One decision every runner must make is which races to sign up for. With so many to choose from how do you decide which ones to do? Depending on where you live you might have a lot of options nearby and where to race is not a question. For others, options may be more limited. Perhaps you want a ‘destination’ race where you visit a new city for the first time. Some runners like to make a race as part of vacation plans.
Geographic factors aside, there is also the size of a race. You can run in large races with thousands of runners or smaller races with maybe just a couple hundred runners.
Picking the right race is a personal decision of which many factors need to be considered.
Selecting the Right Race for You
Here are some decision points to consider in order to help you focus on the right race for you.
Consideration 1: Time Of Year
Thinking of signing up for a spring half or full marathon? Don’t focus so much on the date of the race itself, but think of the time period you will be training for it. If you live in a place where the weather is amicable to training outdoors year round then no worries. But if you sign up for a distance event in April the months of January – March are when you will be in the core of your training. Think about yourself as a runner. Will you have difficulty getting in your training as a result? Do you hate running in inclement weather? If you plan to train indoors most of the winter will you have enough time to do some miles outdoors? Will you be able to simulate the course profile (hills, surface, etc) adequately if you train mostly indoors?
Be honest with yourself about your training preferences. A good start might be to select a shorter distance race in the early part of the Spring and race distance towards the end of the Spring, but before the heat of Summer arrives. This way you can start training indoors if you must and transition to outdoors later.
If you are thinking about running a race during the Winter or early Spring away from home in a warm climate and you will be doing your training in a cold climate, you need to be prepared accordingly. If you trained outdoors in 30°F temperatures and your race is in Florida and that is the first time you will experience warm weather again, your performance will definitely suffer as a result of not being acclimated to the temperature.
Consideration 2: Large or Small Race
Do you want a race with thousands of runners or prefer a race with hundreds instead? There are a lot of things to consider about size.
With thousands of runners in a large race, you may experience congestion at the start or various points in the race that may be a negative factor if you are attempting to run a PR or have a goal time. Your pace might be dictated by how those around you are running or time can be added weaving around others.
Look at how the start is managed. If there are start corrals with a staggered start spacing out runners by ability level the over crowding scenario is often mitigated. If not, you might encounter it. If you are running the race for the experience instead of time this may not matter as much.
Course aid can vary greatly between large and small races. A large marathon such as the Chicago Marathon will have aid stations spanning 2 city blocks on both sides of the street with hundreds of volunteers handing out aid. A smaller town marathon such as the Grand Rapids Marathon while adequately having aid available will have much smaller aid stations with fewer volunteers and can be swamped in the early miles.
The same goes for short distance events. Some small short distance 5K or 10K races may not have aid stations at all, or just one with limited supply. Research ahead of time and decide if what they are offering for aid is ok with you. Race day is not the time to find out.