Do you mind a big entry fee? Want to be surrounded by 30K plus runners? Or would you prefer a no-frills finish where you can immediately find your friends and family? Each race has it’s pros and cons and, if you have never experienced one or the other, let this be your guide of what to expect.
For the purposes of this article we define any race over 10,000 runners as a “big race” and registration number less than that as a “smaller race.”
Sign up as early as possible! Not only do larger races fill up in record time (1,100 runners per minute signed up for the 19th running of the Beach to Beacon 10K) but they often increase in the registration fee as the date gets closer. If you have your heart set on a particularly popular race, see if there are legal, alternative ways to get a bib number.
You can usually register as late as the day of the race in most cases; just be sure to check the website for sign-up deadlines a few weeks prior to race day.
In most cases, especially if airline travel is involved, you will want to book a flight and hotel room at least six months in advance. Lodging options like Airbnb and even short term room rentals can cut down on overall costs.
If the race has an early start time (as most do) take into consideration how long it will take from where you’re staying to the start line and how you will get there. At lot of times it’s worth the cost to stay at the host hotel, especially post-race when you’re rungry and need a hot shower stat!
Other things to consider include reaching out on social media to see if anyone else is running the same race and wants a roommate or travel buddy. Sharing rooms or rental cars can considerably cut down on your overall travel cost.
You may need to consider some travel arrangements and hotel bookings in advance but can relax about when you make those arrangements. Unless the race coincides with another big event in the host city, chances are you can wait to book and still get suitable accommodations.
Unlike larger races, smaller ones tend to not offer much in the way of an expo or transportation to and from the race location. Be sure you can make it to packet pick-up, the start line and back to wherever you’re staying without public or race provided transportation.
Check the race web site (if it has one) to get information about what will be offered on the course because often times, only water. If you need anything else for fuel make sure you can take it with you. The same goes for post-race fuel. Stash an extra banana or bagel for after you cross the finish line.
It’s all about logistics and proper line-up when it comes to getting your place at the start of a massive race. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable as you will most likely be sandwiched in between a lot of other (possibly not so fresh-smelling) runners. Tips? Use the bathroom early. Get to your designated corral on time. Don’t lie about your pace or you will live to regret it.
Hopefully you can waltz right out of the bathroom and into the starting corral with plenty of space to warm up. Bask in the glory that is space at the start line area and begin your race relaxed and ready to go!
Have a plan to meet your family or friends afterward and then make a backup plan. Finish lines tend to be the most crowded spots at the biggest races and what seems like a good spot for a meeting place may be unreachable on race day. Know the course and know if there is a finish line “chute” you will be walked down upon crossing it. Have a communication plan with friends and family and be ready to fight through crowds to get to them.
Most likely you will see your friends and family take the photo you will later post to social media, as you triumphantly stride across the finish line. Meet up with them just beyond the finisher’s area and bask in the glory of your accomplishment together.
If race bling is your thing, most big races will stand and deliver. Some of the most creative and fun medals come from the biggest races across the country:
- Marine Corp Marathon: OORAH!
- Leadville 100: Classic (and badass) Belt Buckle
- Big Sur Marathon: The creativity and originality never disappoint
You may not get anything more than a “good job” upon crossing the finish line at some smaller races. However, most organized races typically hand out medals for distances as short as the 5K. Smaller races, by their nature, don’t attract runners who are collecting medal but instead are looking to collect memories. Those are pretty much guaranteed.
Whenever I tell someone I’m a runner, they immediately ask if I have run the Boston Marathon. Yes I have, but it was one of the worst race experiences of my running career. In turn, one of my favorite races has less than 1,000 runners, no finisher’s medal and is run in brutal conditions in the middle of winter, on a hilly course, snow or shine.
It doesn’t matter if you run a well known, prestigious race like Boston or the one your town puts on for 500 participants. Every race is worth bragging rights. Every time you lace up and make it to a start line takes courage, determination and something few others have—the joy of the journey.