I tend to have a pretty low bar when signing up for road races. Sure, I’ll consider the crucial things, like whether I can actually run that distance or if I’m physically out of town. But mostly I’ll register for anything that crosses my path, especially if 1. The swag is good (see this weekend’s upcoming 5K) or 2. My running coach demands it.
So when I first learned about the Fall Foliage Half Marathon in Rhinebeck that took place this past Sunday, the only race research I did was checking my calendar. Even though I wasn’t in half marathon shape when I signed up in May, I figured I could get there by October, so I filled in my info, forked over $75 and started the slow but rewarding process of remembering how to run. I trained all summer, then made my way upstate this weekend for what I assumed would be a walk in the park, considering I’d successfully run 12 half marathons before.
Turns out, I should have done a little more research.
Although this race was ultimately a success for me — I didn’t turn back at mile 3 in tears like I was very, very tempted to do — Sunday’s event was really tough, and it’s mostly my own fault: I didn’t pick the right half marathon for me. Choosing a race simply based on whether it’s close by and the calendar’s free neglects all the other important factors that can help you decide if a specific event is right — or wrong — for your individual needs.
Here are some race factors I wish I’d considered before picking the Fall Foliage Half as my flagship fall race:
- Start Time. Nearly every race I’ve ever done (save for some NYC marathon waves because 50,000 is a lot of people) starts at the normal hour of 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. or mayyybe 9 a.m. That timing works for me because it’s the same time I do my own training runs, meaning I’ve already figured out what to eat, what to drink and how many port-a-pot trips I need to start the race feeling my very best. I hadn’t realized it when I signed up, but Sunday’s race began at 10 a.m. to allow time for NYC or Albany runners to get into town. While some runners might have appreciated sleeping in, the late start time threw me way off. I didn’t know whether to drink coffee or eat a full meal, or whether my Saturday carbs were still enough to power me through. Even worse: finishing a half marathon under the powerful noon sun is not fun.
- Course elevation. A race along the Hudson River certainly sounds flat, but my god, this half was anything but. The rolling hills of the first few miles I could manage, but the mountainous out-and-back into a ravine was positively soul crushing, and had I known it would be so hilly, I might have passed on this particular event. I spend a decent amount of time running the Queensboro Bridge, so I thought I was hill-primed, but I was wrong and Sunday’s road did NOT rise up to meet me like all those Irish blessings promised.
- Spectator Density. I pretend I run races for the BLTs I get to eat afterwards, but it’s really waving at strangers and high-fiving little kids that powers me through. The 2015 NYC marathon left me clutching my side in tears on the race course, but believe you me I’ll never forget the roar of the crowd. I know this about myself — I like races where people come out to watch — so signing up for a small race in a small town probably wasn’t the right move for me. Fortunately, my family knows me well and they were camped out at mile 2.5 with blasting music and a “You Run Better Than the Government” billboard. Flying past then was rejuvenating, but it made for a very lonely rest of the course.
All in all, it wasn’t a bad race — the foliage was lovely, the fellow runners were nice, the course wasn’t packed and the BLT was delicious at the end — and I managed to eke out another sub-two hour time despite some tough middle miles there. But I still struggled Sunday, and let that be a reminder to all of us: when it comes to choosing races, you do you.