Finding the Right Race

So you’ve done all the right preparation. You’ve increased your mileage, you’ve done great workouts, you’ve eaten right, and you’ve caught up on sleep. You’re fit and ready to go. Now the only question is: go where? Even if your buildup hasn’t been perfect, you may be looking to get in a race for one of many reasons. Races challenge us, they test us, they’re fun, they’re festive, and a race can serve as a goal more motivating than just general health and well-being, or slimming down. This goal can drive us to get out the door when nothing else can.

There are a variety of things to consider when choosing a race. Primarily, you should determine your priorities. Someone who wants a festive atmosphere is going to choose a different race than someone who is looking to run a fast time. The first thing you look for in a race should be the first item on your priority list. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a race:

  • Location/Travel/Convenience – Sometimes it’s nice to stay near home with the support of friends and family. Other times, the destination of the race is the primary reason to run it. Running in Honolulu may be the only reason you’d enter a marathon, or you may jump at the chance to bring your family on vacation so you can run the Walt Disney race.
  • Course – Many races have course maps online and even elevation profiles. Don’t forget to look at the number of turns if you have troubles with your IT bands, and check whether there will be scenic views.
  • Size of the race – Do you want to be up towards the front in a small race or enjoying the company of thousands of energetic people sharing a similar goal? Remember that a crowded start can slow you down, but it will pay dividends when you get tired and have people to run with.
  • Level of organization – Word of mouth may be the most reliable way to know whether a race will provide enough port-o-potties, but here are some telling signs of quality: The organization of the race website is often a good indicator of the overall race logistics (i.e. the gun will go off on time,there will be enough volunteers, the course will be well-marked, and there will be enough food at the end). Look for a website that is user-friendly, includes multiple pages or tabs, and has clear indications of when the awards

    ceremony will start.

  • Atmosphere – Do you want a local, low-key race, a large festival atmosphere associated with an event (i.e. “The Indi Mini” – Indianapolis 500, St. Patty’s Day Parade), or something in between. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series is popular and generally well organized for those interested in a big city, festival atmosphere marathon or half marathon. Many also now have 5k races associated with them.
  • Big City/History – Big city races are popular but can be a little more expensive and logistically difficult. Many have great histories, draw large supportive crowds, and offer packages for exploring a new city. Beware – if the race hotel is located in the business/financial district, very few shops or restaurants are open on the weekends. Plan accordingly if you need to pick up anything or if you need particular food before the race. When choosing accommodations in a big city, you’ll also have to consider the cost of convenience. Staying in the official race hotel is often pricey, but it can save you money on transportation to and from the race.
  • Prestige/Elitism – Some races like the Boston Marathon are especially popular because they require qualifying times. Again, the history of a marathon contributes to its prestige. The “big five” marathons in the world that consistently draw both elite and record-breaking fields are Boston, Chicago, New York, Rotterdam, and London.
  • Fundraising/Causes – Many races are organized to raise money for a cause (i.e. Scholarship money in memory of a member of the community, such as the Christopher Scott Cash Memorial race in Old Orchard Beach, ME). Most large, for-profit races support athletes who are individually raising money for charity. The Boston Marathon sets aside a tremendous number of entries for fund-raising athletes.
  • Socializing – Racing can be a fun social event. Regardless of the distance you travel, you will likely meet and talk with other runners, who share similar goals and lifestyles. Racing can also be a great way to bond with a non-running friend. Having a partner there to take splits, cheer for you, or have your favorite post-race food on hand after the finish can make someone feel needed.
  • Series – Many races are now being incorporated into groups. There are various Pub Series, Local Area Series (e.g. Seacoast Series, Concord Area Race Series), and Grand Prix events. It can be fun to do a series of related races with a common theme. You also get to meet many of the same people and develop a closer sense of community. Plus, many series have unique prizes and unique jackets for completing a certain percent of the races. You can find our article on race series here.
  • Surface – You can find races on the roads, trails, track, or even up the sides of mountains. It’s up to you; it’s your adventure.
  • Timing/Weather – In New England you can find a race any weekend of the year, but that’s not the case in all locations. Plus in some places, such as New England, you might not want to race outside in January. Nor would you want to race in Florida in August if you’re not accustomed to the heat and humidity.
  • Cost – Even 5ks range from a $12 entry fee to upwards of $30. Be sure to read the fine print when registering online, as there can also be processing fees, and membership fees on if you fail to decline them. Generally, a 5k will run you about $20, and a 10k costs about $30. A good price for a half marathon is $45, whereas a full marathon is a bargain at $70.
  • Technology – Timing technology alone can greatly affect a race experience. The new B-tags are worn directly on the bib numbers, so you won’t have to hassle with any extra pins or Velcro, but they tend to cost more. Beware of ankle chip timing, as it often leads to chafing or even drawing blood where it wraps around your leg.

Once you’ve weighed the options of what to prioritize, you may want to limit your search based on the most essential needs on your list. After you’ve narrowed down the pool of races, you can make the final decisions based on your remaining preferences. Below is a list of ways to find races to match your priorities. Word of Caution – more and more races are selling out well in advance, both local races and large international events. Be sure to check the status of races early and look to see if there is race day registration.

  • – you can look at upcoming events by location, or you can search past results by location. Most races are annual events and it’s easy to find future events from past results. Plus, it is a good way to estimate about how many people run the race and what the range of times are at these races.
  • is becoming so popular that many race directors use it as the vehicle for online registration. You can sign up to be part of their mailing list and receive free email reminders when races are coming up near you.
  • – the governing body of the sport in the US. They host a variety of events at all levels and for all ages. The support everything from professional track events to mountain racing and even snow-shoeing.
  • New England Runner (magazine, calendar, and online) – an amazing source of information including a list of races for events in New England and New York.
  • Advertisements – magazines including New England Runner, Running Times, Runner’s World, Ultra Running, and Trail Runner all sell space to companies advertising races. Plus the magazines occasionally review races.
  • Rock ‘n’ Roll Race Series – This series has a website dedicated to the series as a whole, as well as individual websites for each race. Athletes get discounts when they complete more than one Rock ‘n’ Roll race in a calendar year.
  • Social Networking Sites (Facebook, Runner’s Space)
  • Road Race Tables – Most road races have a table with flyers advertising other events. This is a great way to find out about upcoming races.
  • Word-of-Mouth – This is the best way to hear about good races and get the details on various events. The more races you do, the more you hear about. Check back to frequently for our favorite picks on both local and national levels.

As part of our online coaching services we can help you find and select your next race in addition to helping you prepare for it. Now that you’re armed with this information, get out and get racing!

Good Luck!
Northeast Running Services