Well, the Fall training season is finally upon us (who else is sick of running in this sauna we call summer?) and that means that racing season has also arrived. Whether you are training for a goal race and using shorter races as milestones along the way, or entering races for fun to stay motivated, you want to pick events that will leave you feeling good about handing over some cash in exchange for a very early wake-up call and a souvenir t-shirt. It can be somewhat like finding that perfect glass slipper. So with lots of races to choose from, what makes a great race?
A couple of weeks ago, I completed my sixth race en route to Disney’s Princess Half-Marathon (and sixth race ever, but who’s counting?) and each one has taught me something about what makes a great race…and what doesn’t. This is not an exact science and there is definitely an element of personal preference involved in choosing which races to invest in – and they are an investment, of time and money. So you don’t want to waste either on a bummer event. Here are a few things to consider when perusing the buffet of racing options:
Location, location, location – you can easily narrow down your choices if you decide where you want to race. Local races are easy and convenient, for sure. You can sleep in your own bed the night before and you don’t have to alter your routine. It can be somewhat like a training run, except with a start/finish line and cheerleaders along the way. There are no associated travel fees and you can be done with the race and onto your normal Sunday routine before most of the world gets out of their pajamas! If you are looking for a little adventure and willing to travel beyond your backyard, there are many great races to choose from. You can find fun races in unique settings like zoos or amusement parks which can be fun for families. If there is a city that appeals to you and you need a reason for a weekend get-away, chances are good that you can find a race to help justify the travel and, as an added bonus, the race route may provide a unique perspective on the city. If you are looking to plan a vacation around a race, the sky is the limit! (Check out our post on bucket list races for inspiration)
Theme – personally, we like a theme or a gimmick to liven things up! For example, we ran a Beat Beethoven race this year where the goal was to complete the 8K route before the Symphony could complete Beethoven’s 50-minute masterpiece. Kind of fun, right? You can also find night races where you run with head-lamps like the Energizer Night Race, Color Runs where you are blasted with color bombs at each mile marker, or obstacle races and mud runs like the Warrior Dash or Tough Mudder. We are not much for ruining our pretty racing attire with mud or dirt, and prefer women’s races which cater to their runners by having firefighters manning the water stations and chocolate at the finish line. That’s more like it! Team relays are also a different way to shake up a race by turning an individual sport into a team sport for a change. We haven’t run a relay yet, but we have one on the calendar next month where we’ll be running a full marathon between 5 of us! That will be the closest we’ll ever come to being able to say we ran a marathon, so we’re kind of psyched.
Race Route – you will know what kind of course you race best on: city streets or trails, fast and flat or hilly and challenging (does anyone honestly prefer the latter? I guess there must be someone who thinks that’s fun!). And of course, the big one for me – the out and back versus the loop. I will always choose the loop as I don’t like retracing my steps. And I especially don’t like seeing “double” anything on the course description – we ran a double out and back this summer and I hated pretty much every minute. I felt like a rat in a maze. However, I know others who love this kind of course as they feel like they know what to expect after finishing the first half. To each their own, but I pay attention to these things now when I am considering a race.
Swag – let’s be honest, we want some cool swag for our registration fees and, with so many choices out there, we can afford to be a little picky. Most races come with a shirt, but not all shirts are created equal: some are unisex, white and cotton (ie never to be worn outside of the house) and others are tech shirts in fun colours with gender-specific sizing options. Some races have nice perks on the course or at the finish, and this also makes for a more enjoyable experience. The swag with the most sway, though, has to be the finisher medal. If I am going to bust my butt around a race course, I want a medal to prove it. And I want it to be pretty!
Charity Partnership – many races have a charitable cause attached to them so you may find a race where the charity partnership alone is enough to win your participation. We will be running the CIBC Run for the Cure later this month and the cause alone was enough to get me involved – not just involved, but the captain of the largest team in our city! Sure, it’s just a 5K and no, it is not chip-timed. There is no medal at the finish line and I have no idea what the race route looks like. None of these things matter to me as much as the cause. If there is something that you feel strongly about, and you can find a way to make a difference by running, RUN. Just do it. Even without an official time or a medal to show for my efforts at the end, I know it will be the one that stands out as the most meaningful race to me.
Tell us: what do you look for when considering a race? What has been your favourite (or least fave) race to date?