Training for a Half Marathon in the Heat of Summer

When I decided to run the Skinny Raven Half Marathon in August in Alaska, I knew full well that meant I would be running through the hot, humid summer here in North Carolina. It’s usually well into the 70’s by 7 am in July and August and humidity levels in the early morning hours hover around 90-95%. Daytime highs are commonly in the upper 80’s to mid-90’s. When the sun sets, it doesn’t cool off much either although if you’re lucky it will drop to around 80 degrees then.

Given the fact that I work full-time and get up for work around 6:50, I would have had to have gotten up around 5:45 for most of my mid-week runs. Instead I chose to run after work, which for me was usually before 6 pm, and which also coincided many days with the highest temperature for the day. So wait, you say, you actually chose to run in the heat of the day rather than get up an hour early before work when it would have been 15 or 20 degrees cooler? Are you crazy?

I would manage to get my long runs in on Saturday morning, usually leaving the house around 7 or 7:30, so it was in the 70’s when I was starting out, but at least it was cooler than running any later than that. I feel like I’m sort of a morning person. I can easily get up around 6:30 or 7:00, which I know would seem really early for some people, but any earlier than that is just not for me. The other day I had to get up at 5:20 to take my daughter for a medical procedure and I was so exhausted all day even though I had gone to bed early the night before to make up for getting up early.

All during my training plan for the Alaska race, I kept wondering how running in the heat was effecting my training. Obviously my body couldn’t run as fast when it was 90 degrees as when it was 70 degrees. I think later in the summer my body definitely had acclimated as much as possible to the heat because my runs weren’t as slow as they had previously been. Still, I wasn’t as fast as I would have been if it wasn’t so hot and humid, so how was that effecting my training? How was not meeting my goal pace times effecting my body? Would I have been better off sucking it up and getting up early to run when it was cooler so I could have at least been closer to meeting my goal pace times?

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I did a lot of trail running this summer to try to escape the heat!

I had heard stories about people training for marathons during the summer for a fall race and smashing their times. I guess the idea is if you can push your body to run through the extreme heat conditions when you’re training, the race will seem easier when it’s cooler. I had hoped this would be the case with me when I ran that race in Anchorage.

My verdict? I don’t think running through the heat especially helped me or hurt me when it came to running the half marathon in Anchorage. For a comparison, at the Famous Potato Half Marathon in Idaho last May (so it was much cooler when I was training for it), I finished just under 2 hours, at 1:59:51. My GPS watch also had me running 13.32 miles. My time was good enough for 7th out of 59 in my age group, overall 253rd out of 897, and 105th female out of 535. At the Skinny Raven Half Marathon in Alaska in August, my GPS said I ran 12.99 miles in 2:01:06, 84th for women and 11/52 for my age group. The biggest difference, though is elevation gain for Alaska was 495 feet but only 89 feet for Idaho.

I suppose if you take elevation into account for the races in Idaho and Alaska, you could say I did “better” at the race in Alaska. Pretty much the other things, like age group ranking and female ranking are similar enough to call them a wash. A finish of just over one minute longer for the hillier Alaska race seems pretty good to me now that I’m looking at it this way.

After all of this, would I do things differently? No, I have to say I would do it all over the same way. In fact, I will be next summer when I’m training for a race in Minnesota in August. I’m sure I’ll be cursing my decision next June and July, but I’ll have to just re-read this post and tell myself that everything will be ok in the end.

Did any of you train for a half marathon or marathon during the heat of the summer? Did you get up early to beat the heat or run later in the day like me? Were you cursing your decision to run a summer long distance race?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

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My Alaskan Adventures Begin in Anchorage

For those of you that don’t already know, I’m on a quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. I chose the Skinny Raven Half Marathon in Anchorage for my half marathon in Alaska. My family and I did not go the popular Alaskan cruise route so we could have more flexibility with our schedule and what cities we went to. That and the fact that my husband and daughter suffer from motion sickness, something that came back to bite them hard later in this vacation.

Our flight from the east coast to Anchorage was a long one, so when we arrived in the evening and it was still daylight despite being 9 pm, we were tired and ready to check in our hotel and call it a night. We stayed at Duke’s 8th Avenue Hotel because of the proximity to the race start and finish. I could literally walk just a few blocks from the hotel the morning of the race, which I always try to do if possible for a race. We also enjoyed having a two bedroom suite and full kitchen at our disposal. If you’d like to read about my race, state number 43, you can find it at Skinny Raven Half Marathon, Anchorage, Alaska-43rd state.

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One of our first hikes near Anchorage

I had planned on doing some hiking on Friday but take it easy on Saturday, the day before the race, and pack up and drive up to Denali National Park right after the race, so honestly, we didn’t do a ton while we were in Anchorage. We went hiking at the absolutely enormous Chugach National Forest, which stretches for 6,908,540 acres in south central Alaska. We were very excited to see our first moose ever on our first full day in Alaska, despite having been to eastern and western parts of Canada, Montana, Colorado, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont and never seeing a moose at any of those places.

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Our first moose spotting!

Other than hiking in Chugach National Forest and seeing the moose, some of our favorite things from Anchorage include walking along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, driving along part of Turnagain Arm just south of Anchorage and stopping at some of the stops along the way such as McHugh Creek Recreation Area and Beluga Point Lookout. Even though the weather was pretty terrible when we were at Turnagain Arm, with strong winds and rain, we made the most of it, knowing our time in Anchorage was limited.

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Part of Tunagain Arm

Some of our favorite restaurants in Anchorage include Snow City Café, South Restaurant and Coffeehouse, and Wild Scoops. We went for breakfast at Snow City Café, and it was definitely worth the wait. I can see why it’s so popular! I had some hand-made pasta at South Restaurant the night before my half marathon and it was just what I was looking for and tasted delicious. Wild Scoops is known for its different flavors of ice cream, like the Sleeping Lady that I had, Earl Grey ice cream with local black currant swirl. It was unlike any other ice cream flavor I had ever had, but more importantly, it was one of the best ice creams I’ve ever had; very creamy and full of flavor.

We enjoyed our time in Anchorage and our first taste of Alaska. The weather seemed quite chilly to us southerners, who had just come from highs about 30 degrees warmer than in Anchorage, but it was a nice break from the heat for us, so we weren’t complaining. We just wore plenty of layers so we could be comfortable. As we left Anchorage, we were very much looking forward to heading north to check out Denali National Park for the second part of our vacation.

Have any of you been to Alaska or would like to go? Do you think you would take a cruise or just pick a few spots and either drive or fly between them if you haven’t been yet or did you do this if you have been?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Skinny Raven Half Marathon, Anchorage, Alaska-43rd state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Alaska was my 43rd state.

For years when I would tell someone about my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, often their response would be, “Have you run a race in Hawaii yet?” to which I would reply, “Yes, Hawaii was one of the first half marathons I ever ran, before I had the goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states.” Now that I’ve been to Alaska, I have to wonder why no one ever asked if I had ever run a race in Alaska. The natural ruggedness of the state makes it one of the most beautiful and unique places in the United States.

I certainly wasn’t surprised at how beautiful Alaska was when I got there. Honestly, I had high expectations for Alaska, and it didn’t disappoint. So why did it take me so long to run a race in Alaska then? My daughter. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t want her to get eaten by a bear, and I thought when she was younger and smaller, she would be bear bait. It may sound crazy, but that’s where my mind went as a parent. Now that she’s almost 13, I thought she would be big enough to not be an easy target for a bear.

But enough about bears and back to the race. The Racefest in Anchorage consisted of a kid’s race, one mile, 5k, half marathon, marathon, and 49k. The kid’s race and mile were on August 18 and the other races were on August 19. Packet pickup was August 17 and 18 and was well-organized and easy to get to at the convention center in downtown Anchorage. There were the usual vendors there, some selling things, some giving out information for local running events and other Anchorage-area information. I picked up my bib then got what has to be the coolest race shirt ever.

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The coolest race shirt ever!

There was a movie showing of running-related movies on Thursday before the race but I arrived late Thursday night so I wasn’t able to go to it. Although I usually skip the pre-race pasta meals before races, I decided to go to this one, which was on Saturday at lunch. Bart Yasso and Jeff Galloway were speakers at the lunch and I thought it would be worth going to just to hear them speak. I’m big fans of both men and wasn’t disappointed by their talks. The food was good too and not too badly priced at $12 per person. After the lunch Jeff Galloway was holding a running clinic from 2:00 to 5:00 but I didn’t go to that because I wanted to do a little sightseeing in Anchorage that afternoon. After a delicious dinner at the restaurant South, I relaxed in a hot bath with Epsom salts and called it a night.

It was 54 degrees and overcast at 9:30 when the half marathon started. The course very quickly went to running trails and within less than a mile was off public roads. The beginning of the race went downhill, and since it was an out-and-back course, that meant the finish went uphill, but I’ll get to that later. I was hoping for some nice water views near the beginning of the trail, but that was short-lived, as we only got a few glimpses of the water.

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Bart Yasso announced all of the races

The majority of the course went through wooded areas and was relatively flat with the exception of the beginning, end, and a couple of other shorter hills in the middle. Overall I would say the course was average as far as how scenic it was, but the hill at the finish was pretty demoralizing. There were several places along the course where there were entertainers like drum players and other people playing various kinds of music. There were also plenty of aid stations with water and Gatorade. The course was plainly and obviously marked and easy to follow. About an hour after the start it began to drizzle but luckily it wasn’t a downpour. I’ve been told rain in Anchorage is very common in August.

My split times started off really good but my last mile was my slowest by far and even though I didn’t walk, that blasted hill really slowed me down. I sprinted towards the finish line and finished in 2:01:06, 84th for women and 11/52 for my age group.

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On par with the coolest race shirts ever, the medals were also super cool. At the finish was water, coffee, hot chocolate, bread from Great Harvest Bakery, oranges from Orange Theory Fitness, and beer at a beer garden. There were also post-race massages but the best post-race perk had to be the free showers at Captain Cook Hotel, a very nice hotel downtown with an athletic club. Since my family and I had to check out of our hotel by 11:00, I couldn’t just shower at my hotel room, and I didn’t want to sit in my sweaty running clothes for the 5 hour drive to Denali National Park. The people at the hotel and athletic club couldn’t have been more accommodating to us runners and I very much appreciated this hot shower in a nice place (as opposed to the local YMCA as I’ve showered at previously after races that offered that to runners).

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My husband thought I was crazy to take this photo of my medal at Denali National Park, but I think it turned out pretty cool!

Overall, I have to say I was a bit disappointed in this race. I wish it would have been more scenic rather than along greenways that could have been just about anywhere in the world if you didn’t know any better, and I was cursing the hill at the end as well. Maybe I’m spoiled by all of the greenways and running trails where I live, and someone else would have found the course incredibly scenic. The shirts and medals were awesome, which is kind of sad that they were the best things about a race in a place as incredible as Alaska. Maybe I had too high of expectations just because it was in Alaska. It wasn’t really a bad race, just not one that impressed me that much.

http://www.anchoragerunfest.org/index.html

Have any of you been to Alaska or raced in Alaska? If so, what was your experience?

Happy running!

Donna

My Pre- and Post-Long Run Routines- Just Call Me Crazy

I noticed a few weeks ago that I seem to have fallen into a routine when it comes to my long runs, by which I mean my longest run of the week for my training plan. For my current half marathon training plan, I run my longest run on Saturday morning, not crack of dawn morning but not afternoon either.

This summer I’ve had the plan to just wake up whenever that happens to be and get ready to run. That being said, I typically wake up fairly early on my own, usually around 6:30 or 7, especially when my body knows I have a long run that day. Where I live in North Carolina, it’s extremely humid early in the morning until the sun basically burns down the humidity after a few hours. Surely there’s a more technical way of putting it, but that’s how it seems to me. Anyway, you have the choice of either running through air so humid you can feel the moisture in the air or waiting until the humidity drops a little and the sun is beating down on you. I usually try to aim for the time where the humidity is dropping a bit but the sun isn’t quite blazing hot yet. It’s not exactly ideal, but it’s the best I’ve got for the summer. Why I chose to run a half marathon in August is another story.

So back to my routine. On Friday evening, I’ll lay out my clothes for the next morning:  my Zensah sports bra, my Arctic Cool shirt, my Under Armour shorts, my Zensah True Grit socks, my Garmin watch, either my nuun or Honey Stinger visor, and my Asics shoes. With the exception of my current Asics shoes, every single item of clothing is my current absolute favorites and I love, love, love them all. Why not my Asics shoes? They’re fine and all but I just don’t love them. I’m currently trying out a pair of Adidas Boost shoes but they haven’t made it up to the status of my long run shoes yet.

The importance of all of these items is they’re what I’ll wear for my upcoming half marathon. I feel like wearing all of these clothes for many long runs should help me be fully ready before my race. There will be no surprises from my sports bra, for instance, since I know exactly how it performs on runs of 12 to 14 miles. I don’t think this is the main reason I’ve fallen into this routine, though. I think it’s more for the mental preparedness before a race. By knowing exactly what I’ll wear, I won’t even have to think about it when I pack and the night before the race, I’ll lay out my clothes just like I did before my other long runs.

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Sorry for the poor bathroom lighting!

When I wake up, I eat a Honey Stinger Cracker N’ Nut Butter Snack bar and drink some water. I love the Almond butter and dark chocolate bars. If you haven’t tried them, you can buy them directly from Honey Stinger here. I’ve found they’re not commonly found at sporting goods stores and local running stores (I’ve told one running store near me they really should get some in stock), so unfortunately you couldn’t try just one bar but would have to buy a whole box from Honey Stinger. Trust me on this, though, if you like chocolate and peanut butter you’ll love these. I don’t have a discount code I can share at this time, unfortunately.

I make up my nuun performance and put it in my Nathan water bottles, put my phone in my arm band, pop in my earbuds, tie my shoes, and am out the door! I do a few simple dynamic stretches, walk for a minute or so before I begin a light jog, then work up to a run. For this half marathon training plan, my long runs begin at 6 miles and go up to 13-14 miles at the peak. Often, the long runs will state a range, like 8-9 or 9-10 miles. I always go by how I’m feeling and if I’m up for the extra mile, I’ll run it, otherwise I’ll keep it at the lower end.

I’ve also noticed that I’ve fallen into a post-run routine this past month or so. As soon as I get home from my long run, I take off my arm band with my phone, put away my ear buds (love my Soundcore Spirit X Sports Earphones by Anker), get some ice-cold water, and get something to eat with protein and carbs. I sit on the rug in the family room while I eat and drink. By this point I’ve probably already changed out of my sweaty clothes and into a tank top and shorts (yep, no shower yet). After I eat, I’ll stretch and foam roll, then shower and get on with my day. If I’m staying home for the next several hours I’ll put on my Zensah recovery tights, or if I’m going out during the day but will be home that evening, I’ll put on the tights once I know I’ll be home for the rest of the day.

I feel like this routine has worked well for me. I’m sure I won’t always have this routine, though. It’s not like I’ve been doing this routine for years and I’m sure things will change a bit once the temperature drops outside (finally) and I’m doing my long runs this fall. For now, though, I like it and I’m sticking to it!

Do you all have long run routines? Anything you insist on wearing for every one of your longest runs for the week? Anything you do every time before or after you run? Anyone think I’m completely crazy for my routines?

Crazy Train on YouTube

Now through August 13, get free shipping on all orders through nuunlife.com.

Happy running!

Donna

 

Street Art Around the World

I was inspired by a similar post by Peter and Dona on the blog, “Living the Q Life,” which you can see here. I think there’s a difference between graffiti and street art, but I’m not exactly sure what defines art and graffiti, other than some obvious differences. If someone just paints their name or someone else’s name on a bridge, that’s definitely graffiti. On the other hand, if the painting is clearly meant to be something more than just a scribbling I think it falls more into the street art category. Of course art is one of the most subjective forms of expression there is. One person may love a drawing while another person thinks it looks atrocious and if it’s on a public building, some may find that inappropriate.

I’ll leave you with some of the best photos of street art I’ve taken around the world.

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Freak Alley in Boise, Idaho
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Freak Alley in Boise, Idaho
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Tenerife, Spain
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Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Spain
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Pichilemu, Chile
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Knoxville, Tennessee
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Valparaíso, Chile
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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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North Island, New Zealand

Even though I looked through every photo I have ever downloaded to Google photos, I couldn’t find a single one of what I would call graffiti. I guess that should tell you what I think of graffiti versus street art!

What about you guys? Do you like graffiti? Do you like street art?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

How to Choose Your First Half Marathon That’s Right for You

As an adult, over the years I’ve run everything from a 5k to a marathon and everything in between. Mostly I’ve stuck with half marathons because of my goal to run a half marathon in all 50 states and so far I’m up to 42 states. When I first started running races I just signed up for a local 5k, not really taking anything into account like weather, elevation or anything else course-related. It was hot since it was July 4th but the race wasn’t anything very memorable other than that.

Most people do like I do and just run a local 5k, sometimes coerced by friends so they may not put any thought into choosing the race. For a 5k, that’s probably fine unless it turns out the race is insanely hilly or has such difficult conditions that it turns you against running and/or racing. If you’ve run several 5k races and perhaps a 10k or two and would like to run your first half marathon, where do you start? I’ll go through the steps I go through as a kind of guideline.

There are several considerations for me when I’m choosing a half marathon to run. At this point since I don’t have many states left until I reach my goal of a half marathon in all 50 states so I have to be more thoughtful than I was early on in this journey. The most obvious thing I have to consider is where the half marathon is being held. If it’s in a state that I’ve already run a half marathon, I won’t run it. My wallet, legs, and time off from work are limited so I can’t afford to go twice. This might be different if I didn’t make every race a racecation, but I just don’t see the point in flying into a city the day before a race and flying out the evening of or day after a race. Obviously this doesn’t apply to most people, but I did want to throw that out there because everyone still has to decide if the location of the race would work for them.

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You’ll want to decide if you want to run in a more natural setting like Spearfish Canyon in South Dakota…

Once I find a half marathon in a state, I’ll look at what part of the state the race is being held. If it looks like an interesting city or is within a reasonable drive to a city I’m interested in going to, I’ll consider it. There have been exceptions to this, however, like when I ran in the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire, Dixville Half Marathon, New Hampshire- 35th state. My daughter, who always goes to every race with me, has a friend who lives about 20 minutes from this race, and she had asked me a couple of years before I ran this race when her friend moved away from where we live if we could visit her sometime. I thought given the circumstances, it was meant to be for sure, so how could I turn down that one. Fortunately Dixville, New Hampshire is about a 3 hour drive to Montreal, so that’s where we spent the vacation part of our racecation.

Once I figure out if the location appeals to me, I’ll look at the time of year when the race is being held. As I said, my daughter always goes to races with me, and I don’t typically pull her out of school since we do spend more than a couple of days at these places. Fortunately, her school schedule has been flexible enough that I’ve been able to find races around the country on dates when she’s been on a school break. Some parents may think the only time to travel with school kids is during the summer, but there are many breaks throughout the year like spring break and Thanksgiving break for example. Some schools also have a fall break and other week-long breaks throughout the year, and others that are “year-round” have three-week-long breaks every 3 months spread over 12 months. If you’ll be going by yourself to the race or don’t have kids (or your kids won’t be going with you), it makes planning easier but I want to make sure I include that information for people who might want to bring family members along.

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Or would you rather run in a more urban setting like this race in New York City?

Another thing to consider when choosing a race and factoring in the time of year the race is held is your training schedule. If the race is in March, that means you’ll be running the bulk of your longest long runs in February. If you live in the deep south, that might be fine, but pretty much anywhere else and you’re likely to have some nasty weather to contend with in February. Likewise, if the race is in mid-to-late November, you’ll have some pretty nice running weather during your training schedule although the race itself could be pretty cold especially if it’s in a far northern state.

After the where and when are figured out, then comes the analysis of the race course. If a race advertises on its web page that it’s “the toughest half marathon” in the state, I’ll pass and you probably should too if it’s your first half marathon. Or if the race goes straight up a mountain, I’ll pass. I’ll check out the elevation and course on the race website then I’ll go to other places to get reviews from runners like Bib Rave and Race Raves. This isn’t to say I’ve never run a hilly race because I have many times over but when I have, at least I’ve known what I was getting myself into ahead of time.

Finally, I check logistics of flying or driving to the area. If I have two or more races for the same state that I’m comparing and one is significantly easier or cheaper to get to, and all other factors are similar, I’ll go with the one that’s easier or cheaper. Again, though, there have been exceptions to this, like when I ran the San Juan Island Half Marathon, Washington- 28th state. I had to fly into Seattle then take a ferry to San Juan Island from Seattle, but the ferry was one of the most scenic ferries I’ve ever been on so it was totally worth the extra hassle of getting there, plus the San Juan Islands are absolutely gorgeous. I just allowed extra time to get to the island before the race in my planning.

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View from the ferry to San Juan Islands

I know a lot of runners like running big races like the ones at Disney World and Disneyland and the Rock ‘N’ Roll series races, but I’ve personally never had any interest in any of them. The Disney races despite being hugely popular have some serious drawbacks in my opinion such as 1) the inflated cost, 2) the ungodly hour the races begin, and 3) the crowds. Start time and cost of race registration are two other things to consider when figuring out what race you want to run. If a race states you will be bussed to the start at 4:30 a.m. but you simply don’t function let alone be in a pre-race state at that time, it may not be a good choice for you for your first half marathon.

The flip side of big races are smaller races. I personally prefer medium to small races for several reasons. Not only are there less people running the races so you don’t have to worry about being slowed down at the beginning, parking usually isn’t an issue so you may not have to be bussed to the start. If you’re the type of person who feeds off the energy of spectators, you likely won’t get that at small races, however. Sometimes you’ll often just get a shirt and medal at small races, too, so if you like getting lots of things at packet pickup, you’ll have to take this into consideration.

Finally, the biggest factor in choosing a race is why. Why do you want to run a half marathon in the first place? Many people could avoid disappointment after a race if they figure out why they want to run a race in the first place. Do you just want to have fun with your running friends? Do you want to run with a particular goal finish in mind? Do you want to see a specific part of the country and would love to experience a racecation? Do you feel pressure from other runners to run a half marathon? Obviously if you have some goal finish time in mind, you should be more picky in what race you choose than if you just want to hang out with your running friends and have fun at a race together.

In summary, major points to consider when choosing your first half marathon:

  1. Where is the race? You need to factor in transportation and lodging costs.
  2. When is the race? To factor in weather and family or work obligations.
  3. What is the race course like?
  4. Is this a big race with lots of runners or a smaller race with fewer runners?
  5. What do you want to get out of running this race? If you don’t find a race that will address this, you might not have a good first race experience.

I have a similar post to this, Planning a Racecation that gets more into the specifics of packing, accommodations, and flying to a race. I also have a post Five of my Favorite Places for Racecations and I would be tempted to add my most recent race The Famous Potato Half Marathon in Beautiful Boise to that list of racecations.

Does anyone else go through a checklist like this when choosing a half marathon or marathon? What are the most important factors when choosing a race to you?

Happy running!

Donna