The question every runner hears after a race: When’s your next race? There are many factors to consider, tons of choices available, and lots of race organizations competing for your entry fee. Here are 11 tips to help you choose your next race.

Race Distance

If you’re setting a race goal that exceeds your current level of fitness or training, be sure to schedule the event far enough out that you have time to train and prepare. Registering for race is a terrific motivator. Larger races like the New York City Marathon or the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler require runners to register months in advance. If you’re hoping to run in a big race event, check out the race website and see if there are any special registration or lottery requirements.

Race Type

Are you a Color Run fan? Maybe you like the idea of a punishing Mud Run, or a trail run through the forest. There are many variations on the traditional road race. Determine a race type that is consistent with your race goals. The type of training required varies.

Race Location

Many races are held in big cities or scenic venues that make it them perfect family racecation spots. Traveling to a race may pose some logistical challenges and require a bit more planning, but it can also make the experience more enjoyable. The Honolulu Marathon is a popular destination race. But, if you are the type of runner that likes to know exactly what’s ahead of them, a familiar local race venue may be the better choice.

Race Course

Know what you’re up against by checking out the race course ahead of time. Most races have course maps available on their website. The Mount Washington Road Race is a scenic climb up a 7.6 mile course with over 4,500′ of elevation gain. But, some racers will tell you there’s only one hill.

Race Climate

Consider the temperatures and the general weather you might face on race day. I signed up for the Jingle Bell Half Marathon in New Hampshire last year. On race day, it was a bone-chilling 14 degrees and windy. Luckily, I had trained outside in similar conditions.

Race Cost

How much would you pay to run in a race? $25, $50, $100 or more? The 2014 New York City marathon registration fee is a whopping $255 for US residents. Smaller races usually have smaller entry fees.

Race Swag

Medals, t-shirts, gift bags are the usual race swag at larger events like the Rock’n’Roll Series. I’ve also walked away with honey, maple syrup, gift certificates, cash and baked goods. The amount of swag is usually directly related to 1. the entry fee or 2. your race performance. If you’re paying a lot up front, you should expect some good stuff in return. Some races have varying registration fees based solely upon race swag.

Race Size

Do you want to be a big fish in a small pond? If so, a smaller race is your best bet. These races usually have a more relaxed vibe and fewer restrictions as well. And, if you’re a competitive runner, your chances of winning are higher. However, there is something reassuring and uplifting about running with thousands of other people. Big races offer a level of excitement and energy that is uplifting and can carry you for miles.

Race PR

Sometimes you can tell a lot from the race website and their presence of social media. Look to see if the race information is clearly presented, if there’s evidence of races held prior years, and if the race organizers look, well… organized. If you get the impression that it’s a flimsy operation, it probably is.

Race Tradition

Some races are historic and legendary. The Boston Marathon is one of them. First run in 1897, It’s the world’s oldest annual marathon. Others that come to mind are the Bay to Breakers 12K and the Lexington Patriots Day 5 Miler. Running in any of these races honors the sport and your place in history.

Race Cause

Some races are held to support a cause, raise charitable funds, or just bring about greater awareness. Many runners enjoy the sport of running and decide to enter these events to do what they love while helping others. Running USA estimates that U.S. road races pulled in $1.2 billion for nonprofit organizations in 2012.

Race Reviews

Most importantly when choosing your next race, check out what other runners have to say about the event. Many bloggers are more than happy to share their race reviews with others. What you hear from those who ran the race may be very different that what you read on the race website.

Marie Bean, running coach and author of Lazy Runner says “I research the events I am planing to enter, not often through the race website as this is just an advertisement for the event and often leaves out the bad bits! So I look for personal reviews from runners who have entered the event to gauge how well-organized it is and if it would suit me.” New Hampshire runners can find great road race reviews at saltmarshrunning.com

Summary

Deciding what races to mark on your running calendar is very personal decision. Sputnik, an avid trail runner and author of Running Away from Dinosaurs, says “I think one of the great challenges with choosing what you do next is actually to disengage yourself from expectation and what everyone else is doing, and genuinely reconnect with what you truly love.” The rest should take care of itself.

Did I miss anything? What’s most important to you when selecting a race?

Thoughts?