Getting Started

Picking Your Race

So many options, so little time.

So how do you find the right race for you among so many choices?!

There’s a lot of great advice out there.  When it comes down to it though, it’s all about where your heart is guiding you.

It’s a personal decision.  100%.

But, if you’d like help in the decoding, here are a few things t0 think about when making your pick:

run_challengeChallenge By Choice

I love that phrase.  You are picking how big (or small) you want to go.  Everyone has their goal.  One person’s warm up may be someone else’s Everest and that’s okay.

Pick the right distance for you.  Like I said, it’s personal.

Marathon, half Marathon, 10K, 5K, a mile, Triathlon, Ironman.  New races pop up each year it seems.

You are the one running.  It’s your workout.  It’s your training.  It’s your race.  Go out and give it your all.

Location, Location, Location

Photo taken by George Krieger at Big Sur International Marathon


This one is my favorite.  And, this time around, it’s the biggest factor in my 2016 race selection.

So what’s there to debate?  Keeping it local or hitting the road in more ways than one.  There’s great sides to both.

Running is a really great way to tour a new city.  What a way to sight see!  You’ll have so many things to look at you will forget you are still running!  (Okay, maybe not but close, right?!)

Keep in mind though, traveling brings a whole slew of added stresses on an already challenging day:  packing, hotels, flights, cabs or parking, where to go, what to eat, ahh!

Will the destination’s appeal be diminished by the chaos of getting there?

Do you have an exit strategy for getting home when your legs are sore and stiff?

(This was a big consideration for my Nashville Marathon.  We are driving there from Chicago.  That’s about 8 hours of driving.  I know I could not do that alone so if I didn’t have a travel buddy, my race was a no-go.)

There’s a lot of great benefits to staying local, too.  Your fan club is the best one.  Your friends and family have stuck through training with you.  Give them an opportunity to cheer you on as you show what all those hours of hard work were for and get to know your city from a new view.

Check out races, local, national, even international, and see where fits the best for you.

It’s Not About the Money, Money, Money

jessie-j-money-oWhoa, pump the breaks, Jessie J.  Okay, life’s not about the money but picking a race can be.  They get expensive, man!

Entrance fees, gear, swag… It all adds up.

And if you’re trying to be frugal, you can find great races on a mission to keep costs low.  (Here’s Runner’s World’s 12 Tips to Save Money on Your Running)

This ties in with the last section about Location.  Travel costs add up, too.  (Though check out AirBnB for great deals instead of expensive hotels.)

While this doesn’t have to be your biggest factor, and shouldn’t get in the way of completing a life’s goal, make sure your race selection doesn’t have you eating Ramen while you’re training.  Your body will not appreciate your choices.  Plan accordingly.


Photo from Chicago Endurance Sports Winter Warriors

This is huge yet often left unconsidered.



If you’ve ever met me you know I hate being cold… Can. Not. Stand. It.

But somehow I’m training throughout the winter for a spring marathon.  What was I thinking??

Truth is, the country music aspect and city tour appeal of the Nashville Marathon was just too much for me to say no to.  Rain, snow, sleet or shine, I had to do it.  (Plus, I’ll be in peak shape just in time for bathing suit season! #silverlining)

But race timing is a big consideration.  Ideally, you are training in similar conditions as your race day.  Because nothing should be new on race day, not even the weather.  You’ve trained your body to handle the distance, don’t throw it a curve ball with cold or hot temperatures.

Also, avoid major events that could derail your training.  No one knows you better than you and no one can make you go run.  Amid big life events, work, or celebrations, you still need to get out there.  Set yourself up for success and plan your training for times that you can actually dedicate to your workout!

You’re short-changing yourself if you don’t.

Race Size

Left photo by Lucas Jackson at the New York City Marathon.  Right photo by David Clifford at Colorado’s Golden Leaf Half Marathon.

Runners race the New York City Marathon (left, photo by Lucas Jackson / Reuters) and Colorado’s Golden Leaf Half Marathon (right, photo by David Clifford).

Different from your race length, you race size is all about the atmosphere of your run.   Do you want it to be a quiet run through the countryside or a race with crowds cheering you on along the way?


Rich Benyo, editor of Marathon and Beyond magazine, made a great insight in a Runner’s World post:

“I’m not much of a fan of marathons where it takes 20 minutes to cross the starting line and where you expend half your energy bobbing sideways to avoid being stepped on.”

When I ran the Ragnar Relay from Madison to Chicago, it was really nice to run through the farmlands of America’s Dairy Land.  For one of my three relay legs, I ran at 2AM through deserted back roads.  So peaceful.  So calm.  It was an awesome change of pace to city running (no pun intended).

But there’s reason to the big-race madness.  Crowds are really motivating.  Whether it’s your personal cheer squad along the course or new faces you see on the way, chances are, 25 miles out of 26.2, there’s going to be lively cheers encouraging you to keep going.


While this probably shouldn’t be your biggest motivator, it’s a fun factor to consider in picking your race.

There’s a race for anyone’s favorite piece of swag.  Finisher jackets, headbands, bottle-opening medals, heck, even a just cold beer are all great perks for your race.

(As a chocolate enthusiast, I ran the Hot Chocolate 15K just to finish with hot chocolate fondue and marshmallows at the end.  Yum.)

Take a look at your medal stash and ask, “What’s missing?  What’s next?” and that can help you find a race to add to your trophy room.


charityGiven my profession, I bet you’re wondering when I was going to get to this one, eh?

So last, but certainly not least, is running for a cause.

If you have one close to your heart, it’s an easy decision and exciting way to show your support.  All you have to do is find out which charity is supporting races in your area, sign up, and start a fundraising page.

Your nonprofit pick will be supported by your race entry fee, the awareness you are spreading, and any donations you raise throughout your training, race day, and recovery.  If the organization is smaller, they may not have the staff to support race teams.  Don’t be discouraged!  Contact them and ask if you can set up an individual fundraiser page.  You can still raise money for your favorite charity and feel great doing so.

Plus, there is nothing that brings people together than caring about the same cause.  If there’s training provided, go on the group runs and get to know your teammates, it’s a great way to expand your network.

The Bottom Line

Each of these factors weighs differently to different people and at different times in your running career.

It’s personal, remember?

Pick the ones that mean the most to you and go run your race!

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