Whenever it comes to choosing a new race to sign up for, it’s more than simply seeing the race ad and signing the paper. And to be honest, I’ve been known to hem and haw and think about races for an unnecessarily long period of time before signing up.
It’s not the training commitment, or the actual running commitment that makes me hesitant, it’s the cost and race logistics that sometimes have me struggling with my decision. I’ve talked before about how I have a hard time justifying paying for a 5k or 10k race when I do that every day (for free), and on my own time, and that unless it’s a really fun one, or I’m doing it with people, it’s not really my choice of race to sign up for. Give me a marathon or a half marathon though, and as long as I can get there, without breaking the bank, I’m all in. Okay, maybe Boston is an exception (it’s not cheap!)
But on the same note, I recognize that it is different for everyone, and that you may hate long runs, not have the time to train for a marathon, and love just doing heaps of smaller shorter races.
And that’s what this post is about: how to choose the best race for you. It’s different for everyone, and it may even be different for you at different times of your life, and knowing all the factors to consider when it comes time to signing up for a race is an important component of this decision.
If you don’t know where to start, or you are like me and find yourself uncertain about your decision, and waffling back and forth (or maybe I am just indecisive), here are some things to consider:
- Time commitment – Training for a marathon is much different in terms of a time commitment than training for a 10 kilometer race. And it’s much different in terms of what happens if you miss a day of training or a long run. Training for a marathon requires you to be committed to the training in terms of time, distance and quantity of runs. If you are doing marathon training, you will be looking at spending several hours a week training, (and a couple on a single long run alone), versus just a few hours for a shorter distance like a 10k or 5k race. And likewise, with a 5k, you can afford to miss a few training runs, but miss too many long runs in your marathon plan, and race day may not end as you hope!
- What do you enjoy? Do you like to go for a long run and spend a lot of time on the road, or would you rather only have to spend a few hours a week training? What is your favourite aspect of running and will that be what you get to do the most of for your race? If going for a long run that takes 2-3 hours sounds like a big task to you that you won’t enjoy at all, maybe longer distances aren’t your best race, and you should go for a shorter one. On the other hand, if you enjoy the long uninterrupted run time of 25-30 km, and can commit to the time, signing up for a marathon may be for you.
- Motivation – At some point, regardless of how much you love running and how dedicated you are, and how badly you want your PB, it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be a struggle to get going in the morning, or stay going when you are running. It’s going to be hard to get your head around running 30 km on a Sunday morning when you’d rather sleep in or have a lazy breakfast at home and it’s going to be really hard to run in the rain and hail and snow. But somewhere deep inside, you have to have that thing that pushes you anyway and makes you push through no matter what the struggle, whether that is to get going, or keep going. Before you commit to a race, think about what you motivation is for doing it, and whether that is going to be something that carries you through when it gets tough. And most importantly, be sure you have a source of motivation!
- Logistics – If the race is 3 hours away, costs a lot and has 20 000 participants, it’s a bit of a different game than if it’s a local race that costs less than $100 with only a small field. While big races are fun, they bring with them a whole new set of considerations for you as a participant. What time do you have to be at the start line, and what time will you have to leave home as a results? More than that, will you end up having to stay the night somewhere the night before? What about picking up your race kit and bib and storage of your belongings on the day of? When I ran the Melbourne marathon, I was planning on taking public transit to the start line. Turns out, transit on some of the lines was undergoing maintenance on that day, meaning I had to find alternative transport. Not a huge deal, but it can be a deal breaker if things don’t work out, or if you can’t get there in time. Look into all of this before you sign up for your race so that there are no disappointing surprises the day of!
- Base Fitness Level – When you start from the beginning of your training plan, what is your fitness level going into it? If you are starting from scratch, with a marathon as an end goal, you will need to have a much longer training period than if you were going into the training with a stronger base fitness level or than if you were running a 10k. This fitness level impacts your training period as well as the type of training you need to do and is another aspect to consider when you commit to your race. Before I did my first marathon, I had run a few half marathons. This meant my base fitness level was at a decent spot to start training, and also meant that I had some race experience.Now it’s time to put it all together: combining your time availability with your motivation, base fitness level and the type of running you enjoy, look that the logistics of some upcoming races and choose which one you would like to do. Then make the commitment and start training!
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