Big reasons to hit the small races

by Allison Macsas

When we talk about fall marathons, the big ones come to mind: Chicago, New York, Marine Corp, San Antonio. While there are obvious advantages to these races (tons of spectators, big name sponsors and the prestige of claiming that you took part in such an important event), there are far more advantages (and far more choices) when it comes to the minor leagues:

Affordability: Smaller races are far less complex to produce than those with tens of thousands of runners, and entry fees often reflect this – while “lucky” runners shell out $250 for New York, you could be paying $65 to race in Portland, Maine!

Peace of mind: Big races now require lottery-based entry, or they sell out within an hour. Not only do you pay inflated entry fees, but you have to be specially chosen (or be especially quick) to do so! Stop racing to get into the race, and relax with a smaller event – check out New Braunfels! – that has plenty of room for you.

Hotels: Since smaller races often take place in smaller towns, rates tend to be much more reasonable and rooms much more plentiful! Head to Omaha or Des Moines for fast courses with plenty of rooms well under $100/night.

Expo Relief: Not big on being herded like cattle through a monstrous convention center and forced through a carefully engineered Tour de Vendor? Me either. Get in and out and on to your free pasta dinner at Marathon 2 Marathon.

Take care of business: Smaller crowds mean convenient parking, porta-potty lines that actually move (and stay stocked) and a starting line that you actually get to cross at the start time – not 30 minutes later when your wave finally gets a turn. All of this, of course, adds up to extra sleep and less stress for you!

Quality time: Small races inevitably exude small-town friendliness and charm. You won’t be swept away in a sea of faces, but rather have the chance to meet other runners and enjoy the experience together. Reconnect and recount race stories with new friends over microbrews at the post-race party in Durango.

The scenic route: There isn’t a need for bands on every corner and corporate-sponsored cheer stations when you’ve got 26 miles of jaw-dropping scenery to cover. Use a marathon as your reason to finally check out Fruita,  Santa Barbara, Jackson Hole or Cape Cod.

Run fast: Think the majors are the only places to set a new PR? Think again. Columbus qualifies 20% of its field for Boston, and Philly is a reliably fast course.

Reconsidering your fall race plans? Make sure you’re prepared, no matter where you choose to run!


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