How to Choose Your Next Race

You’re sitting at your desk with blank calendar pages before you and a ready pen in hand, prepared to make your race calendar for the upcoming year. Or, maybe you’re a new runner looking for your first race: Where will it be? Which one should it be? How do you know what’s a “good” race or not? There’s lists on blogs like ours of “Big City” Marathons or other niche varieties, and those can be a good place to start. However, no matter the length of your race, there is other criteria to keep in mind when deciding how you will expend your valuable training effort (and dollars!) We all wish that we had enough time and strong enough muscles to do every single race we wanted to, but that often isn’t the case for anyone besides professional runners (and even they have to pick and choose!)

  1. First, determine why you are running this race. Do you want to PR, or are you just showing up to finish? Have you run the distance before, or are you a 5K/10K/1/2 Marathon/Full marathon veteran? That will help you narrow down the type of race you’re looking for. If you want to PR and hit a specific time, a hilly trail race might not be your best bet. If you’re looking to achieve a specific place in the race, a smaller field will be of more help than choosing the Chicago Marathon, for example. If you’re just running for fun, these factors are not quite as important. Races can be known for their scenery, for their toughness, for their atmosphere, for their swag (check here for more information on that), and more. Weigh these factors before choosing a race, so that you don’t invest time and money into a goal that you aren’t really interested in reaching.
  2. Location is almost always a very important factor, and people love doing races in a close geographical area. However, it can be an absolute blast to choose a destination race (Paris Marathon, anyone?) as an excuse to take a trip and visit somewhere new, while achieving a goal at the same time. Running destination weekends are becoming more and more popular. For example, Tucson’s TMC Meet Me Downtown Memorial Day Weekend race features a variety of race lengths, races for children and adults, and relationships with local hotels for visiting out-of-town-guests to stay where they’ll be close to the action. This is the case for many “destination” races, and a weekend like this can blend achievement with vacation in an exciting way.
  3. Who is organizing the race? Putting on a race is a massive effort, and it’s always best to go with a race that has good reviews and has been denoted as well-organized. There’s nothing worse than unexpectedly terrible aid stations, disorganized staff, or a questionably marked course. This Reddit thread lists some horror stories from runners about races that have turned out to be bad experiences: Running out of water, late starts, no bibs or chips, and other features of “cheap” races can often prove to be less than optimal. If you’re running a race and pushing your body and mind, the last thing that you want to worry about is whether or not there will be enough water for you! It’s already a stressful morning for many runners, so a smoothly run race can make all the difference in the world. On the other hand, races organized by runners tend to be some of our favorite races. Most races put on by the Road Runners Club of America in their various outposts tend to be nicely organized, because the race directors were and are runners! They know what racers will want to see, and strive to provide those little details.
  4. Check the weather. Especially if you are not familiar with the geographic region, head over to Wikipedia and learn what the average temperatures are in that area during the particular month. If it’s known for heavy rainfall and 20/30 days of storms or searing 110 degree temps, chances are that your race will be rainy. Maybe you are fine with that, but if not, choose another race.


Learning How to Choose Your Next Race

Good luck picking your next race! The good news is that races are an opportunity for fun and positive vibes, so with the right attitude, you can’t go wrong!

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Maggie Happe / About Author

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Comments (1)

  1. I’m not much of a runner but I did just get back from my first foot race in years! I pulled into the Chipolte parking lot in St. Cloud, MN and out of the corner of my eye I spotted a group of 5 HUNGRY college students heading for the door in a determined speed-walk of sorts.. I wasn’t going to let them win, so I gathered my strength and bolted for the door with almost some of my dignity intact 🙂 I won that race by 50 plus feet and I shaved 10 minutes off my day! Today I consider myself part of the running community.

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