Saving the best for last, and what probably should have been the first article, I would like to share a few of things to consider when you are choosing which marathon you want to run. This is not a comprehensive list, but just the first few questions that spring to mind when I start thinking about my next race.
The biggest consideration for myself is what time of year the race is in, and whether I will be able to afford to travel to it.
Here are 9 questions to ask yourself to help you choose your next marathon:
- When do you want to run? The first thing that you need to ask yourself is when you want to run your marathon. If you are in pretty good shape, you will want at least a 3 or 4 months to get ready. I ran a marathon on 9 weeks training once, and it just was not enough. If you are just starting to get in shape, you will want to allow for 4 or 6 or even 8 months to get ready. Another consideration on timing is whether or not registration for that race is open yet or still open. Most (but not all) marathons are on a Spring or Autumn schedule, so if you want to run outside of those zones then you will need to look farther north in the Summer (such as the Paul Bunyon Marathon in Bangor, Maine) or farther south in the Winter (such as the Jacksonville or Walt Disney marathons).
- How far do you want to travel? Do you want to run a marathon that is in your home town, one that is down the road a piece, or do you want to fly halfway across the country (or the world) to run your marathon? If you are travelling, you need to consider how much time you will need to take off to travel, get acclimated to a new climate or time zone, and to work out any kinks from a long car ride or flight. Will you be getting a hotel, or will you be staying with friends?
- How much do you want to pay for the race? Different races have different entry fees. Marathons are logistical nightmares, so they tend to cost more than most 5k or 10k races. I have paid between $35 and $150 on entry fees alone. You also need to figure in travel costs, hotel costs, and food if you are not going to be running local.
- How much race support do you want? There are small marathons, there are large marathons. There are marathons that are really well organized, and there those that you even wonder how they manage to come back year after year. Do you want the race organizers and volunteers to take care of everything for you, or would you rather have a race where you need your own crew to make sure you have water at regular intervals? How much time are you willing to spend to get your bib and chip, and how important is a good expo before the race to you? As a general rule, the larger the race the more prevelant the race support, but the smaller the race the easier it is to take advantage of what is available. Also consider the course; if you double back you can sometimes get support from the same people 2 or 3 or even 4 times during a race.
- How many people do you want to run with? Another consideration that has to do with race size is how many people are you willing to have around you as you run? Some marathons struggle to gather a few hundred racers, while other races have 20,000 or even 40,000 finishers every year. There may also be other events such as a half marathon or 10 mile race that happen at the same time. That can inflate the number of people running around you early in a race before the two courses split off from one another. It can also provide an easy way to pace yourself too fast if you try to run with people running a shorter race than you.
- Do you want to have to qualify or win a lottery for the race? Some of the larger races have limits to the number of people that can run in them. Those races tend to have qualifying standards or implement a lottery to determine who is allowed to run on race day. Find out if you meet the requirements for a race before you start planning your training around it.
- How important is the scenery? Are you looking to just go out and run a fast time, or are you going to want to have some nice scenery to look around at as you run? Do you need the distractions of a beatiful view off to your right as you mosey along, or will it be wasted on you as you keep your head down and your arms pumping? Not that keeping your head down is good form in a long race like a marathon…
- How many hills are you willing to tackle? Do you want to run on a flat course, or on a rolling or mountainous course that has more ridges than a vinyl record? When you decide on a race, you certainly need to tailor your training to the type of terrain that you will be able to expect come race day.
- What kind of elevation can you handle? Another consideration besides the elevation change on the course is what the average elevation is to begin with. I live at sea level, and I am dreading when I get around to running a marathon out in the mountains. Whether you are willing to handle a change in elevation from what you train at will help you limit or expand the available marathons you are thinking of running.
What other considerations do you have when you run a marathon? I could easily create a list twice as long if I wanted to. There are no end of questions that you can ask. These basic questions will get you started on your search, though.