Silent Sports Column: Choosing the Best Race

Last weekend I spent 12 hours back in my home city of Chicago to watch my sister run the Chicago Marathon. The course is one of several ultra-urban races that begins and ends downtown. More than 40,000 people run every year, making it one of the largest athletic events in the world.

Standing at mile 25 and watching a dense and steady stream of people heading north to the finish, I found myself thinking, “I will never do this race.”

Just as everyone likes different kinds of music, each individual is also suited for a different kind of race. In the broad scheme of things, there are 5ks, marathons, triathlons, etc. But breaking down a single type of event, in this case a marathon, also provides unlimited variability. The race you choose to participate in can greatly affect your performance and experience during the event.

In a personal example, when I started doing triathlon, I was a very poor swimmer and a very strong cyclist. The Door County Sprint Triathlon suited this imbalance in ability because the swim course was short and the bike course was longer than a traditional sprint distance triathlon. I matched my abilities to the course and it suited me well.

At the core, it is most important to understand what kind of athlete you are. If you prefer to run with a group, love reading the creative signs of spectators and get all tingly in the midst of thousands of people about to embark on a life-changing run with you, then the high-volume urban event is the best bet.

For others, myself included, perhaps it is the grassroots events with only a few hundred people lining up next to you – when you start the race and don’t see another spectator until the finish. It gives you time to find a rhythm without being inundated with cowbells and external stimuli commanding your attention at every mile. Events like this might include the Door County Half Marathon or, for the more extreme of us, the Antarctic Ice Marathon, where 50 people compete in the only footrace in the Antarctic.

No event or type of person is better than the other. Each serves their purpose in the world of running and endurance sports. One creates an energy and excitement around the sport that promotes a healthy lifestyle. The latter is for those who want to challenge themselves with nothing to focus on except for the sound of their own heavy breathing.

The growth of the sport has given race directors the ability to hold events in places all over the world, from rural to urban and in every kind of extreme environment. Each race offers something different, whether it is elevation, type of terrain, climate or number of participants.

In choosing the best race for you, first think about a place that you would love to go running. Perhaps it is the Great Wall of China, down Broadway in New York City or with gazelle in the South African savannah. At least in the case of these three spots, there is already a race for you.

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