Saturday, July 30, 2016

5 Tips For Choosing A Race

Participating in races is one of the best parts of running - camaraderie, race t-shirts, chills when they play the national anthem, the joy of finishing (no matter the time), and of course the medals.  With the increase in running's popularity, there are more races than ever to choose from.  You could run a race every weekend if you wanted to (though I seriously do not recommend it)!  When you're ready to plan your first race, or your next race, here are a five things to consider:

1. Distance: How far do you really want to go?  It may be on your list, but your very first race probably shouldn't be a marathon.  Half marathons and 5ks are really prevalent and popular, but you can also find 10ks, which are a fantastic distance.  Been running a while?  Choose a race with a funky distance for a guaranteed PR!
Great local 10k with friends!
2. Date: Do you have enough time to train for the race you want to run?  No race is worth an injury, so don't force it.  Make sure you have enough weeks to follow a smart training plan or manage your expectations for what you'll really be able to do in the race (i.e. come to terms with having to walk portions of the distance).

3. Distance from Home: Traveling to races is so fun (honestly, I can't remember the last time I took a vacation that wasn't based around a race), but it adds a new level of complexity - travel logistics, potentially a different climate and geography, planning your meals differently.  If you're used to training in cooler temperatures, it can feel disappointing doing a race in warmer/more humid temperatures.  Prepare and set goals accordingly.

Are you ready for this? (Antarctic Ice Marathon)
4. Course: Everyone likes to advertise a "flat and fast" course.  Being a native Chicagoan (i.e. land of flat), I can tell you that just because they say it is, that doesn't mean it will feel like running on a pancake.  Don't fear hills, but know what you're getting into.  Let's take a look at two half marathon race elevation charts:
(Great Smoky Mountains Half Marathon)
Doesn't look too bad right?  This type of course is called a "point to point," meaning that it starts and ends in a different place.  It also means that it's a relentless uphill climb, ending about 200 feet higher than it started, which is roughly like climbing 20 stories over the course of 13.1 miles.  That can be taxing if you're not used to it

(Arizona Distance Classic)
Now this race looks SCARY right?  This course starts and ends at the same place, also called a "loop" course.  The nice part about a race like this is that what goes up must come down, and for each uphill, you also get a nice downhill.  I've run this race, I loved it, and I would definitely run it again.

Finishing the Arizona Distance Classic with my mom!
I'll tell you that what makes this course challenging isn't the hills, it's the overall elevation of the race location.  Tucson, Arizona is a lot higher above sea level than Nashville, which also means that the air is thinner (less oxygen and feels harder).  It's also completely exposed (it is the desert after all), so if the sun is out, it's on you the whole time.  Thankfully, it's a March race, and with super low humidity, the conditions are great for running - just wear sunscreen!

5. Race Support: This may not seem important, but it is.  If you don't want to have to worry about carrying hydration with you, make sure you pick a race that has plenty of water stops.  Also, picking a race with lots of crowd encouragement and entertainment can help the miles fly by.

Water Drops are Aid Stations (Indy Women's Half Marathon)
All of this being said, do a race that you really WANT to do, that inspires you, that you think would be fun to do.  If you're excited about a race, you'll figure out the logistics and the hills won't matter nearly as much.  Find out what drives you - whether it's running with friends, chasing a PR, adding to your race shirt collection, or finding the best medal in production.  There is a perfect race out there for everyone with any goal so go find your race and happy running!

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