So you’ve decided that you are going to run a marathon this year. It could be your first, fifth or fifteenth. Deciding to run is only a small part of the first step. One of the biggest and most important steps is choosing your goal race – which can be pretty overwhelming since there is a never ending list of races.
So how do you go about choosing your goal race? There are a ton of factors that have gone into every marathon I have run. I’ve learned that it’s really hard to find a race that satisfies every single criteria you want. So, the order and importance of these factors typically change cycle to cycle. I’ll start with what is the most important to me for my next race and then begin eliminating from there. There are times where I want to pick a good course to chase down a PR, while other times I am looking to have my family present.
These are the factors that usually weigh into my decision for which race is best for me:
- Date: Picking a race where you have no commitments that weekend may seem obvious, but it is crucial. You don’t want to have a race on Sunday after a late night party or event on Saturday where you’ll be on your feet. Ideally, you can pick a totally free weekend where the focus is on resting.
- Minimal Distractions: Aim for a race where you have as few commitments as possible, especially in the weeks leading up to the race. Be realistic with your time and your ability to train. Things like weddings, finals, and lots of travel all play a part. You will be stressed out enough – and may be functioning on less sleep – which is not ideal for marathon training! My sister was recently looking at a goal race in October. But we decided to postpone that specific race for a year since her wedding and honeymoon would occupy a good amount of time in the weeks before the big race. Will she run on her honeymoon? Probably. Will she want to run 20 miles and feel pressured by sticking to a training plan? Probably not.
- Time of Year: Do you prefer running in the cold? Then choose a winter or early spring marathon. Do you dislike the heat? Then avoid early fall marathons. Pick a race that suits your comfort level and preference. You’ll be doing a lot of running so you might as well enjoy the training and the race!
- Travel: This will significantly shorten (or broaden!) your list. In my opinion, there are three avenues here. The race is either a flight away, a road-trip away or within driving-distance of your home (meaning you can sleep in your own bed the night before the race). My first marathon was when I was a senior in college. I couldn’t afford airfare, hotel, rental car, etc, so I chose a race that was a couple of hours away and only required two nights in a hotel. But, even if you can afford to fly across the country, you may decide that you prefer to stay close to home.
- Course: If you despise hills, avoid courses like NYC and Philly – and opt for a flatter course like NJ Marathon or Chicago.
- Size of Race/Spectators: Details like how many participants and the number of spectators may not seem like a big deal now. But if you prefer quiet, intimate races where you can sit in your car until 15 minutes prior to the race, then don’t choose a race like NYC, where you’ll need to be on public transportation 2-3 hours before the race even begins. If you want those screaming crowds and people cheering your name, look to the larger races that tend to have more spectator support.
- Family/Friends Involvement: I love having my family and friends at races when possible. I make every attempt to select races close to home (or their homes), so that they can be along the course cheering! There is nothing quite as uplifting as seeing familiar, smiling faces throughout the 26.2 miles you will be running.
- Bucket-List Race: These are the races that go against most of your preferences BUT are on your list to run one day. When you get the chance to run one of these, don’t pass it up!