Note: This post is an updated version of one I did in August of 2016.
So for me, and I know for many of you, the best part of running is race day.
Race day brings all that training together and lets us celebrate our love of running. Some races we run for a PR, some for fun and to connect with the community, and sometimes it’s just to try to run a new distance or type of race but each race allows us to connect with what makes running great. For me that’s pushing myself physically, finding that flow, and connecting with like minded runners!
So with that in mind, I want to give you my top tips for finding your next race and some key things to consider.
When Should You Race?
You can run everything from snow covered trail race to blazing hot Fourth of July runs, so figuring out when to run is important.
Also, the when questions is actually dictated by fitness and the distance you want to tackle. So it’s really when and what race distance wrapped into one.
Here are the key questions to ask yourself:
What distance do I want to run? Choosing when you want to race is dictated by how fit you are right now and what distance/difficulty of race you want to run. If you want to run a marathon but are only at 5k fitness then you’ll need to look at races 6+ months out to start your search. If you have a 20-ish miles per week base already then running a 5k any weekend is totally doable. You want to make sure you are setting yourself up for success.
Is there a BIG race near you? Do you want to run THE race in your community? Maybe that dictates what race you run. Or maybe your local running store is organizing a training group for a specific goal race that you want to join. As long as you can answer yes to the first question then let the race dictate WHEN you race.
What are your other time commitments in life? Are you a CPA so you know March and April are your busy months so signing up for a May marathon isn’t the best idea? Think about the “cycles” of your life outside running and factor that into your plan.
As long as you have the time to train then that is the best time to run a race and feel good doing it!
Where Should You Race?
Do you have a goal to run a certain distance in every state? Do you just need to keep it close to home? Do you have another trip planned that would allow you to “sneak in” a race?
Some things to consider when deciding where:
Do you want to run something local or are you willing to travel further?
Do you want to drive to the race destination or are you willing to fly? How far are you willing to drive?
Do you want to make this a full “race-cation” or just a quick trip to run the race and get back home?
What is the temperature/weather like in that location at that time of year?
When I’m choosing a race I usually bounce back and forth between the when and where questions as I narrow down my selection. If I have a general time of year selected and a general idea of how far I’m willing to travel it gives me the information I need to start my search.
Start Your Research
Once I’ve decided approximately where and when I’d like to run, I start turning to my resources and I ALWAYS go to Running in the USA first.
Running In the USA – This site feels a bit dated but with all its filters and its DEEP race inventory you can find anything. It also has some 50 stater tools to help you navigate some multi-race weekends. I will usually start with either state or calendar view and just start poking around and using the filters to narrow down my results.
BibRave.com – This is a crowdsourced review website where anyone can write a race review. They also include some ratings for things like aid stations, course difficulty and overall experience which makes it easy to scan to see if the race would be a foo fit for you!
Have a favorite running blogger that writes race reviews? See what they’ve run and what they have to say about it. If you read a review you can also leave them a comment with any follow up questions. (Hint: Bloggers love engaging with their readers!)
Google it! – Put in the city and the race distance and you’ll get some results to filter through. Not the best but it is a great way to start you in the right direction especially if you have a very specific “where” that you want to run.
Once the list is narrowed down to a few options, I like to take a look at some other things.
Choosing Your Race
Once I’ve found 3-4 races seem promising, I like to dive into the race website and look at a few other things.
The course – It’s good to double-check that they still offer the distance you want and that if you need a certified course it should be stated on the website somewhere (you can also email them for more information). Not all marathons are BQ qualifiers so make sure your goals and the race align.
If they are running multiple distances at the same time, where do the courses split or come back together? Will you be “catching” runners from another distance? Will that bother you?
Does the course look hilly? Does the course have a long out and back? Is it point-to-point? I know for me out and backs eat my little runner soul on race day so I try to avoid those. For me loops are the best because point-to-points will involve transportation on one side of the race, either to the start or from the finish, and the organization is also a toss up on how well that goes.
Another great resource is to see if someone has logged the course on Map My Run, Strava, or Garmin to see some more of the elevation and course details especially if you can’t quite figure out what’s going on using the map.
The size of the race – I like to go take a look at the past results to get an idea of how big of a race it is. 200 runners? 2,000 runners? 5,000 runners? 50,000 runners? For most road races the 1,000-3,000 range is pretty normal. The larger city races will be larger maybe 10,000-20,000. For trail runs it’s usually a bit smaller just because the narrow paths can only support so many. If the race runs a half marathon and marathon, what is the “split” on that? 10,000 half marathoners and only 500 marathoners? If you are looking at that race to be your first marathon my guess would be there is NOT going to be a lot of crowd support for the miles that are just marathon miles. Quiet isn’t bad but it can also be a bit of a downer for some. It also may mean that the race director puts more energy into the half and you could have a less enjoyable experience if you are a marathoner.
Google search to see if there are any race recaps or reviews out there. Getting some “on the ground” reporting will help you figure out if there are any “quirks” to the race. Try to find a review from someone who ran the distance you are planning to run since there could be some differences in race experience.
It’s My First Race, Anything Else You’d Recommend?
Yes! Honestly, for your first race I would find a medium to large size race with lots of support. A good website, an active Facebook or Twitter presence, and maybe some local running store affiliations are ALWAYS good signs that this is a well run race. runDisney is where I got my start in marathoning and honestly, it was the best decision. The race was well-organized, I had transportation when I needed it, there was lots of communication and information, I had support on the course when I needed it, and it made all the difference. Rock’n’Roll races are also great, they are in lots of locations, and they are good for runners of every ability.
There is probably one big race weekend in every major city and THAT is the one I’d recommend because it will have all the information and support you need to make sure you aren’t more nervous than you need to be on race day. Most races do a good job with communication but the larger ones that have been around for awhile and have full-time staff have learned their lessons and you will benefit from that as a newbie. It will also be exciting for you as a new runner to be a part of something that exciting and likely surrounded by other runners no matter your pace. There is just an energy to large hometown supported races that can’t be beat!
So you’ve found the race, you’ve done your research and you think it’s going to be a good event to meet your running goals.
What are you waiting for, register! Maybe try to talk a few friends into running it with you!
So that’s usually my process to find the next race. I usually have a time frame, a distance I’m willing to travel, and the race distance I want to run in mind which is usually enough to get me started.
How do you find races? What are you favorite resources? Let me know if a comment below!