What makes a race good? If you have done one race (or more), or even if you haven’t, you probably have thought about what makes a race event enjoyable and better than other events or better than training runs. After all, training runs are usually free (always free at group run wed and Saturday at RunnerDude Fitness). Is the excellence of a race exclusively based on the finish time? What makes you want to repeat a race year after year? I recently heard about someone who complete 20 + years consecutive of a marathon race in Detroit. What makes that happen? Maybe he had nothing better to do every October, or perhaps there were certain elements that appealed to him that sold that race as a can’t miss event.
The following is NOT an all-encompassing list of race attributes. These are just some that I feel have a direct impact on whether an event is hot or not. There are more qualities out there that you or someone else may feel plays a large portion in the superiority of one race versus another. If you have one that I didn’t include, let me know in the comments and how that matters to your experience in a race.
Without further ado, I bring to you Mike’s Fab Five Race Essentials:
The definition of this one is obvious – the length of the race itself. However, the reasoning behind this varies person to person, and may even vary year to year depending on what your goals are for that year. Most of us that run consistently have a distance that we get a challenge of the duration of the run, but still can focus on going faster and shooting for a time. Similarly, we all usually have a distance that we get to where the focus shifts mostly to completion with a loose goal of speed. For some, especially those just getting started with races, the two may be one and the same – a 5k. For others that are very dedicated and have great commitment and physical capability, a marathon may be the challenge of duration but they have the fitness to still focus on speed. For me personally, the half marathon (13.1 miles) is the sweet spot for me. The length of the race is long enough to require commitment of training, but short enough to allow the notion of really pushing for chances at personal PR times and competition against others in finish place. Hello age group placing!
Mike’s distance winner: 13.1 half marathon!
Where is the event? Is it local and familiar? Is it a vacation destination? City or country? Beach or Mountain? Sounds like we’re talking about where to take the family vacation right? This has a major impact on my view of whether the race is bueno or no. I’ve done local and I’ve done some travel to races, but all in the Southeast to this point. While no location of a race is bad (mostly), there are definitely some that are better. That’s part of the allure of the Boston or New York City or even Hawaii. When you run for hours at a time, you need something to look and be entertained. New sights, lighthouses, urban areas, monuments, or simply nature can help provide that visual landscape.
Mike’s location winner to date: Tar Heel 10-miler (Chapel Hill, NC) and Outer Banks Marathon/Flying Pirate Half Marathon
Contrary to what you might think, all races of a kind are not alike. Even though a half-marathon distance is always a standard 13.1 miles, the elevation, location, weather, and size of the event can all have a drastic impact on performance and enjoyment. You could run the 13.1 miles at Carolina Beach and gain 200 ft total during the run or visit Asheville for 1800 ft gain or South Mountains for 2200 ft gain. Very different half marathons. Sometimes the flat is fun, sometimes the challenge of elevation is fun. Some events have challenges of completion of several race distances in a day or weekend. A 5k on Saturday and half marathon on Sunday can be a fun challenge. Disney offers the Dopey Challenge: 48.6 miles – 4 races (5k, 10k, half, full marathon) in 4 days throughout Disney parks. The name covers this rightfully so but the challenge speaks for itself. The achievement factor definitely creates a fun factor (although maybe slightly delayed due to the suffer factor depending on events).
Mike’s current favorite challenge: Flying Pirate 13.1/5k Double Challenge
Did you PR?
I don’t think the success or failure of a run in solely based on the setting a personal record status. While the satisfaction of reaching that goal, and performing something you have never done before creates a well-deserved accomplishment, I think an event has potential to be just as good if the other elements of a quality run are there for you. That being said, it’s always fun to set a new time and maybe even win your age group.
Stuff we all get. It’s free right (ignore the registration fees)? We all forget that we paid for them by the time we cross that finish line and we get handed a medal that weighs as much as my 8-month old, get draped in that brand-new event blanket, only to use it as a towel for sweat, and clean up just well enough to put on our new hat for the post finish line photo op. I’m not going to lie, it’s exciting to find out what non-advertised stuff we get on race day. However, to provide a voice of reason to the proceedings, I present you with the following: about ½ of my race shirts get donated due to variations in sizing or personal disdain for the material chosen (I hate slicks). My medals are in a shoe box and I look at them when I get a new medal. I use race hats all the time, wear the few pair of race socks that I have received, and missed out on the only finisher blanket at Richmond due to apocalypse like flu symptoms the night before. So SWAG does have it’s limits in awesomeness and practicality.
Mike’s Most Liked SWAG by category: Shirt – Bull City Race Fest 13.1, Hat- City of Oaks Marathon Raleigh, Medal – (tie) Running of the Bulls Durham (cow bell), City of Oaks Marathon
White Lake Half Ironman
City of Oaks Raleigh
Running of the Bulls Cow Bell Durham
We are currently five Saturdays out from the Savannah Rock n Roll Marathon on Nov 4. Training overall has been pretty good, with a hard time/self doubt sprinkled in here and there. The training plan I started in July has consisted of about 400 miles to date, with the peak of training about to be reached with 20 miles 2 out of 3 weeks (20 miles done this past Saturday). We are closing in!