Have you ever noticed that when spring rolls around, your local running trails (and sidewalks) suddenly begin teeming with runners that you never knew existed? The onset of spring weather motivates and inspires a lot of runners to resume running and add some races to your calendar.
If you watched any of Monday’s Boston Marathon, I can almost guarantee you felt inspired by that as well. Seeing Meb become the first American winner in 31 years, feeling all the heavy emotions and honored memories of last year’s tragedies, and seeing all those runners stream across the finish line. I’d venture to guess that many of you started thinking about adding a race to your calendar for the coming months.
If I’m right, then I hope these 7 tips on how to choose your next race will be helpful! And remember … now that I’m a certified running coach, I’m happy to help you out in selecting and training for your next race! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out a request form on my Health Coaching page to get started!
- Consider your current running fitness. If you don’t run at all right now, it’s probably not the best idea to set your sights on a half marathon in a few months. Even if you work out regularly, running has a different impact on your body, and you need to build up your mileage carefully to avoid injury. If you’re just beginning on your running journey (or coming back after years off), I’d recommend a 5K or a 5-mile race to get started.
- Consider your long-term goals. Do you want to run a marathon, eventually? Or, are you really hankering to break that 25-minute barrier in the 5K? Or, do you have another goal all together? While you don’t always have to be training for your long-term goals, it’s worth considering your progression to get there – you’ll never be appropriately trained for a marathon if you fill your calendar with only 5Ks year after year.
- Consider your time horizon. How anxious did the marathon (or the spring weather) make you? Are you looking to add something to your calendar in the next few months? Or do you want to dedicate more time to your training and prepare to conquer a fall or winter race? Your chosen race distance and time goals should take into account the time you have to achieve them.
- Consider specific dates. Once you have a season picked out, consider specific dates. Are there family trips, holidays, big work projects, social events, in-town visitors, or other reasons to avoid particular dates? Be sure to double-check your calendar before committing to a race date! (At the risk of being “TMI,” some women also like to consider the time of the month, which is not a bad idea according to Coach Jenny).
- Consider location. Do you want to go for the convenience and low-stress of a local race? Some of my best performances have had starting lines within a few miles of my house – so that I actually ran to the race as a warm-up and avoided parking! Being able to stay at home reduces the worry of sleeping in a foreign bed, eating unfamiliar food, long days of travel, and more. At the same time, choosing a “destination race” can be a great way to celebrate your accomplishments, enjoy a new location, and include other members of your family or friends. In the end, you have to decide what is best for you, your budget, and your family.
- Consider the weather. Sadly, it’s impossible to predict exactly what the weather on race day will be like, but it’s helpful to take a look at average temperatures and aim for moderate weather. I think my ideal race temperatures are in the high 40s, but this will vary by person. Check out my tips on how to dress for cold weather exercise, my reminder to hydrate even when it’s cold, and my tips for running safely in the heat if you’ll be running in potentially extreme temperatures!
- Consider race reviews. Check out the course elevation profile (especially if you don’t regularly train on hills), what others had to say about crowd support, on-course water stops, race organization, and more. You can learn a lot about a race simply by Googling it, so do your research before you commit to a major goal!
If you’re ready, go ahead and choose a race, and start planning to achieve your goal! I like using Active.com, Runner’s World Race Finder and Competitor to search for races, although there are many other good options, too!
So tell me in the comments … When is your next race? What’s your best tip for choosing a race?
I think race reviews are a BIGGIE! If you can find someone who ran the race previously they typically are spot on with the good, the bad and the not so ugly. That is my go-to before I sign up for any race.
I couldn’t agree more, Diatta! Sometimes, races pay attention to the feedback and end up making changes, so I try not to be TOO judgmental, but it’s really helpful to figure out what the benefits and drawbacks of a certain race may be!
Location and date seem to always dictate which races I run. If time and place (and money) weren’t an issue I’d run international marathons as often as possible.
That’s so interesting, Jill! I’ve never done an international marathon, but I would definitely consider it. I’d have to treat it more as a fun run and just a way to enjoy the scenery, though, because I think the jet lag + unfamiliar food + unfamiliar surroundings would probably get in the way a little bit!
My first international was supposed to be Beijing 2012,but the government changed the race date after our plane tickets were bought. That would have largely been for fun given my concerns about the smog and heat. But my first international was Berlin 2013, the world record course and a PR and Re-Q for me. I think there’s something to be said for racing internationally for sure, but I’ve also done more than 20 marathons (and I also go overseas about once a year), so that experience probably helped.
Thanks for sharing, Carina! I love your Berlin 2013 race report! I give you a lot of credit for doing international races. Even after doing 28 half marathons (at a much lower level than you, of course!), I still don’t know if I would be able to perform as well!
Great tips! I call the Tuesday after the boston Marathon, regretful tuesday because people make rash decisions about races after watching the epicness of the previous day’s race. If you’ve never laced up your shoes before maybeeee not the best time to sign up for a marathon lol. But I’m glad it encourages people to lace up nonetheless!
I couldn’t agree more that the Boston Marathon could inspire people a little TOO much depending on their previous ability (and your “regretful Tuesday” name makes me chuckle), but like you said, any inspiration to lace up is a good one, for most people!
So awesome that you are now a certified running coach! I certainly could have used your guidance in my second half-marathon last weekend in NYC… it was a doozy, since I injured my ankle and wasn’t able to train properly. But I got through it, which was awesome! Loved this post- very informative!
Oh no, I’m so sorry you got injured, Jordan!! Congrats on getting through it, and I hope your recovery is quick. Stick to it and give yourself the rest you need. If you need help in the future, let me know!
First off – great post, excellent tips! The Boston Marathon was truly inspirational and I really excites me to be out running with that in my mind!
Also, I just have to laugh – I know I drive you nuts out running 50-60 miles a week, hills and whatever with no really goal race in mind. Oh well, can’t tell you why but I am fine challenging myself on my own and doing some races here or there as I come to them … maybe it is an insight to how the middle-aged mind is a bit different 🙂
Finally – I had a couple of friends bugging me about a couple of charity 5k and 5 mile races … and it made me realize that I have run <5 miles perhaps 4 times in the last two years. I really have no idea HOW to run a 5k at this point! I always toss a mile as 'warmup' to get myself going … hmmm, should be an interesting challenge! 🙂
You don’t drive me nuts! I mean, it kind of drives me nuts because I think you would ROCK a marathon right now, BUT I fully believe that (unless you’re making your living off of racing), you should do what works best for you. I personally find a ton of joy, motivation, and inspiration from racing and continuing to improve my own times, but if you just run for the joy of running, I think you should keep doing that! I’ll just keep bugging you to race, since that’s the way I think :).
On that note … I think you should go for a 5K! I admit I have the same attitude towards 5Ks, since I’m not naturally fast and generally think running 5K is a “short” distance for me personally, but I think it would be good for both of us to try some out!
Great tips! I am in the process of thinking about my next race(s). It gets tricky this time of year because I don’t like doing longer races in the summer months when it’s really hot!
I also skip racing in the summer, for the most part, Lisa! I’ll do the Hottest Half just for kicks, I’m sure, but Texas is SO hot in the summer, so it’s certainly no time for a PR (For me at least!).
I have two races coming up… DC Nike Women’s Half and Pittsburgh Half. Looking for another half this spring and a full in the fall – probably Savannah!
That’s so exciting, Cassie! Sounds like you have a great line up!
These are all great tips! I am already looking to see what half marathon I can sign up for this summer or early fall. I would also love to find another marathon to train for. I still can’t run though because of my hamstring. Any tips on how to help my hamstring get better quicker?
Hey Becky – I highly recommend Dallas 13.1. It’s my favorite race around here – great course and well-run! In terms of your hamstring, be sure you’re icing and just giving it time (which I know really stinks). It’s hard for me to give any more advice without really knowing about your situation. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for quick healing, though!
Oh I am excited to say that I am aiming for my next MARATHON in October. I know it is a ways away but I have a new training plan and am slowly working towards it. There will be lots of shorter races in there and I haven’t worked out the details yet on exactly which marathon it will be. I probably won’t until at least we move because I won’t be able to travel far.
Great tips above!
So excited to have learned about this goal, Sara! I know you’ll be great at having patience and listening to your body. Excited for you!
It’s definitely so easy to get swept up into race fever! I was guilty of that this past winter while dreaming of spring racing. My next race is the Zooma Annapolis which I hope is my come back after injury race. It’s in about 6 weeks so I hope I make it. Trying to come back smartly and not re injure. Fingers crossed!
I am really excited to see how ZOOMA goes for you, Deborah – I know you’ll be awesome!