I ran my very first 5K in 2006. Since then, I have run a total of 80 (!) races, from the 1 mile “fun run” distance to the marathon. I’ve participated in some really great races that have been amazing experiences, and some that had… quite a bit of room for improvement, to put it nicely 🙂 Some of these races have been small, local races and some have been huge, big-name events – but regardless of size, in my opinion, a quality race experience comes down to good planning and organization as well as a feeling of community and support. When I think about my best and most memorable race experiences, many come to mind, but I wanted to focus on two for this post.
I ran the Purple Stride 5K in May 2014. It is difficult for me to write or talk about this race without getting emotional because it was extremely special to me. My friends and family participated in this race in memory of my mom, on the 10 year anniversary of her death. The entire event in Wilmington, Delaware including our team, Strides for Staci, raised over $100,000 for pancreatic cancer research. It was an amazing day and a perfect way to celebrate my mom’s life.
This race wasn’t about finishing times (although my sister did get a new PR!). It was about community, support, remembrance, and hope for the future. Highlights included running the entire race with my sister, getting to see people I didn’t get to see very often since moving away to Virginia, laughing and sharing stories with the friends and family I grew up with, seeing purple everywhere (my mom’s favorite color), a beautiful course that was mostly by the water, and a fun celebration/after party. Looking back at the photos of this race and seeing everyone’s big smiles makes me feel so happy. This was an event that I will never forget.
My other most memorable race was the Myrtle Beach Marathon this past March. I have participated in both the half marathon (in 2013 and 2015) and full marathon (1 DNF in 2014 and one completed full in 2016- linked above), and I really appreciated the race organizer’s attention to details when it comes to this race. The course is well-planned and the amount of runners is perfect, not too many that it is overcrowded but not too little so you don’t feel alone. There are spectators and entertainment throughout. It starts right on time. It offers pace groups to keep you on track. It has an awesome after-party and great swag (shirts, blankets, medals, and more!). It’s just an overall awesome race that I have loved being a part of over the years.
This past year’s race was extra special to me for many reasons. Every single detail came together and I ran the strongest race of my life, both physically and mentally. Even at only 9 months postpartum after baby #2, I beat all of my goals by a landslide and scored myself a 13 MINUTE PR! But beyond my finish time, this was more than “just” a race to me. I didn’t say it outright at the time, but I ran this marathon a little over a week after I found out some extremely shocking news that tore my family and marriage apart. I almost didn’t run the race at all, but decided to go for it at the last minute. I was angry, heartbroken, overwhelmed and confused, and this race reminded me that I am strong and can do hard things. I needed that in order to move forward into my new life as a single mom of two young boys. I think about this race all the time when I need a boost of confidence in myself. All of these things made it one of my most memorable races by far.
Other memorable race experiences: The New York City Marathon (2010) – I ran with the charity Team for Kids, which was amazing!, The Air Force Marathon (2011), Hartwood 10 Miler (2013-2016), Lower Potomac River Marathon (2014)
I try to find the good in things most of the time, but with that being said, there is one race experience that still stands out in my mind as the “worst,” even 5 years later! I ran the Hot Chocolate 15K in National Harbor, Maryland back in December 2011. My full recap is linked above, but thinking back to that race still gives me anxiety and makes me feel cold! LOL. Aspects of this race that I didn’t enjoy were that it was way too crowded for the roads the race took place on, it was not well organized and logistics were poor (it started an hour and twenty minutes late in freezing temperatures because of this), and more that you can read about in my full recap. However, I have heard from others that over the years this race series has worked to improve some of these things, so that’s always a positive thing!
I’ve been an RRCA certified running coach since 2014, and one of the additional certifications the RRCA offers is a race director certification program. One of my long-term goals is to obtain this certification and put on a local race of my own! How awesome would that be? I’ve used Eventbrite to register for many races, including January’s Charleston Half Marathon which benefitted the Youth Endowment for the Arts. Their service to promote and sell tickets helps support local event creation and would be an awesome tool to use if I ever wanted to create my own running event.
Here is what would be important to me in my planning in order to provide people with a great race experience and have it stand out!
- Easy logistics (parking, packet pick-up, registration, etc.).
- Starts on time.
- More than enough bathrooms!!! <- important!
- Well planned course manned with enough volunteers, water, fuel if necessary, etc.
- An appropriate amount of participants, not too little and not too many.
- Entertainment, including good spectator support and music along the course and before and after the race as well.
- Fun and family friendly post-race experience.
- Stroller-friendly if possible. As a mom who runs with a double stroller regularly it’s hard to find stroller-friendly races these days. I think it’s due to liability issues and the types of courses the races take place on, but I know this would be a HUGE plus for many people!
- A pacing/running buddy option, where people can connect with others who may want to run the same pace or have similar goals. I’d also like for people to be able to register as a team to show support for each other or for a specific group/cause.
- Tied to a good cause. I like to know I’m running for something bigger than myself to support something in my local community that is important to me. It feels good to know that your registration fee is going towards something good.
What factors make or break a race experience for you? What is your best/most memorable race? How about the worst? What would you make sure to prioritize if you were putting on your own race?