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Mar 20, 2014

What I look for before signing up for a race.....

One of my favorite organizations is Kona Running Company
It seems that every time I do a race review for a well planned, fantastic race(cough cough Kona), I'm asked if I work for the company.  Just so everyone is clear on this, I'm just a regular runner who has a regular job and loves talking and blogging about running.  I've done a ton of race reviews over the last few years(48 to be exact), and some I've received complimentary entries and most others I've paid for.  If I received it free, it's disclosed on my review.  The races I've run have been put on by numerous race management companies(21 different companies last year alone), and for the most part, the overall reviews are very positive.  I've also run several races that were just plain bad.

I don't do this for money(in fact, I don't earn anything on the blog except for the occasional race entry and products for review).  I do it for the love of the sport.   I do it so races will improve because frankly, if someone does not tell them how we feel, how are they, as race organizers, supposed to know they need to improve?  So given this, I thought I'd give you my thoughts on what I look for when committing my money and registering for a race.  There are literally hundreds of races alone just in Michigan.  I think you will find that many of the things I want in a race are probably similar to many things that you also look for.  So with that, here's my list:
  • Good organization - there is nothing worse than going to a race and not know what's going on.  I think that most races these days have figured it out but to start - you need a race website that gives you information on the race.  It's not expensive and it's worth it.  I want to see every detail from registration, packet pickup, course maps, what's included, times, cost, charities, entertainment, etc.  I also look on Run Michigan for Michigan races, an excellent resource, and think if race directors are going to put their race on there, give us all the information.  Why not make it easy to find?  It's one of the main reasons I think Kona Running Company is the best at what they do - excellent organization with all aspects of racing.  I'm picky - many runners are - Kona does it right.
  • Communication - I know some of you do not like constant contact from races but I love seeing it.  Emails coming from the race company or race director is a sign of a company that wants to make sure runners are informed.  Things sometimes change over the course of race planning and updates to runners are excellent things to see.  This is where many problems can come up from the lack of communication.  Good communication is the sign of a good race company.
  • Registration - the race should offer electronic registration as well as mail in.  Frankly, I don't mind paying a few dollars to register online.  It's needs to be reasonable - I'm not paying $10 to register which I've seen for some big race outfits but there is a cost so I expect to pay a fee. 
Longest drive - Flying Pig Marathon Cincy
  • Location - I'm probably less particular on this than most since I tend to drive a distance for races.  I will say that I typically drive within an hour for a 5k or 10k. The longer the race, the longer I will drive.  I've driven over two hours for a half marathon and so far I've drive about 5 hours with an overnight stay for a full marathon.  It's really fun to get away for a race weekend especially for a half or full marathon. 
2014 Bayshore Marathon - out and back
  • Course - this one I'm pretty particular about.  I don't like double loop courses so it would be rare for me to run a 10k, for example, that is a 5k double loop.  Even for the marathon or ultra distance, I'm not interested in loops.  I know it makes it easier for the race and also for the runners too but it drains me mentally.  I do love a one loop race and even an out and back is good too.  I also look for races without long straight shots.  A few turns here and there are great.  I don't like to be able to see miles out ahead of me.  I also love running trails and am doing several this year. 
Justin from RUNdetroit - knows what runners want for races as well as running gear!
  • Race company - I look for a company that has experience but it's not always necessary that they have race experience.  Of course, race management experience is a plus but I also look who is putting it on so if the group has runners organizing the race or a local running store is putting it on, I like to see that because they typically know what runners like.  A good example of this is RUNdetroit doing the Mustache Dache.  They're runners and know exactly what we want.
  • Race company continued - I also like it when race directors plan for the number of runners.  I don't like to see it when people don't get their medal or shirt.  Some races keep selling, selling and selling knowing they are going to run out of medals or shirts.  To me it's a sign of poor management and it's not just for-profit companies but ones that work for charities too.  There's ways to manage the process so people that register for a race early enough get their race shirt and get their medal.  Yes most race companies will make good after the race but to me it just leaves a bad taste for the race.  I did a race once where I didn't receive my shirt until five months after the race -- and I registered almost a year ahead!  I can tell you exactly how many times I've worn the shirt.  That's just not right and I have not been back.
  • Race company continued #3(are we seeing a theme here?) - I like when race companies listen to their clients and read my reviews.  Just as any business, if you listen to what your clients want and improve, the race will grow.   I'm surprised that some race directors don't listen.  Don't get me wrong on this point, they can't please everyone(us runners are spoiled) but if a mistake is made and they improve it the following year, I'm happy with that.  Make the same mistake twice or more and I'm not likely to run the race again.  I also love when race directors are proactive in telling runners how they will improve.  Once again, communications is key
Inaugural race but put on by an experienced management company
  • How many years has the race been going? - typically I'm not one to run the inaugural race unless I know the race management company or have run another race they have put on.  For example, I'm running the Thirsty Three Series by Running Fit this year.  All three races in that series are inaugural races but because I've run some of their other races, I know I can expect a quality race.  They have stepped it up this year!
Kona St. Patrick's Day Run 10k course certification
  • Certified course - while it's not a necessity, it's nice to see the race company take the time and money to certify the course.  It's a promise it will be at least the distance advertised.  In addition, it gives me confidence that the company is thinking long term since this is a cost and effort some races are not willing to go through.  One exception is trail races since it's extremely difficult to certify a trail race.  Sometimes they come up short and sometimes long and it's just the way it is for trail racing so I'm much more relaxed.
  • Timed race - I want to know my time and my place against other runners.  With only an exception or two, I've run timed races for all my races.  What I don't like is when races say "it's a fun run" yet they are timing the race and you have got elite runners racing at the front of the pack.  If there is timing, then it's a race, and I really hate it when management uses excuses for why you should not expect a PR because of a large crowd.  If it's that large of race, then the race needs to have seeded paces for organization(if it's going to be timed).  At the very least, I try to line up closer to the start than I might normally especially in a race where many are not regular runners and just don't know the etiquette. 
  • Aid stations - I'm not really that concerned for aid stations for myself unless it's a marathon distance although I do look for them when doing my race reviews.  Typically I don't stop for a 5k.  I might stop once for a 10k if I don't bring water and I might stop to refill once during a 10 miler or half and a few times for a full marathon.
  • Start time - it's a pet peeve of mine but when a race says they start at 8am, I want it to start at 8am.  Unless there is a medical issue, I don't see a reason to start late but I don't let it ruin my race if they do start late.  Perhaps as I've done more races, I've relaxed on this a bit. 
Panera Bagels at the Kona Run in June - love that at the end of their races!
  • Finish line food - As a finisher in that top half, I usually don't have to worry about food running out but I hate it when I see races that run out.  I expect the last runner to get exactly what the first runner gets even if I got my food.  It's another sign of good race management.  It's also a pet peeve of mine when I see front runners take more than their share.  So rude!
I'm a race bling junkie!
  • Bling - I'm not ashamed to admit it.  I love race bling!  While I won't not sign up for a races if they don't offer a medal, it is an enticing feature.   Of course, the king of bling, at least in my area, has been Kona Running Company.  Sure, their races are slightly higher than other races but there's a reason for that - it's not only an excellent race overall but THEY. OFFER. GREAT. BLING.  Some of their medals are marathon size metals for a 10k and they are not cheap.   I like a race that offers a shirt, medal and even some other items.  I've received socks, gloves and hats as other bling which is nice for a chance.   I also don't mind getting a cotton shirt(as long as it's not just white) once in awhile since I have so many tech shirts.   I don't mind paying more if I get more and you always get more with Kona.
Mustaches, running and beer = fun race!
  • Themes - I do like when the race has a fun theme to it.  No I'm not talking about fun runs like the color runs or foam run.  Those do not interest me at all.  What I mean is the theme of the race.  One example is the Kona run in June.  It's Hawaiian themed and it's so much fun at the finish.  In fact, it will be my fifth year running it and I'm excited to be back again.  Another example is the Mustache Dache.  What fun to grow a mustache and run a race - it was one of the most fun I had at a race in 2013 and I can't wait to sign up again.   I'm also looking forward to the Hightail to Ale 5k which is beer themed.  Running and beer is two thumbs up for me. 
  • Size - this is one that I'm not really particular on.  I've run races with 30 people and others with 25,000 people.  If I had to choose, I think the mid size races work well.  While I want to run the NYC marathon one day, the thought of all the logistics that I have to go through to get to the start line gives me stomach acid.  I'd rather show up 45 minutes before the race and get in line to run 10 minutes before the start.  It's seems the best size to me is from 500 to 5,000 runners.  When you start to get into the tens of thousands, it just becomes a pain.  It's part of the reason I really enjoy trail races like Back to the Beach half at Stony Creek since you can't put thousands of people out on the course.
  • Weather - this is one that many of you really worry about.  Ok I must admit that I enjoy running when it's 50s and sunny just like the next person but I race all year.  It does not bother me.  I'll run in anything.  I probably worry more about having a safe drive to the race versus how the course will be.  If it rains, it rains(although please don't rain on marathon day).  I train through it so I can race through it. Lol
  • Cost - notice this one is last on my list.  I watch my money like everyone else and I run a lot of races.  I don't really have a particular racing budget.  I do what I feel I can afford.  This year I'll probably spend $1000 in race registrations.  I won't get into the costs of any particular race but if the race has much of the other items I've discussed, I'll pay the price.  Anyway, there's not anyone in the area that is over the top expensive for what you get so I don't worry about it.  It's part of my entertainment just like those who golf, bowl, or do some other hobby.  I'm planning to write a future post with some race directors input on what races cost as well.  I think you will be surprised how expensive it is.
So back to my original discussion.  When someone asks me if I work for the race company when I do an over the top, good race review, I guess that race should take it as the highest compliment.  I say why can't that race management just be that good?  Someone has to be the best, right?  The people planning the race makes all the difference in the world.  I just tell it the way I see it when I'm participating - good or bad.  You can read my reviews and you will see the differences.

I think most of you would agree with me on at least some of these points.

What do you say? What else would you add to the list that I didn't mention?

 Have a great day and....Keep Running!!!!


  1. I just realized I'm a very little critical to picking up races.
    I always look for:
    - electronic registration
    - course
    - organization
    - make sure that the race starts on time
    - finish line food
    - race kit (shirt quality mainly)

  2. I just try and run everything on our calender...

  3. Nicely put on all aspects of races.
    I always look for location, length, BLING, t shirt and I am in the bottom 1/4 of finishers and I can attest that I have NEVER gotten the same food as the first 1/2 of the finishers. My friends say how awesome XX food was and I never even saw it on the tables. Races should hold back some of the 'good' food for us slower runners.