How to pick a race

There are thousands of races offered every year. Trails, roads, flat, high elevation, themed, large, small, competitive, relaxed – and all over the globe. So many options out there is a wonderful thing, but it also can be overwhelming. I have some tips to help you pick your races.

  • Look at your calendar and be realistic with when would be a good time to race. For example, many runners interested in a marathon need 3-6 months of time to train, depending on their current fitness/weekly mileage, how ambitious their goals are, etc. Also consider the weather at that time of the year.
  • Find a course you want to run. If you have your eye on a flat, fast race, be sure to do some research on prospective races. The last thing you want is to assume that a race will be flat, only to find mid-race that you underestimated what that race director’s idea of “flat and fast course” may be.
  • Race experiences can vary greatly by the size of said race. An intimate marathon with 2,000-7,000 runners is going to be completely different from one with 40,000 runners.
  • Small races are great confidence boosters. You may wind up on the podium for an age award – which is always fun.
  • Consider the start time and location of the race. Logistics on race morning can make or break your race experience.
  • If you are considering a few big goal races, do some research. Runners are often passionate about blogging their experiences. Do a little reading and you may come across some helpful tips about a specific race.
  • When considering a destination race, do a lot of research on that race, the town, where to eat – everything. I also highly recommend you plan a trip so that the race is at the beginning of your vacation. That way you can really enjoy your time after your race, and not have to think about your nutrition or sleep for race morning.
  • In general, don’t plan multiple races within a week or two of each other. The longer the race or the harder you exert yourself in a long race, the more recovery you will need. Just as you would plan your hard workouts and taper, you also need to plan your recovery.
  • When putting together your calendar, you may benefit from planning to run races for different reasons. Perhaps plan to truly race a few, use some as training runs, and plan to run some for fun – perhaps with friends, in a costume, whatever – with the goal simply to have fun.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. A new distance, getting off the road and onto the track or trails, being part of a relay – mix it up and keep it fresh.
  • Remember that you cannot run every race on your dream list within one year. It’s incredibly risky and usually not possible for a marathoner to run Berlin, Chicago, and NYC -three marathons within 10 weeks, in three cities in different time zones – it’s not in the cards. Sure, you might be able to go complete all three, but not at your best pace and you certainly would be risking injury. Pick and choose. Stay injury-free and you will have years of running all over the globe in your future.

It’s great to be ambitious – just be careful with your ambition and don’t take on too much. Be honest with yourself about your goals, calendar, likes, dislikes, and start piecing together your new year!

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