Tuesday, February 10, 2009

No, It's Not Too Early!

Thinking of running a fall marathon? Start planning! Especially if it's your first. Fall seems far away, but it's only 8 months until October. You'll need to dedicate at least 3-4 months to training, so that leaves only 4-5 months to figure out all the other details—picking the marathon, registering, making travel plans, coaxing someone into running it with you.

Running is popular now more than ever. Used to be that only die-hard runners would even consider running a marathon. But now many thousands of runners and even non-runners are contemplating running their first marathon. In 1976, only about 25,000 runners had completed a distance of 26.2 miles. In 1980, that number jumped to 125,000. 2007 graduated more than 380,000 runners from the 26.2 club.

Because the numbers have increased so dramatically—it's not uncommon to have over 30,000 runners in a race hosted by a large city—many races have put a cap on the number of runners. Don't worry, there are lots of local marathons in smaller venues that don't have these restrictions. But if your goal is to run one of the big boys, you need to be hitting their websites and checking out their registration guidelines and deadlines. Two of my running buddies and myself, missed out on The Marine Corps Marathon last year, because we waited too late to register (a week after it opened). Many fall marathons will open their registration in late winter/early spring. Check out the links at the bottom of this post for registration dates of some popular fall marathons.

Other Things to Consider:

Some other things to keep in mind when selecting a marathon include the course elevation, crowd support, transportation, other travel expenses, and a race's reputation for putting on a well organized event.

The Course:
Some races have beautiful routes, but they may be too hilly for first-timers. Or, if you're an old pro and looking to set a PR and qualify for Boston, you probably want a course that's flat and fast. Elevation information can usually be found on the marathon's website. This usually includes an elevation map showing exactly where the uphills and downhills are located. This can be very helpful in your preparation—mentally and physically.

Crowd Support:
You may not have considered this, but crowd support can be very valuable to a runner, especially for first-timers who may need that support to get through the wall. I've run the NYC Marathon three times and I have to say, from my experience, it is one of the best marathons for crowd support. The streets are lined with supporters and well-wishers through all five boroughs of the city. Chicago is another one with awesome crowd support. But, I've heard tale of other marathons where the support mainly clusters around the beginning and ending of the race with not much in between. This coupled with a flat, non-scenic route could be a deadly combination. Needing lots of crowd support or just a little really depends on the runner. I have a running buddy who wore a T-shirt with his name on it when he ran Boston, and by the time he got to the end of the race, he was ready to change his name. So, evaluate your needs as a runner and pick a race that's best fitted to you.

Travel Planning:
Pick a race that's within your budget. This doesn't always mean you have to stick close to home, just depends on your situation and resources. The first time I ran NYC, I spent about $700 on a hotel and I was only there 3 nights and that was 11 years ago. The third time I ran it, I stayed in a hostel (single room/shared bathroom on hall) on the upper West Side for only $65 a night. It was in a great part of the city right by the park and not far from the finish line.

The Forgotten Travel Expenses:
I've discovered that sometimes, it's not getting to the host city that's the problem; it's paying for transportation once you're in the city. The first time I ran Chicago, I used taxis and spent a fortune. The second time, I used the trains and spent hardly anything getting around. San Diego has a great trolley system that I used to get around while there for the Rock-n-Roll Marathon. In San Francisco, I took BART (their subway system) from the airport and it dropped me off about a block from my hotel. I also got a great deal on Priceline.com for my hotel room. If you book a room with a kitchenette, then you can save a ton of money by fixing your own meals or at least some of them. Or, stop by a book store and buy a travel guide that lists the restaurants by price. These guides also have helpful maps and information about local entertainment. Bargains may be harder to come by with the economy the way it is, but do some digging and you might be surprised. Also, keep in mind that many races have special early-bird registration fees, so apply early!

Marathon Calendar Sites:
There are several Websites that list the various marathons across the country as well as the world. One such site is MarathonGuide.com. CoolRunning.com is another good site to check for marathon dates. Listed below are just a few of the upcoming 2009 fall marathons.

A Few 2009 Fall Marathons:
The Portland Marathon—Race Day is 10/4 (Registration is open.)
Twin Cities Marathon—Race Day is 10/4 (Registration begins 4/17)
Under Armour Baltimore Marathon—Race Day is 10/10 (Registration is open.)
Hartford Marathon—Race Day is 10/10 (Registration is open.)
Chicago Marathon—Race Day is 11/11 (Registration is open.)
Columbus Marathon—Race Day is 10/18 (Registration is open.)
Marine Corps Marathon—Race Day is 10/25 (Registration begins 4/1)
NYC Marathon—Race Day is 11/1 (Application & registration info available on Website in mid Feb)
OBX Marathon—Race Day is 11/8 (Registration is open.)
Indianapolis Marathon—Race Day is 11/7 (Registration is open.)
Richmond Marathon—Race Day is 11/14 (Registration is open.)
Philadelphis Marathon—Race Day is 11/22 (Registration begins 4/1)

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