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Pick your marathon race carefully…..

So you have decided to take the step of entering a marathon the next question is which one to enter?

It may seem like a simple choice but I believe it is a very important one. When I was considering a marathon I thought this is a one time thing for me so I want to do one that’s ‘special’ and I trawled the internet for various events around the world, the obvious choices where London or New York City but I also considered a couple of ‘wacky’ options such as the Negril Marathon in Jamaica and the Icebug up in Norway. While these all seemed great I opted to do my home town marathon the Belfast City River Rock and boy was this the right choice for me! It’s a relatively small marathon with only around 5,000 people doing the full race and then roughly the same again doing a relay version.

There are a number of reasons why I liked this marathon, firstly I was over the start line less than a minute after the hooter went off and I was able to be at the start line just 20 minutes before the race started. Secondly after about 1 mile into the race the crowds thinned out and you were able to run at your pace not having the constantly jostle with fellow runners. Lastly it was my home crowd and they were fantastic, it brought out the best in Northern Ireland people with complete randoms passing you drinks and sweets and encouraging you on. The added benefit of the home territory was that you knew what the temperature was going to be like as you where used to running in it and you knew much of the route.

Having watched a number of marathons such as London and also speaking with people who have done some of the really big ones I would have no desire in doing these. One guy told me he had to huddle around for 2 hours in -2 degrees for the NYC one and there where long stretches where there were no crowds. In watching this year’s London marathon many competitors did not cross the start line for 40 minutes, participants where corralled in pens like sheep and due to the massive entry it seemed that you where constantly jostling with other runners especially if you were in that key 3.30-4.30 pace. There is no question that it is much more ‘impressive’ saying that the marathon you did was the NYC, Boston or London one however my opinion is that there are enough difficult factors to cope with during the day never mind having to deal with a two hour wait or having to keep your eyes firmly on the runner on front of you.

Thus my advice is forget about the prestige of the event and focus on conditions that give you the best chance of reaching your goal whether that is simply completing the race or a new PB. Of course great to say you have done the NYC one but if you end up have to have a mid-race bathroom break caused by hanging around for two hours at the start line or if the temperature conditions are such that you overheat and hit the wall which will be more disappointing? Just on the point of Belfast while the race entry was relatively small the crowds where huge – the whole city came out and with the change in route there were very few stretches where the pavements where not lined with support. I found this extremely important when you questioned your ability to get around at a number of occasions during the race. Horses for courses but if you can find a more ‘local’ marathon that is well supported I believe you will enjoy it more and like me decide you actually want to do it again!