Tips for Choosing A Race

If you've been around here for more than five minutes, you know that races are basically my favorite thing. From 5ks to marathons to triathlons, I love 'em all! They're a great way to set a goal, stay motivated, have some fun, and be a part of the amazingness that is the running community. To date I've completed 37 races and I've really honed my race decision-making skills.

1. Price
Let's just get this out of the way - these things are not cheap. Price isn't always a huge factor for me, but it has definitely deterred me from races in the past (looking at you, Rock 'n' Roll series). Generally I expect and am willing to pay around $35 for a 5k, $60 for a 10k, $80-$100 for half and marathons, and $75-$120 for triathlons. I know some people are baffled by the thought of paying so much money to just run (can't you just run by yourself for free?), but you're not just paying for the running, you're paying for the whole event and experience. It's like a concert...why pay money to hear someone play music when you could just listen to someone playing guitar on the sidewalk for free? Because those are two totally different experiences. It's just like any other event that gathers a few hundred to tens of thousands of people. Closing roads, security, race swag, the all adds up.

2. Location
This could really be subdivided into local races and runcations. I'm fortunate enough that my area has a pretty frequent offering of races at various distances. For a local race I expect the drive to be 45 minutes or under. Anything farther than that warrants a race eve hotel and starts to venture into runcation territory. I did my first out of town race last April and I was instantly hooked! It's such a fun way to see a new place, or see a place you've been a million times in a different way.

3. Course
There is arguably nothing that makes a race more than the course. I have run some amazingly beautiful courses and some amazingly boring courses. I'm definitely less likely to run a race if I know the course is less than stellar. Pro-tip: check the elevation profile, especially if you're running a race in a new location!

4. Race Experience
The company putting on the race greatly determines what kind of event it will be, from low key and relaxed to lots of bells and whistles and a huge party. I've definitely bent some of my other criteria (namely price and course) in the name of running races put on by a great company. J&A Racing is an amazing company with spectacular races - they're not just races, they're full on parties! I don't love their courses and their prices are the most expensive of all the races I've done, but I keep going back. I'm a believer that you get what you pay for. They do a great job organizing from the expo to the race itself to the after-party and really put on great events.

5. Date/Timing
Because I am certifiable and should probably be locked up somewhere, I plan my training out months in advance. I usually start with one race as my goal race, and I plan the few months leading up to that race. Part of this planning includes any other races I might want to do. I look at the date and distance of the races and compare that to my training plan. Because races are on weekends and so are my long runs, I've had to get creative (like fitting a 5k race into a 20-mile training run), but if I can make it work, I go for it.

6. Personal Connection
This isn't really something you can quantify but it might be the most important. For whatever reason, thinking about doing certain races just gives me warm fuzzies. I'm planning to run the Richmond Marathon in November because of that alone. I have no real reason to want to run it, it just feels like the right thing to do, so I'm going with it. My first race every was a small 5k that benefited a depression and suicide awareness organization. I chose the Charleston Marathon as my first full for a combination of reasons above, but also because I would be 26.2 years old on race day. It really motivates me to find personal connections to the races I run.


  1. I have all the same reasons even though I don't run races too often. I think I've done about 15? But I love being out there with hundreds of other crazy people at 7AM in the cold/heat/rain/sleet to run! And I love what you said about paying for them - it's the experience, not just to run!

  2. Spot on with all of these !! My first race ever was the Santa Paws 5K which benefits The SPCA of Wake County who I volunteer with constantly :) And all of these reasons are why I decided City of Oaks would be my first half: local, didn't cause me to be broke, EVERYONE i know has run this course, and it's at a perfect time.

  3. Such a good post, Tracy!! I used to be SHOCKED by prices of races, until I realized how big of an experience it really is. Most of the time you get a shirt, food and plenty of freebies too that makes the price not seem as crazy! Some of the most fun races I've done have been local 5ks that weren't very big, but the town really made it a heckuva' party!

  4. I still think you should take a runcation and run the Monumental Marathon in Indy this year! I've got a bib with (my) your name on it!!! :)

  5. I honestly could read running posts ALL.DAY.LONG! I wanted this post to keep going and going and going!
    It's true, you definitely get such an awesome experience from running a race!

  6. Race prices used to baffle me but now? Totally willing to pay for them as its a whole experience, like you said! DANG! I had no idea you had run THAT many races, go you!!! :) you have me so motivated to choose one and begin training again!!

  7. I think my biggest issue (and i'm only talking a 5k here) has been finding one at the right time of the year on a date that will work for me! And speaking of 5k I was doing good with c25k until week 3 and I just can't keep up with the increase in pace :(

  8. wow 37 races! you go girl :) i love the personal reason for your first marathon, so fabulous. i have only done 3 half marathons and a handful of smaller races. i have trouble telling how bad the hills will be by the elevation profile. does that make sense?

  9. Yes, so with you. And ugh on #1, I thought about doing the Philly Rock & Roll for my first half and then saw if I registered THAT DAY it would be like $110, and only increase from there, and considering I'd need a hotel and all that... no. Then I found one literally exactly half the price on a better course {paved trail through woods along a lake? YES PLEASE!} and that was that. I can't wait to start taking runcations though, because ultimately I'd love to race in every state. Including VA, hint hint... :)

  10. These are such great tips for choosing races!! I've been spoiled and most of the 5K's around here are $20-25, so more than that just seems nuts to me, unless it's for a cause I believe in. I love doing run-cations, but sometimes that makes me anxious if I don't know the course well (or at all), and I think looking for the whole experience is important!!


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