Sign Up for an event, activity or race that will kick-start a fitness program that sticks. Even if the weather still says winter in your neck of the woods, now’s the perfect time to put a stake in the ground and start training for an outing in the summer or fall. Below is an excerpt from Heart and Sole, my upcoming book that offers information and inspiration for running your first marathon. Even if 26.2 miles is not in your foreseeable future, you might glean a few helpful points below in determining which summer/fall event is right for you.
I truly believe that selecting a marathon is one of the most important steps a first-time marathoner can take. There are many factors to consider—both for the race itself and the training required.
Seasonality and weather.
Many marathons are scheduled in the spring and fall, when the weather is fairly mild, though unexpected high and low temperatures can occur. This does not mean you won’t experience the occasional 85-degree October day in Chicago or a 25 mile per hour headwind in Boston. I have experienced both! But at least you can predict a window of expected weather. For example, if you sign up for the Seattle Marathon, held in November, you can almost guarantee a race in the rain.
Another weather issue to consider is when you’ll be training. Given that you’ll be training for four to six months, it’s wise to pick a season in which you like to run. You have to consider not only extreme cold, heat, and humidity, but also factors like day length—summer yields more daylight, giving you more time to train before or after work. Depending on where you live and what time of day you like to run, choose a training season that suits your style, body temperament, and exercise preferences.
Do you like hills, or do you prefer flatter terrain? Most runners post a faster marathon time on flat terrain, but maybe a fast time is not what you’re after. If you prefer the challenge of steep climbs, then pick a race accordingly. Again, it’s not just about race day, but about training, too. If you live in an area of the country where it’s difficult to find hills, for example, it may not be in your best interests to sign up for the Big Sur Marathon.
Don’t forget about the altitude. If you train at sea level and register for the Denver Marathon, the thin air may catch up with you after 26.2 miles!
Crowds of runners.
Do you like running among throngs of people, or do you prefer solitude? I am not a chatty Cathy during a race, but I still like the comfort in numbers when I’m in pain. You, on the other hand, may not want to worry about tripping over other people. You might also feel discouraged if others pass you along the route, especially at the end when you need a pick-me-up.
Many larger marathons are strategically planned so that the crowd at the start clears out pretty quickly. The New York City Marathon, for example, has about 45,000 entrants, and though it may take a while to cross the start line, once you reach it, the course is masterfully designed to keep congestion to a minimum.
Larger marathons not only have more participants, but also tend to have more people standing on the sidelines to cheer on the runners. If you’re motivated by the cheers of onlookers or enjoy giving young children high fives, then make sure to pick a marathon with ample crowd support.
You may also want to check out the marathon route, especially miles 18 to 24, when the support really comes in handy. For some reason I have never been able to figure out, many marathons turn onto a highway or veer off into wilderness just when you need and want a few high fives the most!
Do you like to sleep in your own bed before a race and eat a home-cooked meal the night before? It’s certainly less stressful to walk into your kitchen than to search a town’s Zagat guide to find the optimal prerace grub—not to mention the wait you might have to endure.
If you find comfort in having friends and family greet you at various stops along the route, then a smaller marathon may better suit you. I can’t count the number of times friends have come to watch me in a large race, only to miss even a remote glimpse of yours truly. Psychologically, it is very difficult to expect friendly faces at a certain mile mark and then miss them altogether.
In a smaller race, your family and friends are much more likely to find you, ride bikes alongside, bring sports drink and/or greet you at the finish line with hugs and warm clothes.
Do you enjoy the sights and sounds of a big city? Or do you prefer the serenity of ocean waves or riverbanks? Little things might make a big difference when you hit the last 10K and run out of steam.