How to Choose a Marathon

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More than 628 marathons took place in the USA last year.

Each race is a little different. How do you know which marathon course is just right for you?

Matching the right marathon to your goals and personality can make for a truly memorable experience.

Here are my seven deciding factors you can use when choosing a marathon.

Before we go any further . . .

Make sure you have a solid running base built up before you jump into a training plan. What does that mean? You need to be able to comfortably run 3-5 miles, 3 times per week and do that for 4-6 months before starting a half/full marathon training plan. The running base is the foundation on which you’ll build your training. If your foundation is weak then the chances that you’ll get injured or have a less than satisfying experience are high.

It’s okay to have a race that you’re aiming for in mind even if you’re still building your running base. In fact, having a goal can help you stay motivated and challenge yourself.

Timing of Life Events: The ideal marathon will come at a time for you when you’ve built up a solid running base and have had time to complete a training plan. For best results make sure that your training comes at a time that you’re not overwhelmed personally or professionally. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to try and change jobs or move during your marathon training.

The Weather: What kind of weather do you want to train in? You’ll want to consider how much time you’ll have to train outside before the race. It’s important to do at least 50% of your training runs outdoors on a surface that mimics your marathon route.

What kind of weather do you want to race in? It’s best to research the type of weather that is typical for the location for that time of year. Most marathon websites have a list of what the temperature was on race day for the previous few years. Knowing what weather to plan for can make your experience that much better.

Size of the Race: Do you want a larger well established race or a smaller more personal marathon? Think about your personality type. Do you thrive on organization, crowd support, and thousands of other runners? I personally like smaller races where fiinding a parking spot is not a huge chore. Trevor, on the other hand loves driving in the big city.

Your Finances: How much money do you want to spend? Your personal finances may dictate which marathon is an option for you. Remember that you’ll have the race registration fee, running gear, travel expenses, hotel, meals, and recreation expenses.

Travel Logistics:
How far away from home can you travel? This will be dictated to some extent by finances, family commitments, and how much time you can get off from work. Try to stay at a hotel close to the starting line. You can find a list of hotels that are catering to race particapants on the official website of your marathon. These hotels will likely provide shuttle services to and from the race.

Moral Support:
Will you be having anyone come to support you on race day? If it’s important to you to have lots of friends and family at the race to watch you run, it might be best to choose a location closer to home. However, if you’d rather blend in to the pack and not have people making a big deal over you, a race far away from home might be ideal.

Your Race Goals
Are you trying to achieve a specific time goal and want a flat, fast course? Do you want to see some beautiful scenery and don’t mind some challenging hills? How about a trail marathon?

If this is your first marathon and you want to bathe yourself in fun and excitement then pick a festive race like Walt Disney World Marathon, any of the Rock N Roll Series Marathons, Napa Valley Marathon (wine along the course), Cincinnati Marathon (also called the Flying Pig), and the massive New York City Marathon.

If your sole focus is on setting a PR or qualifying for Boston then these are some of the fastest courses (Sacramento, Corning, Austin, Steamtown, Chicago, Berlin, Seoul, Paris, Milan, or Hamburg).

Also Mentioned in this Episode

Quick Tip: How to recycle or donate your used running shoes.

Shoe companies, retailers, and individuals can donate footwear both new and used to those in need around the world. Soles4Souls has coordinated relief efforts for the Asian Tsunami and Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike, netting over 1 Million pairs donated for these disasters.

Hope Runs
Hope Runs is a non-profit group working in Kenya and Tanzania, using athletics, education, and social entrepreneurship to empower AIDS orphans. They accept donations, including running shoes.

Shoe4Africa is a charitable organization whose mission is “empowerment through sports and education, creating unique health initiatives, and promoting Aids awareness.”

Nike Reuse-A-Shoe
Grinds your old running shoes into material that makes athletics and playground surfaces.

One World Running
Since 1986, a group of runners in Boulder, Colorado, has collected, washed and sent to Third World countries new and “near-new” athletic shoes along with other athletic equipment.

18 Responses to How to Choose a Marathon

  1. Trevor March 26, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

    I ran the Little Rock Half because of all the above factors (especially ease of travel)

    Angie just wanted the big medal . . . I don’t see that as a factor above 🙂

    Somebody reply and tell me what marathon you are running this year.

    • Jimmy Jean H March 26, 2011 at 11:25 pm #


      I plan on running the Marine Corps Marathon this October. Im new to running and have only been running for about three months so I only have three more months to build up my base before training begins. Ive been running three to four days a weeks running 3 to 5 miles at a time. My longest run to date is 7 miles in 1:08
      I live in washington State and will be traveling to DC for this marathon. I chose this marathon because I think I wanted something patriotic and something that just seemed amazing. The Seattle marathon is a good one but I felt that something special in our nations captital might give me more motivation and less of a chance to fall back into old habits such as not exercising. I might have to travel alone. Im not sure yet, fortunately we have some time to try and get our finances in order to try and get my wife and daughter to go with me but either way I am prepared to go alone. This is a test for me, and in some ways going alone is fitting. dont get me wrong I would love support, but I know there with me know matter where I am. A quick quention for you. Im about to start running 4 days week with an acasional 5th day when possible, and was wondering how far should I build up my miles before my training? Should I just stick to around 5 to 8 miles and build that up over the next three months before training or should I add some longer runs in? Being that im new to running im sure you can tell that im a little nervous. Oh and did you guys walk your marathon at all, even if it was for just a thirty seconds or minute to give your self an energy boosts? Thanks for you podcast its nice to have the two of you running with and keeping things possitive. Jim from Monroe Washington.

      • Angie March 28, 2011 at 5:45 pm #

        Hi Jim, It’s exciting to hear that you’ve started your running journey and will be doing a marathon this year. I’m sure that you’ll have an amazing experience at the MCM. If you are planning to run 4-5 days per week I’d encourage you to leave your long runs in the 5-8 mile range. If you increase your running days and the mileage at the same time you greatly increase your chances of overtraining and injury. I’d encourage you to run approximately 4 days/week and do a couple days of low-impact cross training to supplement that. In regard to walking during the marathon, I usually walk for a few seconds during the water stops. But, everyone does something a little differently. Your long runs will be the time to practice your race strategy. Good luck!

    • Andre March 27, 2011 at 12:42 am #

      Good morning from South Africa
      Did the ‘Maritzburg Half as to assist a friend with pacing to complete full marathon in qualifying time for Comrades Marathon – this was an away race .
      Then two weeks later did my own Marathon (Verulam) – closer to home race.
      My friend enjoys all the attention and crowds – for that reason she chose ‘Maritzburg where I prefer the smaller races.
      Next marathon is first week of October – so now I am on a well deserved 2 week break


      • Angie March 28, 2011 at 5:47 pm #

        Hi Andre. It’s great to hear from you. Good job with the recent marathons. Which race will you be doing in Oct.? Keep up the great work and enjoy your break!

    • Angie March 28, 2011 at 5:54 pm #

      You’ve got to admit that the medal is pretty impressive! I also enjoyed being able to run part of the race with you and Autum. Great experience!

  2. Bev H March 27, 2011 at 5:39 am #

    I live in Arlington, Virginia and finished the Marine Corp Marathon in 2007. It is a very popular race and sold out this year in 28 hours. The Marines do a fantastic job. There is lots to see on the trail and in the city. I highly recommend it. I completed the Virginia Beach Shamrock Marathon last week. I was encouraged to consider running another marathon after listening to Trevor and Angie. I did not plan to run any more but I felt so well after the race, I have spent the last week looking for my next race. Right now the Richmond Marathon is in the lead. This article could not have been more timely. Richmond is 2 hours away, there are things to do there. I watched a video on the course and it looks like there will be spectators along most of the course. I run near the back of the pack and in Virginia Beach it got pretty lonely on some of the course. The race is the week before Thanksgiving. This will put my longer runs in slightly cooler temps.

    Thanks again to MA for the info and support.

    • Angie March 28, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

      Hi Bev. Congratulations on finishing your recent marathon. I’m glad that you had such a wonderful experience. I hope that you find the right fall marathon to do. Keep up the wonderful work and let me know how it goes.

  3. Anne March 27, 2011 at 6:25 am #

    I have run a total of seven marathons so far. I ran the Myrtle Beach Marathon this year for the third time. It is a favorite because it is known for being fast and flat, and my family enjoys coming along for a long weekend at the beach. Then two weeks later I ran the Snickers Marathon in Albany, Georgia. I chose that race simply because I was trying to meet criteria for the Marathon Maniacs and I needed to run two marathons in sixteen days. I made it by running the two marathons in fifteen days and actually improved my time by ten minutes on the second race. The race turned out to be a very small-town race with extremely supportive and friendly volunteers.

    • Angie March 28, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

      Thanks for sharing your most recent marathon experiences Anne. Congrats on becoming a Marathon Maniac! Maybe we’ll see you at a race sometime in the future.

  4. Karen Glick March 28, 2011 at 8:17 am #


    I chose the MCM for our first after hearing amazing things about it. JIm: we may have to have a color or something so we can all identify ourselves at the race! I am only nervous about the 14/mile pace that you have to have for the 2 checkpoints. So I am going to train at a 12 min/mile pace and then if I have to slow down after the second checkpoint at mile 17, I hopefully will be able to do that. My 1/2 marathon pace is usually 11:20.

    The minimum min/mile pace is the only thing I am nervous about.
    See ya in October!
    Longmeadow MA

    • Angie March 28, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

      It’s great to hear that you’ll be doing the MCM in Oct. It sounds like you should be easily able to keep up the needed pace. Use your long runs as a time to hone your pacing strategy. I’m excited for you!

  5. Paula March 31, 2011 at 9:20 pm #

    Wow, it’s great to see so many signed up for MCM. I am running the marathon there too along with 4 of my friends from Tulsa and 1 from Dallas. I met Trevor and Angie at the Little Rock marathon, along with some other MTA fans. The LR medal is huge! Think about it for next year when they celebrate their 10th anniversary. And you Maniacs-the Tulsa Route 66 in Nov. will have special MM bibs for you all! Happy training! I’m doing a 25K trail run this weekend by Lake McMurtry in Stillwater OK. Weather is supposed to be sunny and warm, can’t wait!

    • Angie April 9, 2011 at 9:46 pm #

      Paula~ We really enjoyed meeting you in Little Rock. I hope that your training continues to go well. Best of luck with your running goals this year!

  6. Sarah April 9, 2011 at 8:20 am #

    Hi Angie & Trevor! I’m enjoying your past podcasts and heard you are Dave Ramsey fans as well. I just have to share my marathoning on a budget tips:
    Powdered Gatorade from Sam’s club-cheap and will help you save on $1 apiece gels.
    RoadID is vital- but you can create a shoe tag at a pet store for a fraction of the price-you can engrave whatever you want and don’t have to get the dog bone shape!
    Register early for your race, guarantee a Tshirt and usually get a discount.
    Go to a running store to get analyzed, buy your first pair there and if you like them you should be able to get the identical shoe cheaper online at least once if not twice depending on when it’s discontinued.

    • Angie April 9, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

      Hi Sarah. We do love Dave Ramsey. Thanks for the good money saving tips. I’m tempted to get some of the engraved pet ID tags to put on my children’s shoes 🙂 Keep up the great work!

  7. Stephen June 21, 2014 at 8:12 am #

    Hi Angie, I remember you once mentioning a couple websites on your podcast where I would be able to search internationally and find events that may be coming up in areas where we are traveling. We are taking a year off with our family to travel the world and I would like to maybe try to do one half marathon in each location. I know Runners World Magazine has a marathon finder, but do you know of any other resources that would be available? Just thought I would pick your brain… Again as always thanks for all that you and Trevor do, it helps people in so many ways and I know your podcast has kept me running since I download the very first episode years ago!

    Stephen and Family

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