Sir Richard Branson’s long-awaited entry into the recreational fitness realm is finally here.
Announced way back in 2015 via Branson’s blog, Virgin Sport promised to be a fitness company that changes “the health-and-wellness game for good,” but the how, when, what, and where remained largely mysterious until this morning's announcement of a series of multiday, multisport athletic events across the world that bring people, community, play, and fitness together.
Which is why it now makes so much sense that the first move Branson made, nearly two years ago, was to hire former New York Road Runners president Mary Wittenberg as the CEO of Virgin Sport. “When Richard approached me about the job, he told me, ‘This is going to get millions of people moving,’ ” Wittenberg says.
If Wittenberg’s run with NYRR is any indicator, he picked the right woman when it comes to getting people moving. In 1998, during her first year managing the New York Marathon, there were 31,333 finishers. The 2014 marathon — the last under her management — saw 50,432 finishers cross the line in Central Park.
That’s a lot, sure, but nowhere near what Richard Branson has in mind for Wittenberg’s work with Virgin Sport, which aims to appeal to everyone, and not just road runners. “You can see the massive opportunity here if you have a passion for helping people get fitter,” she says.
Virgin Sport won’t just be bike races and marathons. Wittenberg says that activities will include races and fitness challenges — but there is no limit to what sports can make the event lineup. Why not make workouts competitive? “A lot of people do boxing and HIIT and rowing and spinning, but it’s usually an indoor workout that lasts about 45 minutes,” she says. “We could take those workouts outside and train for times — like, make an outdoor boot camp that lasts one hour, then two hours. It’s like training for a race distance — you challenge yourself by building up.”
The first four Virgin Sport events are launching this year in the U.K. and U.S.: Hackney (30 April); Westminster (9 July); San Francisco (14–15 October); and Oxford (TBD October). And while most of the event lineups aren’t final yet, Hackney is set to include the Hackney Half (a 13.1-mile run through the London borough of Hackney), the Chase your Mate 5.5k (where two teammates start at opposite ends of a course and attempt to “catch” each other), and a free fitness boot camp on Hackney Marshes.
All tickets include access to the festival at the event. “The festival aspect is about bringing local culture and food to help us celebrate the host and connect people,” Wittenberg says. “There’s a magic about community in sport that’s compelling. The Virgin Sport event will feel really different in each location.”
You can now register yourself, friends, teams and fans for Virgin Sport Hackney at virginsport.com.