Today is a big day in the world of road racing. It's the running of the 117th Boston Marathon. For many of the runners, they have worked long and hard to qualify for this legendary race and will be at the very height of their racing career. I can only imagine how many of them started their running journey in their local hometown race, now they stand among thousands about to create history.
It makes me remember my first race. I remember my first race like it was yesterday! The Newport 10K in Jersey City, New Jersey. I was young, naive and nervous. Granted it was only a couple thousand people out that morning, but at the time, I couldn't have imagined it being more than that. Four years later, I'm participated in large races, small races, local races, you name, I've done it. Granted most of our race meet-ups tend to be larger races, so it's easy to become used to everything that comes with that. Shiny bling, crowd support, a big finish. So, a few weeks ago when I completed my first ZOOMA race in Austin, I found myself in a completely new territory. Not bad.....just different.
It made me think about all the hype that's built around races (mostly around the big kids on the block), but how so many of us miss great opportunities and experiences because somewhere along the way, we've set a standard on the types of races (and series) we will and will not run. I have to admit, I'm one of those people, but after my ZOOMA experience, I have to say, everything has changed.
So, if you are thinking about running your first or 100th road race, here's a few things to consider before signing up for the big, more popular races. You might just find a diamond in the rough.
1.) Is this your first race?
Reflecting over my short running career, I'm glad my first race was a small "hometown" race with a few thousand people. Why? Running races can not only be intimidating, it can wreck havoc on your nerves if you aren't prepared for the rush of adrenaline you'll inevitably get at the start line which can cause you too go out to hard and/or too fast. With that being said, I recommend anyone considering doing a race, to start out small in every distance you do and preferably in your hometown. More than likely you'll feel less nervousness and anxiety with fewer people and in your hood.
2. )What are you racing for? Time, charity, bling or just because? What's the end goal? My poison is bling and I rarely run races that don't offer some type of hardware at the finish. For me, the other important factor is course elevation. Since I live in a flat area, I know that hilly courses can be especially challenging. It doesn't mean that I don't do them, but it does affect my training and my expectations of my pace/time. If PR'ing (setting a personal record) is important to you, you may way to find courses that are fast and flat. Whatever the case, make sure whatever race you choose aligns with what you ultimately want to achieve and your training.
3.) Do you need crowd support to get you across the finish line?
So, back to ZOOMA Austin. There was absolutely no crowd support which was a blessing and a curse. The curse was I haven't run a race in a long time without ANY crowd support. The blessing? We were at a beautiful resort with an amazing view. At one point, we even ran by a pasture with horses. For some people this would have drove them crazy, but it was what actually made it one of the best races I've done. It allowed me to run and "be", cheer on the other runners and enjoy the experience.
On the flip side, a race I did here in Virginia Beach drove me absolutely nuts because on several parts of the course, there was no crowd support (and we were also running through a trailer park). Needless to say, I won't be running that race again.
So, you see, it depends on how much motivation you need to cross the finish line. The AWESOME thing is, that I guarantee at most races, a group of Black Girls RUN! members, will be at the finish line to bring you home which makes everything else, not so bad.
4.) What's your budget?
Racing can be expensive. I know people who actually have a racing/travel budget. I'm not one of those people, but I will say, I had a fit paying $100+ to run the Nike Women's Half Marathon in D.C. (The things we do for bling). With the growth of racing, race directors spend a lot of time and money giving runners a unique and quality experience. Oftentimes, that comes with a price. The bigger, more well known the race, the more you can expect to pay. There's no right or wrong answer to this, especially if you have the money to spend. But if you're like me and prefer to buy running gear instead of running races, then you should definitely consider race registration costs.
5.) How high maintenance are you?
If you are new to road races, this will mean nothing to you. But, if you've been around the block a time or two, you know exactly what I mean. Now, let me preface this by saying, this may not always hold true. Hopefully it doesn't. But typically with larger races, you tend to expect certain things. A flawless packet pick-up, plenty of water along the race course, enough snacks for all of the runners...simply put, a quality race. With smaller races, it tends to be touch and go and you never know what you might get. Again, hopefully all those smaller races will prove me wrong AND I've even come across larger races who have failed miserably at some of these things. The good news is, with the increasing growth of road races, the demands and expectations of runners have set the bar pretty high and races are taking note. At the end of the day, they want a happy runner who will run their races over and over again.
How do you choose your races? Are there any other factors that are missing? DISH!