How to Choose a Marathon

How to Choose a Marathon
Committing to race a full marathon, 26.2 miles, requires months of hard work and dedicated preparation. However, more people than ever are registering for marathons due to the joy of the race experience and satisfaction that comes with crossing the finish line. With so many marathons to choose from, it can be difficult to determine which race to run. Understanding key factors about marathon training, course descriptions and personal goals can help runners choose a race that best suits their needs.

Instructions

Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Step 1
Set a marathon goal. First-time marathoners should choose an organized, friendly race with plenty of cheering spectators, fun entertainment and participant support, such as Walt Disney World or one of the Rock 'N Roll Marathons. Seasoned runners hoping for a demanding race may enjoy scenic Big Sur or the challenging Pike's Peak Marathon. Looking to set a personal record? Choose a fast marathon (Chevron Houston) or one with a downhill course (Tucson). Want to qualify for Boston? Consider a race with a high qualifying percentage, like the Bay State or Newport Marathons.
Step 2
Determine the best season for marathon training. If you live in the deep south, it may be best to train during the cooler winter months and sign up for a fun spring marathon (like the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon). Northerners might find training in the harsh winters too difficult; Instead, follow a summer program and race a fall marathon, like Chicago or Twin Cities.
Step 3
Research organized, established marathons with a certified course. Ensure the race has plenty of volunteers, runner/walker support, first aid assistance, portable bathrooms and well-stocked hydration stations (offering water and sports drink varieties). Confirm that the race has been accurately measured, and choose a race that utilizes participant chip timing technology (like ChampionChip or ChronoTrack). Some races have wheelchair divisions, elite athletes and corralled starts. Utilize blogs, race reviews and running magazines as a resource.
Step 4
Figure out if national or international travel for a marathon is a possibility. Participating in a marathon can also be an excuse to take a vacation, such as traveling to the San Francisco, Berlin or Montreal Oasis Marathons. Other people prefer driving somewhere for the weekend or staying in their hometown for race day. Remember that travel can be physically and mentally draining. Also consider travel costs and marathon training factors (like weather and terrain) when making your decision.
Step 5
Decide your marathon size preference: small, mid-size or large. Some individuals prefer a less-crowded marathon in a scenic environment, like the 200-participant Frank Maier Marathon (Alaska) or 1,400-runner Little Rock Marathon. Others thrive on the "mega-marathon" experience with over 25,000 entrants, wave starts, pace groups and thousands of spectators, like the London or New York City marathons. Finally, some people desire a marathon that's the best of both experiences, like 9,500-participant Grandma's Marathon (Minnesota).
Step 6
Envision your marathon weekend experience. Decide what type of experience you want to have, as marathons can have fitness expos, registration parties, spaghetti dinners, post-race celebration concerts, generous goody bags, costumed runners, gear check, spectator party zones, interesting race day medals, free t-shirts and age-group award ceremonies. Marathons often advertise specific race-day aid stations to appeal to participants, like a Ghirardelli chocolate mile (Nike Women's Marathon). Additionally, some marathons have a meaningful message of remembrance (Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon) or cancer awareness (26.2 with Donna).
Step 7
Evaluate the marathon course elevation and scenery. Marathons can have flat, hilly, uphill and downhill courses. Study the elevation guides on the marathon's website to determine the best race for you (and tailor your marathon training program appropriately). Additionally, some individuals run marathons to experience a new city or view dramatic vistas. Marathon courses can be urban, rural or a combination of both. Running the St. George Marathon will offer beautiful ocean views and pleasant sea breezes, while the Marine Corps Marathon provides an urban tour of Washington D.C. and the national monuments.
Step 8
Consider race-day weather conditions. Running a marathon in pouring rain, bright sun, extreme heat or frigid temperatures will alter a racing experience (and possibly affect a finishing time). Consider the climate of the potential marathon's location (including the wind factor). Looking for a winter race with pleasant temperatures? You may enjoy the Las Vegas Marathon. Don't mind weather variables and just want a fun race? The fall Dublin Marathon may be a good choice.

Tips & Warnings

 
Encourage friends and family members to participate in the marathon with you. Study marathon results pages to determine if you feel comfortable with its statistics (male versus female ratio, age break-down and average completion times).
 
Encourage friends and family members to participate in the marathon with you.
 
Study marathon results pages to determine if you feel comfortable with its statistics (male versus female ratio, age break-down and average completion times).
 
Before choosing a marathon, always consult your physician for approval. Then, follow a healthy training program as directed by a medical professional or running coach (Consider a program by Hal Higdon). Listen to your body and do not train/race a marathon in you are injured. Ensure the chosen marathon has plenty of hydration stations. Abide by all marathon rules and guidelines.
 
Before choosing a marathon, always consult your physician for approval. Then, follow a healthy training program as directed by a medical professional or running coach (Consider a program by Hal Higdon).
 
Listen to your body and do not train/race a marathon in you are injured.
 
Ensure the chosen marathon has plenty of hydration stations.
 
Abide by all marathon rules and guidelines.

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