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).