There are a lot of factors that go into choosing the best race and there are definitely a lot of races to choose from. Once upon a time my husband and I spent a spring going to a different race each weekend all over the East Coast. It was so much fun sitting around doing research every week and looking for spots in upstate New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. Along the way we found some really great races that we swore we would do again and a lot of duds that went straight to the never again list.
Among the main factors you need to consider are your race goals, budget, and mood.
Budget: Some races can be pretty pricey. But the cost of a race goes way beyond just the entry fees. While some marathons come with a huge sticker price others are located in remote areas and that can drive the price of hotel rooms sky high. For example, Rock registered for Grandma’s Marathon this summer. The race itself is rather inexpensive for a full marathon but Duluth Minnesota doesn’t have a ton of hotels in the area. Imagine our shock this winter when we were trying to find a room and the average cost per night was nearly $300 with a two night stay required.
So if you are on a tight budget you might want to consider a closer race that charges a higher fee but is easier to find a place to stay. We also found out that a local college offers dorm rooms for the marathon at a much cheaper price. So make sure you do your research. Sometimes a more costly race that doesn’t require a flight or long car ride can also save you money in the long run.
Your Race Goals: This is a big one and requires that you do some research in advance. If you are looking to set a new PR or qualify for Boston you might want to consider opting out of one of the major marathons. Chicago is known for its flat and fast course. However, there are over 45,000 participants and the time it might take you to get out of your corral and through a crowd might cost you minutes you might not have to spare.
On the other hand, the marathon I used to qualify for Boston was a rather lonely one. I had a blast but it was an out and back on a rail trail which didn’t allow for much crowd support. This race was also held in a small town in Northern Michigan, once again not helping with the crowd factor. By the last six miles I was alone on the road and didn’t see many people along the path cheering, not the best mood or morale booster.
This is a time when a medium sized race in a smaller city might just be perfect. Places like Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Phoenix and the New Jersey Marathon are known for being great medium sized races for meeting your goals. When I look for a new race I often go to www.runningintheusa.com and search by states that are in my area or where I will be. I then narrow it down by month and distance to find a perfect fit for me. Then I Google the races I find most interesting to read some reviews and get a better idea of what to expect on the course. Both good and bad reviews help to eliminate races that have factors I might find annoying.
Mood: Are you looking for a super fun race or something serious? Sometimes a themed race can be appealing if you are looking for a little excitement or motivation on the course. Races known for having bands playing throughout can make the miles fly by. And sometimes knowing there is a free beer and a medal at the end can help push you through.
Do you need a big crowd to help cheer you on? Or perhaps you like the road to yourself.
I personally love small town races. I love finding small towns that I have never visited and joining their local event. The general vibe is so fun and everyone is there to have a good time. We once finished a local 10k that ended with a raffle drawing in a backyard. The race also finished at their local rummage sale. We grabbed a drink and wandered the sales. I even won my age group and received a hand carved wooden foot on a leather string. Pretty cool!
But if you are someone who needs other runners to motivate you and push you this wouldn’t be the event for you. And sometimes it is nice to mix it up. Trail runs can make the miles fly by and other times they can be incredibly aggravating (aka the time we ran a race up a mountain).
Do your research: Get online and do some searches. You will be amazed at all of the fun races that are out there just waiting for you to sign up. Ask around or read reviews so that you know what to expect ahead of time. If you know a race is great but lacks fuel on the course, you can be prepared instead of infuriated. Hopefully you will find some of those little known gems I have come across over the years!
What is your favorite race? Have a special unknown one you think other runners might love?