I hit the pavement twice this year – a 5K in August and a half marathon in November – both lit my fire and reminded me of when I first started running several years ago. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting into but I was excited about doing something I had never done before. For you? Whatever the distance, you need to pick a target that will inspire and excite you.
So how do you go about selecting your race, when there are so many to choose from?
It comes down to several factors, each of which I’ll address here: time to prepare, location, race date, weather conditions, course and the size of the race.
Time to prepare
Pick a race that gives you the time you need to train properly. It is a huge factor to avoid injury and sometimes people forget and get wrong.
I recommend finding a training program. The race distance will determine the training period. There are plenty of apps out there that you can use including two of my favorites: X and Nike+.
Should you stay close to home or travel to a destination race? For 5Ks and 10Ks, I stay close to home. But when I hit the half marathon distance, I typically think racecation.
Most of my half marathons have been destination races – San Diego, San Juan, Miami and Philadelphia to name a few. I believe if you are going to be running at least 13.1 miles it ought to be in a fun location. So, going somewhere fun and making a mini-vacation out of it is the way to go.
When is race?
Keep in mind the race date will also dictate when you will be training. A spring race means winter training. Are you okay with that? Racing in the fall means training over the summer. Will your family mind sharing their summer vacation with your training plan?
Time and location, also determine the likely weather conditions of race day. For most people, 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit is a pretty ideal temperature range to run in, but keep in mind that most races start early in the morning so you usually won’t be running during the hottest part of the day.
Rain isn’t fun to run in and neither is snow. I know after running in rain turning into sleet for my first attempt at a marathon – Little Rock Marathon. Also, be aware that differences in humidity and elevation between your race location and what you’re used to training in can have a significant impact on your performance. I have experienced this when we ran Divas San Juan Half Marathon. There was no shade anywhere along the course for a little bit of a reprieve.
Obviously, you can’t control all of these things, but it’s better to be mindful than caught off guard by the weather.
If you are running a local 5K race, you can drive or run the course to check it out. If you are running something longer, most races offer elevation profiles on their websites.
If you are able to do a lot of your training on hills, then you might be able to handle a hilly race. But in general, flat can equal fun.
Another thing to keep in mind is terrain. Most races are road races, but trail races and marathons are becoming more popular. If all your training will be on roads or paved trails, be cautious about choosing a trail race, especially if you’re not sure how technical the trail is. Trail running is very different from road running, far more than just “picking your feet up so you don’t trip on roots.” Bottom line: If you only train on the roads, race on the roads.
How many people are running?
Do you want an intimate 1,000-person race or a 20,000-runner party, complete with bands, cheering squads and possible characters along the course?
I’ve run both, and I can tell you firsthand that there’s a huge difference when you hit mile 10 of a half marathon. Your doubts are creeping in and you’re all alone versus having the support of a crowd with music and festivities to keep you going. With that said, I do know big races probably aren’t for everyone.
What factors do you consider in choosing a race?