So you’ve decided to run a marathon, huh? Awesome! First hard decision – done!
Second hard decision – which marathon???
There are so many marathons in this country, let alone other countries, in any given year that it can seem incredibly daunting to pick just one!
Admittedly, I’m not expert on this subject, but as I look towards choosing my first marathon, here are the criteria that I am weighing:
1) Crowd Support. This one’s huge for me. I’ve learned through countless races large and small that I NEED crowd support in order to get through long mileage. This was most evident to me this fall when comparing my experiences are Army and Baltimore. I loved the start/finish atmosphere of Army, but the lack of crowd out on the course was excruciating for me. There’s a wonderful little marathon nearby that runs on a mostly-flat trail, but there are maybe 5 spectators outside of the start/finish area; unfortunately, that knocks it out of contention for my first.
2) Ease of access/transit. Also huge. I am not a morning person – I am not going to get up at 2:00am (voluntarily…) to drive two hours to get to a marathon. I need one where I can stay nearby and which has easy parking or public transit options. Because of possible international travel at the end of 2015, I also need to consider…
3) Cost of getting to and from the race. Would I LOVE to do a fantastic destination race, a la the London or Sydney Marathon? Absolutely! And I am all for combining a race and vacation, but costs to add up. Hotel? Airfare? Parking? Eating out? $$$ Like I said, this is particularly pressing because of a possible international trip shortly after marathon season, but regardless it’s something that really does need to factor in to the calculus.
4) Course. Love hills? Hate Hills? Do your hips ache at the thought of running 26.2 long, flat miles? Very personal choice, but extremely important. I love hills, but I don’t want to run a super-hilly first marathon (I want to have a good experience, after all). But I also know flat courses at the beach can be boring as sin.
5) Location. Running a marathon in the south during the winter sounds awesome until you remember that you’ll be training in colder-than-cold winter weather. For me it’s important to find a race where the climate will be similar enough to what I’m training in or can reasonable adapt to. I’d rather runner a race in a colder climate than my training than a warmer climate, but only because I know my body adapts easier to cold than heat and humidity. I’m going to be out there for 5-6 hours, so I know that no matter what time the race starts, I’ll likely be running during the hottest part of the day – definitely not something you want to leave out of the equation! Hopefully you’ve played around with this and had some trial-and-error experiences with shorter races and know in what conditions you run your best.
6) Race Amenities. You want me to fork over how much for a race? I expect a little something in return. Good porta-potty availabilities, good quality swag, frequent water/medical stops on course, top-notch medical team, well-organized start line, easy post-race runners’ village (major points are lost if I hear about runners having to stand around for long times to get their blankets, medals, and/or food and drink). Speaking of…
7) Cost of Race Entry. Yeah, it’s a marathon, it’s going to be expensive. But there’s expensive and there’s EXPENSIVE (like NYC and Disney expensive). We all have a threshold of what we consider reasonable – know it and own it. And yes, it’s relatively subjective based on the previous criteria.
8) Friend/Family/Run Group Support. For some people, this is way up on the list. For me though, no amount of friend/family support can bolster up a hot, humid race on a flat road with no shade and no crowd support.
I think I’ve narrowed down my list, mostly constricted by overall cost this year, but I’m still weighing the options. I have time to figure it out, but I also need to get moving on this decision because before you know it spring will be here. I’m planning on putting my name in the hat for NYC, but I know that the odds are not in my favor and need a back-up plan or two.
What criteria did you use when choosing your first marathon? Did I leave anything important off of the list??