Running the right marathon race
Running a marathon isn't for the faint hearted, but you've been bitten by the marathon bug and there's no stopping you. Likely you've been a recreational runner for some time, but now it's time to test your limits. Can you endure the 26.2 miles? Where to begin your journey?
The first step is to choose your race. This will include factoring in your location, calendar, and race goals.
For instance, do you race your hometown race if there is one available? It can be hard to pass up the chance to run on your own turf, surrounded by locals just like yourself who have trained hard all year long. Although it would be rare, what if your local race were Pike's Peak Marathon? The 7800 foot incline is probably too ambitious for your first marathon race. Other daunting courses include local trail marathons, or other exceptionally hilly courses. Check the relative difficulty of your local course before signing up for your first race.
That being said, if you live in one of the cities with an annual mega-marathon (more than 10,000 racers), it can be hard to pass up the chance to tap into the energy and excitement. Consider this option for races like New York (if you get in), Chicago, Washington DC (the Marine Corps Marathon), and San Diego. Other large races good for first-timers include Philadelphia, Twin Cities, Portland, and Houston.
Also be sure to take out your calendar in advance. How far ahead? At least six months before the time period you expect to be racing. It takes a long time to train for a marathon, anywhere from four to six months, and this presumes you have already been running regularly for quite some time already. Don't try to attempt a race too soon on the calendar, or you may be left huffing, puffing, and walking most of the way to the finish line.
Most people choose fall marathons. The weather is great, not too hot or cool, and it's a great way to kick off the holiday season in tip top shape. Summer months can be challenging for all of the training runs, but most prefer these to intense training during bleary winter months, dealing with ice and snow on the roads. A fall marathon course is a nice reward for sweating it out over the months of summer miles.
Probably the most important factor in choosing your marathon is your own set of goals. This can vary widely from runner to runner, but some of the most important are as follows:
Pace - How fast do you want to complete the race? If you are looking for a speedy time, steer clear of the large marathons (like New York, which as many have attested kept them from their fastest times). Choose a smaller sized race, preferably on a flat course, to lower your racing time.
Experience - Do you want an unforgettable experience? Chicago is known to have one of the loudest, most supportive crowd of spectators in the country. There is also a series of Rock N' Roll marathons that offers great entertainment all along the the race. Each marathon has its individual flavor, so look around for the race that most piques your interest.
Travel - We know about destination weddings, but how about destination marathons? The Great Wall Marathon in China is one of the best known travel marathons, but there are others in Nepal, Hawaii, and even the South Pole! A marathon can be a great excuse for a vacation and racing experience bundled into one. Even traveling across the US can provide a great marathon getaway. Check out the race calendars for a state that you've always wanted to visit, and make a marathon weekend part of the trip.
Now you should have a good idea what you're looking for. A helpful site with lots of race calendars (both national and international) is Marathonguide. It's easy to navigate their site and find information (and reviews) on all the races listed. In fact, there are tons of running resources online, as the sport continues to grow in popularity all across the world.
Good luck with your first race!