You've trained for weeks, maybe months. You've stretched. You've run. You've rested. You've cross-trained. And now it's time to put your strength, your speed, and your endurance to the test. You're ready to pick the perfect race.
Okay, okay. There may not actually be such a thing as a "perfect race." Some races will be better suited for you than others, however. It all depends on what you want to achieve. So, before you start looking for a race, it helps to set your goals. If you're a first-time racer, you may just want to finish. If you're a seasoned runner, you may be looking to set a personal record. You may want to try a new course. Or, let's be honest, you may want to run a race just because it comes with a killer swag bag! Either way, you'll want to consider several factors as you make your selection:
Depending on your fitness level, there are many different race lengths to choose from, and they can all provide an excellent race experience. Many race events offer multiple distance options on the same day. Fun runs are often paired with 5ks, and half-marathons with full marathons. These types of events are the most popular, and the courses for each distance usually overlap. It may get a little crowded, but it's a great option if you want to run with a group. If you're looking for more personal space, a single event might be the way to go, though it may be a little tougher to find.
When it comes to course styles, most runners try to mimic their training course, especially if they're trying for a personal best. So if you're used to running on a treadmill or track, look for a relatively flat course with fewer hills. If you're a trail runner, a course in a park might be better than a road race. If it's a multi-sport event you're looking for, you can find sea-side, lake-side, or pool-side triathlons that offer a variety of running and biking courses as well. Feeling really adventurous? Google "desert runs" or "group obstacle courses." I dare ya!
Some races are more about fun than fitness, which may be just your speed. These "fun runs" usually follow a theme, complete with costumes, music, and refreshments. (Post-race beer, anyone?) As an added bonus, many of these types of events are sponsored by nonprofit organizations, and part of your registration fees go to benefit causes like childhood cancer or wildlife preservation.
Race costs vary widely. Local, charity races are usually more affordable than major, well-known events. Larger, more expensive events do have their perks though, including some pretty major swag like name-brand apparel, gift certificates to local businesses, and high-end jewelry. If you know which race you plan to run far enough in advance, you may be able to cash in on early-bird registration discounts of up to 50 percent. That's like getting two races for the price of one!
You can almost always find the most popular races - fun runs, 5ks, half-marathons, and marathons - within a short drive. That said, a race is a great excuse to take a trip, so don't hesitate to sign up for a run in a place you love to visit or a place you've never been. More specialized races, like triathlons and ultramarathons, appeal to fewer runners. For that reason, these types of races are usually concentrated in bigger cities, and you may have to travel further. Don't worry if you can't seem to locate the right event though. Nowadays there are even virtual races that can be run anywhere. You just sign up online and submit your results digitally.
When you're picking a race, pay attention to not only the time of year you prefer to run, but also the time of day. Spring and fall races are popular for the mild weather, but that means training in the heat of summer or dead of winter. If you do choose an event that takes place in the middle of summer, you will likely want a morning or evening start time to take advantage of the cooler temperatures.
Whether it's a one-mile sprint to benefit charity or an all-night ultramarathon, every race can provide you with the sense of achievement you are chasing... literally. Somewhere in the midst of the thousands of races happening each year, the (almost) perfect race it out there, no matter what your goal may be.
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