What Makes a Race Great?

I’ve run a lot of races.

By "good results", I mean finishing. Well, that's what it means for me, anyway.

My recent collection of medals. Some are JB’s. I need some more…

Certainly not as many as some. I have friends who have run A LOT more races than me who are much more qualified to answer this question.

Like Laura who is actually in the world record holder for being the youngest female to run a marathon in all 50 states. Actually, she’s done almost 100 marathons by now. And several ultras. She’s a badass.

And Brian who seems to be running a race every other weekend.

But I’ve run a few and here’s what I learned makes a race great:

1. Organization

It all starts with the expo and bib pick-up. If this aspect is disorganized or poorly staffed, it does not bode well for race day. The last thing you want to do on race day morning is run around because bag drop is a mile away from the corrals. Even worse, when the course isn’t clearly marked or properly marshaled.

I love that there are Marines on the course at the Marine Corps Marathon. No one runs a race like a bunch of Marine Corps officers.

MarineMarathon 021

The OCS Marine Lieutenants man the water stations. They don’t cheer, they shout, “Oorah, ma’am!” as you run by. It’s awesome.

2. Safety

Most race courses are run on closed roads. I mean, duh. Right? When you’re out running a race, you sort of expect that the race organizers have made your safety a top priority. Yeaaaah, not all races directors.

The Hamptons Marathon and Half Marathon are not run on closed roads. And it sucked. I wrote to the race directors to let them know it was a dangerous situation for runners and they basically blew me off. Not running that race again.

Great race day outfit. Lousy course safety. Boo, race directors.

Great race day outfit. Lousy course safety. Boo, race directors.

3. Race-friendly course

It’s not that anyone loves a straight-up out and back. That’s boring. But I think most of us also don’t want a loop-di-loop course. You can’t find a groove when you’re constantly making turns and I’d say the majority of us are out there to run our fastest race possible.

My favorite courses: New Jersey Half Marathon (NOT the full) and Marine Corps Marathon.

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 11.30.18 AM.pngScreen Shot 2014-02-28 at 11.32.53 AM.png

4. Race support

At the Chicago Marathon a few years ago, it was beastly. It was so hot that they cancelled the race. That’s HOT. But they also ran out of cups for water. I mean…WHAT?!?!?! I have also heard about races running out of post-race snacks. I gotta tell ya, after a marathon I. NEED. FOOD. Like now.

I have been known to eat an entire pizza by myself post-long run. It's true.

I have been known to eat an entire pizza by myself post-long run. It’s true.

A race that runs out of promised fuel and fluids along the course is unacceptable. Medical tents and bathrooms need to be exactly where they say they’re supposed to be. And there can never be too many POJs.

5. Reasonable pricing

There are half marathons out there charging $128 for race entry. To put that in perspective my first marathon, the ING NYC Marathon, cost $125 in 2002. Now it’s $228. I gotta tell you, if you’re charging me that much for a race, I expect a hot shower and a massage at the finish line.

I heard they ran out of medals at the Miami Half this year. Bummer.

Don't be fooled, it's all about the money.

Don’t be fooled, it’s all about the money.
(Image courtesy of Esquire.com)

Some races are great and have fantastic expos, course support, swag bags, and fuel before, during and after the race. But if you’re handing me an ugly cotton t-shirt and a cup of water with a bagel after your race, it better not cost me more than $2/mile. Seriously.

Esquire ran a great piece about the money making business of road races.

And that’s what I want. It’s not too much to ask, is it? I don’t need a personal cheerleader who follows me along the race with a boom box or anything (that would be sweeeeet!) but…

I do need to feel safe.

I do need it to be affordable.

I do need the course to be reasonable.

I do need it to be organized.

And I definitely need the promised support on the route.

What do you need? What’s the best race you’ve run? I need to make a list of people’s favorites so I know what to register for next year! Tell me all about it.

Now go out and run

I’m A Cheater

Do you ever have those days, after several consecutive days of hard workouts or long nights or stressful school midterm weeks that make you want to scream, when you just need a rest day? Only it’s not on your schedule and you know you’ll feel better if you run?

Truer than true.

Truer than true.

Ugh. I have.

For me, this especially happens during the Summer months. I don’t know if it’s that Summer in NYC is like living on the surface of the sun or if it’s that most of my Summers are spent training for Fall races. Whatever the case, I need more rest in the Summer.

You know it's hot if I'm down to my sweaty sports bra. These abs don't see the light of day whilst running very often.

You know it’s hot if I’m down to my sweaty sports bra. These abs don’t see the light of day whilst running very often.

But it’s training season! What’s a runner to do?


My absolute favorite way to sneak an extra rest “day” into my schedule is to fudge around my workout times. When I look at my week and see:

Monday: 8mi + Refine, Tuesday: Track workout, Wed: Refine, Thurs: 10mi <w/6mi Tempo>, Fri: OFF, Sat: 16mi, Sun: 5 mi…

I gotta tell ya, I panic just a little. But then I get to work on creating rest days where there are technically none.

For you, Obi-wan.

For you, Obi-wan.

I know Monday and Tuesday are going to be a lot. Track workouts beat the crap out of me (and they should!), so before jumping into Refine again Wednesday morning, I rearrange my workout times to get more rest in between. So my workouts really look like this:

Monday AM: 8mi + Refine, Tuesday AM: Track workout, Wed PM: Refine, Thurs AM: 10mi <w/6mi Tempo>, Fri: OFF, Sat AM: 16mi, Sun AM/PM: 5 mi.

That way, I end up with a full 36 hours of rest after my track workout before I hit up the strength training again on Wednesday and 48 hours before I have to pound the pavement hard in a tempo run on Thursday.

And then I drink.

And then I drink.

See? An extra day and a half of rest. That’s why, when people look at my schedule and see that I only have one “rest” day listed, I tell them I actually have two.

I’m a cheater that way.

Now go out and run!

Tuesday Time Trials

Are you guys all caught up on the USATF scandal from this weekend? If not, here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

During the 3000-meter race, Gabriele Grunewald (sponsored by Brooks Running) clipped the heels of Jordan Hasay (sponsored by NIKE, coached by Alberto Salazar) on the bell lap. Grunewald went on to smoke the other ladies and win, qualifying her to represent Team USA at the World Indoor Championships in Poland. The clipping didn’t go unnoticed by the officials and was reviewed and thrown out, twice. Salazar continued to protest and Grunewald was subsequently disqualified, giving Hasay a spot on the team.

The ladies of Track & Field showing solidarity for Grunewald. (I don't know who to credit for this photo, but if someone knows, please email me.)

The ladies of Track & Field showing solidarity for Grunewald.
(I don’t know who to credit for this photo, but if someone knows, please email me.)

Twitter and the running world exploded, the case was reviewed again, and the DQ was thrown out, reinstating Grunewald as the champ. Grunewald and Hasay both released statements but I hear another controversy is brewing on the men’s side, again involving Salazar.

What’s this got to do with today’s post? Nothing except when I think of time trials, I think of track meets. Also, watching Mary Cain at these races was a delight.

She's also coached by Salazar and sponsored by NIKE. (Image courtesy of USATF.org)

She’s also coached by Salazar and sponsored by NIKE. (Image courtesy of USATF.org)

You know how when you’re in the middle of training season and you’re working hard and getting your runs in but you’re kinda sick of training and just want to go out there and see if all this work is paying off?

Do it.

Do a time trial. Set up a course (preferably flat), warm up like you would for race day, practice with your race day gear, and do it. I generally set the distance to be shorter than race distance by half or a little less.



What exactly does this do for you?

  1. It’s a good way to check in to see if your training is sufficient.
  2. It’s a solid exercise in race day prep and strategy.
  3. It’s a great confidence-boosting workout that lets you see what you can really do.
  4. It breaks up the monotony of doing the same ol’, same ol’ workouts.
  5. It’s a great workout.

If a time trial doesn’t go so well, and external circumstances weren’t the reason, it’s not too late in your training cycle to switch things up and still meet your race day goals.

Don’t be afraid of the speed and don’t be afraid to try a new racing strategy. Better you do it in a time trial workout that on race day morning.

Now go out and run!

Good Enough

Thank you so much to Lacy over at Running Limit-less for the feature today! Click over to read about how I run without limits…and a colon 😉

I consider myself a fairly rational individual. I say “fairly” because I am also crazy, just ask my husband. But by and large, I’m even-keeled and lean toward the middle of the road on most things.

Except pie. I believe in eating all the pie. And cake.

Except pie. I believe in eating all the pie. Apple and cherry pie. And cake. But only vanilla/vanilla cake.

But when it comes to running and training, I am as Type A as they come. Too often I hear from runners who are injured or disappointed in their performance that they “did everything right”, only to find out that they were woefully misinformed by someone and were, in fact, doing most things wrong or merely halfway.

The simple fact of the matter is that our bodies are not symmetrical. And we are not the .0001% of the population with ridiculous athletic genes. And you can’t drink 8-10 glasses of booze and eat a half doze cookies on your “cheat day” and be race ready.

Good enough is not enough.

You gotta dig deeper for those results to shine through.

You gotta dig deeper for those results to shine through.

What do I mean by not good enough? Well, here are a few examples and how to tackle the problem of training better than “good enough”:

  • You’re not seeing improvements in your pace after training for 3 months

Problem: Your training schedule and/or effort are sub-par

Fix: Gut check. Are you really putting the work in during your runs? Are you really hitting that max effort? We are all guilty of dogging it in a track workout every now and then. A great way to ensure you leave it all out there during your workouts is to get with a buddy or a group and do it together. Accountability helps!

My accountability buddy is MUCH faster than me. So happy to have her by my side for many, many vomit-inducing track workouts!

My accountability buddy is MUCH faster than me. So happy to have her by my side for many, many vomit-inducing track workouts!

  • You keep getting overuse injuries

Problem: Your training schedule is too intense, doesn’t include the right (or any at all) strengthening exercises, or you’re not getting enough rest between workouts and/or training cycles.

Fix: The simplest fix for this may just be to take a break, see a Physical Therapist, and start over. Or fire your coach. Or both. Here’s the thing: the body, as a moving entity, is not rocket science. When you get hurt there’s a reason, asymmetry and weakness being two of the biggest culprits.

And if your coach is having you push through or ignore injury instead of addressing it, fire them. Or maybe you’re not listening to your coach…or your body?



  • You keep getting the same injury

Problem: The injury has never really healed from last time or your strength training routine isn’t specific enough

Fix: It’s sooooo easy to ramp things up to 11 once you are pain-free post-injury. The problem is, once you’ve sustained an injury, you will always be more susceptible to re-injury. Doing your home exercises, adhering to your strength training program, and taking adequate rest are life-long steps to avoiding the IR list.

And sometimes it's sitting this race out in favor of coming back stronger for the next one.

And sometimes it’s sitting this race out in favor of coming back stronger for the next one.

  • You work out at 10/10 effort, but just can’t seem to get your times down

Problem: Your workout schedule is too heavy, your rest days are inadequate, and/or your diet stinks

Fix: Rest more. Rest often. Eat real food. Prioritize the really important runs and workouts and take a break from the extraneous ones. Recovery time is just as important as strength and endurance. Without rest, your body will never be able to work at its maximum potential.

All are equally important.

All are equally important.

Start by being honest with yourself. Then enlist the help of experts–actual experts, for training and rehab, if need be. Be patient, work hard, and be honest with yourself and your team about what you are doing and not doing. 

I promise this will make a world of difference.

Now go out and run!