize for this race is a digital “badge” that goes on your athlete dashboard and profile. In the future, Ironman has said there will be other prizes, most notably slots to the 70.3 World Championships—but those details still appear to be getting worked out.

Right now, it should also be noted, this race is being done completely via GPS upload. But, given that Ironman announced this week it had partnered with Rouvy, which creates those virtual race simulations that allow you to “ride” a given course on your screen, it’s likely future races will involve some virtual simulation — ie. “race” the Ironman Boulder course. The pro VR1 race will utilize the Rouvy system and allow registered athletes to test it out (more on that below).

How Do I Sign Up for the Ironman Virtual Races?

In your athlete dashboard, you can click register for a VR race. It then sends you to Active, where you go through the regular Active registration process, though this first race is free. Active then sends you an email with a digital bib code that you have to enter into the Ironman Virtual Club platform to complete your registration. It worked fine for me, though was a bit confusing, but other people have experienced some hiccups.

Once registered, you are then able to log the distances in the race for that weekend. Any distances you log before being registered do not count. Throughout the race weekend, you will be able to see the leaderboard and how you stack up.

What About the Pro Virtual Racing?

Part of the virtual club and race announcement was that pros will be going head-to-head virtually as well, and you will be able to watch on Facebook Live via Ironman Now.

Right now, it appears there will be four women racing the bike portion on Saturday at 9 am M.T. virtually from their homes, and four men on Sunday. Those athletes will be: Mirinda Carfrae, Angela Naeth, Jeanni Seymour, and Jocelyn McCauley; and then Joe Gambles, Patrick Lange, Justin Metzler, and Bradley Weiss.

One thing, unlike in races in real life: You will be able to “ride” with the pros. Using the Rouvy platform, they will be riding the Boulder 70.3 course virtually, and athletes registered for VR1 can join them once they are set up on the Rouvy system as well. We’ll report back.