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How to choose your first marathon

Knowing your race goals and expectations can make it easier to select your first race.
Knowing your race goals and expectations can make it easier to select your first race.
Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

After making a decision to conquer your first marathon, it can be overwhelming to select which race to run. There are more than 800 26.2 races in the U.S. alone, and each one has its own unique qualities.

As you choose your first marathon, there are five things to take into consideration:

  1. Size. Marathons range from as small as not even 100 participants to the TCS New York City Marathon, which boasts more than 45,000 finishers from around the world year after year. For your first marathon, participating in a large marathon may be intimidating, while a small-city marathon may not provide the resources you are looking for.

    The size of the marathon will determine whether it will be a tiered start or if there will be corrals. It can also determine water/aid stations, timing devices on the course and whether there will be pace groups.

  2. Location. Choosing a destination marathon for your first race can be fun -- after all, dedicating a weekend to your race can help make it feel as special as it is. However, this can be pricey and depending on how much you travel, it may be hard for your body to recover to a time zone change.

    If you do decide to venture outside of your home area, be sure to research hotels and flights early. Particularly in smaller areas, such as the Wineglass Marathon in Corning, New York, hotels book up quickly and you don't want to be left stressing about where you will stay.

  3. Time of year. Most marathons are held in the spring and fall as these seasons offer the best racing conditions. However, there are races that are held in the summer and even winter months. Depending on your schedule and other life commitments, consider what time of year would work best for you to train and race.
  4. Your goal. There are courses that are designed to be fast, like the Chicago Marathon. Others are applauded for the extreme beauty along the way, such as the Big Sur Marathon. Think through your goal for your first marathon. Do you want to finish? Are you trying to reach a time goal? Depending on what it is, you will want to evaluate the course profile to learn elevation changes and what challenges you may face as you run 26.2 miles.
  5. Price. Chicago Marathon organizers announced that registration will cost $185 per person for the 2014 race, and the NYC Marathon is even more expensive than that. On top of that, if it is a destination race, you have to think about how much it will cost to travel to the location, as well as pay for food and other necessities throughout the weekend. Smaller races tend to be cheaper, but do not offer much for return in terms of race bag goodies or "swag." However, as you select your first race, think through your budget and how much you would be comfortable paying.

Lora Mays is an avid runner who has been running for more than 15 years. In this time, she has found a love for marathons and plans to run her 15th and 16th this spring. When she isn't running, she is blogging about it at Crazy Running Girl.

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