Choosing your first (or fiftieth) race..

By Matt Forsman A.K.A. Marathon Matt, July 12, 2016

The word ‘race’ conjures up all kinds of vivid images, powerful emotions, and perhaps a physical reaction or two.

You might feel butterflies in the stomach, a quickening of the pulse, and maybe a little fear when you think about races. This only makes sense.

A race is often the culmination of countless miles, numerous weeks, and many months of diligent training. For most, a race is a ‘final exam’ of sorts. You’ve only got one shot at it.

Understandably, some forgo races entirely. But, there are a few things you can derive from a race that you just can’t get from training day in and day out.

Below I break down some of the big reasons why you should sign up for a race and some of the things to look for in deciding which race is right for you.

Reasons to tackle a race

Signing up for a race keeps you committed

Training is tough. It requires serious commitment. It requires dedication to get up and get out several times a week.

Even the most passionate runner can periodically struggle to motivate during a lengthy training cycle. Maybe you’re tired. Maybe you had a tough day at the office. Maybe you’re hungover. Life happens.

One way to help overcome these bumps in the road is to register for a race. Few things motivate like a date circled on the calendar. It’s always easier to get your runs in on the tough days if you have skin in the game.

If you pull the trigger, commit, and pay a registration fee chances are you will stay more committed to your training. Commit and you’ll be less likely to quit.

Participating in a race is a great way to benchmark your training

Most of you are using SportMe because you want to run faster, farther, or some combination of both.

If you train diligently, your comfortable conversational pace will naturally get faster. Likewise, your tempo pace will get faster. Across the board, you’re going to get faster as your body adapts to the act of running.

Training consistently will inevitably result in you covering more miles as your running fitness improves.  

During the course of your training, you might have some tough runs or workouts. You might find yourself tired periodically.  But, your training doesn’t include a ‘maximal’ effort (unless you sign up for a race).

If you want to find out just how fast or how far you can run, only a race can provide this kind of insight. Only a race provides an opportunity for a maximal effort.

At the end of the day, you’ll never really know for sure what kind of shape you’re in if you don’t toe the line periodically. 

Nothing rivals the energy of a race

I have countless vivid memories associated with the act of running. Some of these memories are associated with training runs, runs with friends, or strange experiences I have had while logging a few miles on the road or trail.

But, the most profound and vivid running memories I have are overwhelmingly associated with participating in races.

There was the time I ran the Chicago Marathon and was surrounded by 500,000+ spectators for every step of the 26.2 miles I covered. I will never go to the Olympics, but I felt like an Olympian that day en route to running the fastest marathon of my life.

I was fortunate enough to toe the line at the Boston Marathon a year after the bombings. The deafening roar of the crowd the last few miles during the descent into Boston brought me to tears. The energy I drew from the crowd gave me what I needed to run my fastest mile at the very end of the race.

Once, I found myself deep in the dark recesses of an awful place known as ‘the pain cave’ after logging 35 miles only to somehow find a second wind a few miles later and conquer the Lake Sonoma 50.

No training run can provide experiences like the aforementioned. Only a race can provide these kinds of peak experiences.

How to choose the right race

So, you’ve decided to take the leap and tackle a race. But, which one makes the most sense? There are so many races to choose from, it can be overwhelming to choose one. Fortunately, I’ve got a few tips for helping you choose the race that is best for you.

-Choose a race that is appropriate to your training.

This one should be common sense, but you want to choose a race that is appropriate to your training.  

If your current schedule doesn’t have you running more than 2-3 miles, tackling a 10K or a half marathon is unwise.

Similarly, if you’re logging all your miles on flat, paved roads, pulling the trigger on a trail race rife with hills and technical terrain doesn’t make a ton of sense either.

Make sure the race you sign up for aligns with the training you’ve been doing.

Choose a race that has plenty of detail about the course, race day logistics, etc

Having a positive experience on race day requires doing a little due diligence. You need to know when the race starts. You need to know where the start and end of the race is located.

A quality race should have tons of useful information for prospective runners to peruse on their website. A clear course map, an elevation chart, and race day logistics are a big part of what you should be looking for when choosing a race.

All this information is key for doing the necessary due diligence in preparation for race day.  If you can’t find a course map, an elevation chart, or basic logistical information about the race, you may want to look at another race.

Using a website like Eventbrite can help you identify races that have the key information you need to have a positive experience on race day. BTW, should you ever want to create your own race, Eventbrite's platform is well suited to support it.

Choose a race that is well established

As a general rule, you want to sign up for a race that is established. By established, I mean a race that has been around a few years. It’s usually pretty easy to discern this.

Most races post results from previous years. It’s also usually easy to find Yelp reviews for most established races. If you can’t find any evidence that the race you’re looking at has happened before, you might want to look elsewhere.

A first year race might be fine, but it’s not unusual for first year races to have some challenges. These challenges might be minor. Maybe they run out of water. Maybe they run out of shirts in your size.

A more established race has likely worked out most of the kinks. This means fewer (perhaps ZERO) issues on race day. A first year race might go smoothly. Then again, it might not.

Choosing a race that is well established increases your chances of having a positive experience on race day.

A few of our favorite races

The Chicago Marathon (10/9/16)

It's flat. It's fast. The course is lined with over 500,000 spectators. If you want to feel like an Olympian every step of the way, Chicago will deliver this kind of experience.

The Boston Marathon (4/17/17)

Virtually every marathoner dreams of qualifying for Boston. Hosted annually on Patriots' Day, this iconic event has been around for more than 100 years. More than 30,000 people toe the line for this one every year.

The North Face Endurance Challenge (Sausalito, CA, 12/3/16 & 12/4/16)

This race provides an incredible tour of the most gorgeous trails and vistas the Bay Area has to offer. Some of the best trail runners on the planet show up for this one. But, don't be intimidated. There's a distance for every runner (5K/10K/Half/Full/50K/50 Miles).


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