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How to Pick the Right Race to Run

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Updated February 11, 2014

Runners in race
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Having a race on your calendar is great motivation to keep running. But it's important to pick the right race so you don't start to regret your decision. If you're not excited about your upcoming race, you may slack off in training. To avoid buyers' remorse, ask yourself these questions before signing up for a race:

1. How far do I want to run?
The right distance for you depends on your current fitness level and goals, how much time you have before the race, and how much time you can dedicate to your training. Beginners should get their feet wet with shorter races, like a 5K (3.1 miles) or a 10K (6.2 miles), before taking on a longer distance. Those who want to train for a half marathon (13.1 miles) should be running for at least three months. If you're hoping to run a full marathon (26.2 miles), give yourself at least six months of regular running before starting a training schedule.

2. When do I want to train and race?
Think about what time of the year you want to train and run the race. Take a look at race training schedules and figure out how much time you'll need to be ready. A beginner runner can be prepared for a 5K in 6-8 weeks. But even experienced runners need about 10-12 weeks to get ready for a half marathon, and 16-20 weeks for a full marathon.

To help you prepare for an outdoor race, you really want to run outdoors for the majority of your training. So, you need to think about the training schedule and possible weather conditions you'll be training in. Training for a spring marathon, for example, means you could be running a lot of miles in the cold, if you live in an area with cold winters. Also, consider the timing in relation to your personal and professional schedule, as well as other races you're already committed to. Some runners pick one or two really important "A races" and make sure that their other races coordinate nicely with those races.

More: How to Prepare for a Warm Weather Race When Training in the Cold

3. Where do I want to race?
Sure, running the Honolulu marathon sounds amazing, but make sure you consider the cons of running a race in an exotic destination. You'll have to deal with potential issues, such as language barriers, unfamiliar foods, and running with jet lag. If you're the type of runner who likes to have a very predictable routine leading up to race day, a local race might be a better option, so you don’t have to deal with the pre-race stress of traveling.

You also have to take the potential weather conditions and other factors such as altitude into consideration. Search online to see what race organizers and runners have to say about typical race day weather. And think about how you feel about racing in hot or cold weather.

More:
Tips for Racing in Cold Weather
Tips for Racing in Hot Weather
Tips for Racing in the Rain


4. How's the terrain?
Is a scenic course high on your list of criteria? Are you willing to put up with a few hills in exchange for a beautiful course? Do you want to run on a trail? Or are you less interested in scenery and hoping to run a personal record on a flat, fast course? Make sure the race's terrain matches up with your criteria and goals. Do your homework and talk to other runners about the course, read race reviews, and check out the course description and elevation map.

Also see: How to Find Local Races
How Strict Are Time Limits in Races?
Fast Marathons in the U.S.

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