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Top tips for picking your next challenge

Inspired by the return of Parkrun? Motivated from this summers Olympic and Paralympic games? Excited from watching the recent London Marathon? Here's some top tips to help you select the right event for you.

Group running a race

Things to consider when picking a race

Whether it was parkrun’s return, the Olympics / Paralympics or seeing mass participation races back on the streets, you may be feeling inspired to sign up for your next – or your first – race.

Perhaps you started running during lockdown and are looking to take the next step in your running journey or maybe you have completed a few races already and want a new challenge – aiming for a PB or trying a different distance.

Whatever the reason, if you feel ready to lace up your shoes and toe the start line, here are a few things that you should consider when choosing your race:

Get the timing right

Make sure you have enough time between now and race day to train and meet your race day goals. Planning well in advance means that you can choose a race and set a realistic target. Whether it’s finishing a longer race or getting a PB, you want to make sure that you’re setting yourself up for success. And if you have a 12 or 16 week plan, a spring race is ideal.

Many popular races – that don’t have a ballot – open well in advance and can sell-out quickly, so start looking sooner rather than later.

Location, Location, Location:

Once you have a rough idea of when you want to race, then think about where you want to run.

Some people like picking a local race, others aim for an iconic event in a well-known town or city. Or perhaps, it’s a good excuse to go somewhere where you can relive old memories or create new ones and complete a race at the same time.

And, like race organisers, runners are thinking about the environmental footprint they leave behind after a race and choosing ones closer to home or with good public transport links.

Whatever the reason for choosing the location also check that you can get to the start line on time on race day. You want to make sure that you keep distractions to a minimum, so plan how you're getting there ahead of time too. And remember, road races can mean road closures and trail races may not be the easiest to find or get to...

Terrain and distance

And so, we come on to terrain. What sort of running are you used to? Road, trail or a mix of the two? What surface and length of race do you want to do and will you be able to train in similar environments?

The terrain and distance may also have an impact on what facilities are available on the course – water stations and toilets - and at the finish. It’s also worth checking whether it’s a looped course or point to point. As well as planning to get to the start you want to make sure you can leave at the end.

A sense of occasion

We’ve all seen the scenes as people approach the finish line of big city events – crowds cheering as runners find that last bit of energy to push on to cross the line. And chances are, there’s been people offering encouragement along most of the route too.

Some of the low-key or more rural events may just have the volunteers and marshals there to spur you on, but that may be what you’re after.

And what happens at the end? Will you be able to easily find and celebrate with family and friends?

What do you get for your money?

Finally, although there are more and more races available it’s surprising what some of them may charge – particularly if you’re used to a free, weekly timed 5k.

Look carefully at what’s on offer and think about what you want. A medal, a buff, a t-shirt finish line goodies, photos, certificates – even training plans. And increasingly race organisers are thinking about the environment whether it’s trees not tees, no bottled water or other ways to offset the impact of their events – a race’s sustainability credentials may be a consideration.

Do others’ views matter? Are you bothered if they are award winning or have a great rating on racecheck.com or letsdothis.com?

And if this is a stepping stone to qualify for something-else, do you need a UKA affiliated race?

Or do you just want to run?

Factoring in all these considerations should help narrow down your options when picking a spring race. But just as you will run your own race on race day, the race you choose to run will be down to you too. Happy running!




Paul Summerhill

This content is provided by Contributing Editor Paul Summerhill

Inspired by a friend training for their first marathon and raising money for Children with Cancer UK, Paul went from couch to half marathon in just over three months – running the Surrey Half in 2016.

He has since completed 25+ half marathons, three marathons, one 50-mile race and in 2020 took part in the Thames Path 100, a 100-mile continuous trail race along the Thames from London to Oxford.

Lockdown saw Paul take part in a number of virtual running challenges but he’s enjoying the return to mass participation races.