How do you pick your races?

Now that 2012 is winding down, 2013 race planning is in full swing.

Earlier this year, I went a little crazy and got caught up in race fever and had a “RUN ALL THE RACES” mentality. Then I realized that doesn’t work for my budget. Now I try to be much more thoughtful about the races I do. There are so many races to choose from, every weekend. How do you pick the ones worthy of your time and money?

RnR Chicago Half. Great race, but expensive.

This is what I take into consideration:

Cost. This is a relative thing. Obviously a race like the Chicago Marathon costs a lot more to put on, but is a much richer experience for runners than a local 5K. So, relatively speaking, is the cost of the race a good value for the distance, and the location of the race?

Logistics. A few things to consider:

Is the race easy to get to? How long will it take me to drive there? Can I carpool with anyone if it’s far away? I try to stick to races that are less than an hour’s drive away, closer for shorter races.

Do I have to pay for convenient parking on raceday? Do I have to park in a remote lot and take a shuttle bus? Those things aren’t necessarily deal breakers, but something to keep in mind, since it’ll cost me more in money and time (meaning sleep).

Is there race day packet pick-up? If not, am I able to get to packet pick-up – and willing to take time out of my day to do so? And is that yet another parking fee?

13.1 Chicago … the race itself is fine, but logistically, it’s kind of a nightmare overall. No raceday packet pick-up, and pick-up was at Fleet Feet in Old Town (not downtown, where most people work), the race is on Saturday, so packet pick-up is only Thurs-Fri. There is very limited parking near the race, and public transportation isn’t very convenient, so you have to do remote parking and take a shuttle bus. Plus, the race is mostly on the Lakefront Path (see below, under “Uniqueness”), and in June (see below, under “Time of Year”). No wonder they were giving away so many free entires to this race. 

Reputation. I’ve been outspoken about poorly-managed races. So, I take note of which races have good reputations, and which ones don’t. There are lots of races out there to choose from, and the majority are managed well. Personally, I don’t want to waste my time or money on a mis-managed race.

enjoying hot chocolate after the Hot Chocolate 15K

After the 2010 Hot Chocolate 15K, the one and probably only time I’ll do that race. 

My schedule. I done a few back-to-back race weekends this year, and both times realized I didn’t enjoy race #2 (or #3 or #4) as much. Or, I didn’t have as much desire to race the second (or third or fourth) race. So I’m hesitant to sign up for a race if I’m already committed to one the weekend before or after.

Also, this year I did some races as training runs. That is not fun for me. So my plan is to space out my races so I can race all of them. I’ll make an exception to pace a friend though. Because that is also fun.

Friends. Racing is more fun with friends. I haven’t done a race alone in a long time.

F’N Runners before the 2012 Shamrock Shuffle

Swag. I have a lot of running shirts – from races, and from my own purchases. I honestly don’t need another race shirt. So if a race is offering a shirt, even a tech shirt or pullover, I don’t really count that toward the “value” you get for the price, because frankly, it’s another thing I don’t really need. But if they are offering something other than a shirt? Then I might count that toward the value of the race, if it’s something I’ll use.

Cupid's Chase 5K

I appreciated that the Frost Bite 5K gave knit hats AND shirts, and you could register for none, one, or both, and pay accordingly.

Uniqueness. I’ve done a lot of races on Chicago’s Lakefront Path. A path which is free for anyone to use year-round, and also remains open to the public during races. And gets rather crowded during races. And after awhile, a lot of races start to feel the same. So if a race offers some kind of unique experience that I can’t easily get otherwise (like … finishing on the 50 yard line at Soldier Field), I’m more likely to consider it.

Time of year. It’s warm during the summer. Do I really want to run a half marathon in hot and humid temps? (Again?) The smart side of my brain says to stick to 5K’s in the summer.

So those are all of my considerations. Most of them are not deal breakers on their own, just things I take into consideration. I also tend to fall prey to discounts and the last day before a price increase. And races that all my friends are doing. (Hi, Shamrock Shuffle, I’m looking at you.) But, I feel like the more races I do, the more selective I am about my races. (Unless there is a really good deal.)

What do you take into consideration when picking races?

Have you already started registering for races in 2013? I’ve registered for three so far, plus Ragnar (not sure if we’re registered yet, but I’ve committed to it). 

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24 Comments on “How do you pick your races?”

  1. I think timing is a big deal for me. I’m also a fan of trying new races vs one I’ve already done.

    One thing I’ve slowly stopped caring about? The swag. My first few races were bags full of granola bars, coupons for free food, clothing, etc. Now I’m lucky if they throw a $3 tshirt my way when I pick up my bib number. #overit

  2. I usually choose by dates. Since I thrive off deadlines, I like to choose when I want to start training, pick a plan and go form there. My first running “season” I did a 5K, 10K and Half Marathon all in a row to prepare for my first half. I did something similar for my first Marathon and did the CARA 20 miler and a 5K. Deadlines keep me accountable!

  3. I also did a lot of races this year, some great, and some not-so-great. I am more closely evaluating my race schedule in 2013 and will probably opt for more local races. I want to do a 5k with Pepper this winter/spring so I’ll need to stay local to make that a reality. 🙂

  4. Good points, I race a lot and it’s getting expensive, and many times I wind up getting disappointed for one reason or another. Time to re-evaluate and remember the races I actually LOVED for the reasons you listed, and which ones I’m willing to give a second chance. My race schedule so far is the F^3 half, Soldier Field 10 miler, and Women’s Half in June. Here’s hoping to happy racing!

  5. I like to race a lot so tend to pick races that are as close to home as possible so that I can get in and out quickly and cause less stress at home. If I go downtown for a race, then it better be good. It’s no secret that the Shamrock Shuffle is my FAVORITE Chicago race and I just love that we have such a big group to go and wear those damn GREEN SPARKLE skirts. It get’s better EVERY year! Whooooooooop!

  6. All of the things you mentioned are important, but I also take into consideration the fact that I’m friends with one of our local race directors. He puts on great races and he’s a really good guy, and so when I am faced with a conflict in schedules that involves one of his races, I’m usually inclined to take part in his race over the other one, just because I feel a sense of personal loyalty toward him.

    1. This is a good point. I’m trying to focus more on races close to home – I’ve seen races in my hometown get cancelled due to dwindling participation, which makes me sad, and also local races = local people involved, local sponsors, and all-around support of my local running community.

  7. uniqueness and cost is huge for me! And i think i have made it pretty clear that i do better in smaller races (at least for long distance) so race size is important to me. I end up doing one or two a year because everyone else is – i mean, i don’t want to be left out!

  8. I used to think I wanted to do an RNR (just because it had the words ROCK N ROLL in it, sadz) until I heard about the reputation for being overpriced and grossly mismanaged. I think cost and size and proximity to my house is a big deal too. On thanksgiving, I ran TO the race for the first time ever and it made everything so easy. Unfortunately there are not a lot of races to choose from in my area, so I end up having to drive across town for a lot of them.
    When I first started running I thought it was more “legit” and “exciting” to run in bigger races, but now that I’ve come to my senses, I can see the value in running a smaller race.

    1. I think Rock n Roll races are hit or miss. They are ridiculously expensive, but I think the Chicago one is one of the most well done races I’ve ever experienced. If you can register early (I think they do one day of $65 registration in November), it’s not too bad. After that one day though, it goes up and up and up …

      1. A friend did the Chicago RNR and didn’t have any complaints, so I probably shouldn’t be making sweeping judgments about all of them, esp having never done one myself. I’ve just heard not-great things about some of the other ones. And you’re right, 65 bucks is not bad for a half.

        1. I’ve heard bad things about other RnR races – Las Vegas, obviously, and also that Seattle and Savannah had bad/boring courses. But they are much more expensive than most other half marathons that don’t have as many bells and whistles.

        2. I was apprehensive about doing an RnR race but the one in St. Petersburg ended up being really fun and well-done. That said, it’s so expensive that I don’t know if I’ll be able to run it again.

  9. Great points, all of them! In 2011 I ran the CARA Circuit so that dictated a lot of my race schedule from April to October. But because I didn’t want to miss out on other races I ran a ton more with friends. Normally, though, I pick a race because of something unique about it, typically location.

  10. I’m with Jocelyn here, I race a lot too and it’s starting to get real expensive for me. I’m always choosing races that I’ve had a good experience with and want to race again. There is one race in particular that I ran this year that I won’t run again based on the experience I had. I’m always on the lookout for new and fun races to run.

  11. I bought the Rock n Roll Tour Pass, but a number of us did it together, so we can plan on staying in the same hotel room. Other than that, I pick ones with awesome swag that have race day packet pickup… because I live in the suburbs and I’m lazy. Or if I’m going out of town, I try to find someone with a couch I can sleep on!

  12. I pick races based on timing, cost, location, and uniqueness. There are so many races out there that, as you’ve said, there’s no reason to run any race unless you are really excited to do so (or because it’s free!) But after having a great experience running a race in Pittsburgh, I’m now looking to run more races outside of the Chicagoland area!!!!!

  13. This is a great and very useful post. Now that I’m about to run my last race of the year (9th!) I’ve started thinking about the races I want to run in 2013 and how I will choose them. After the hassle of packet pick-up at the Old Town Fleet Feet for tomorrow’s Santa Hustle and a start location with basically no parking (by Soldier FIeld), I’ve decided that I’ll most likely avoid downtown races. They’re just so inconvenient! And random packet pickup locations are the worst. I’m gonna hunt down local races so I can support my community instead!

      1. If you live in the city, I’m sure it’s no big deal. But coming from the suburbs, if you work downtown (as many folks do), you have to take the CTA to get there – and most folks who work downtown but live in the suburbs don’t already have a CTA card or know their way around the CTA. If you’re driving, there is limited free street parking if you know where to look (and get there at the right time), or you can pay to park in a garage. I guess it’s no more of a hassle than Navy Pier or McCormick Place.

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