6 Tips For Choosing Your First Half Marathon or Marathon

Spring race season is (sorta) close! I can’t wait until it gets warmer and I can start running 5Ks. Spring weather and fall weather are the best for running. I will be doing a spring half marathon, just not sure which one yet.

If you’re just starting on your running journey, or even just thinking about doing your first longer distance race, here are a few tips that may help you in deciding which to pick. Your first half marathon and/or marathon will be one you won’t forget. It takes months of training to get there, and whether that day goes awesome or horrible (like my first marathon), you’ll always remember it. So finding the right race for you is important!

Tips For Choosing Your First Half Marathon or Marathon


I won’t say that you should pick one close to you, because a destination race could be just as fun. My first half marathon and marathon were both close to where I live, but I wouldn’t have been opposed to a destination. I think it would have both positives and negatives.

Positives: your first race is somewhere new, it’s wrapped up into a vacation and it’s going to be an awesome memory. Negatives: Traveling could create more stress, logistics could be more complicated, there could be jet lag issues, and you’ll have to fly home with sore legs ;)

When there’s a race close to home, you have less to worry about and you might be able to get more sleep the night before – both because you may have extra time to get ready, and because you’ll be sleeping in your own bed and have less stress. Last year, it was so nice to be able to sleep in my own house and wake up and drive into NYC for the NYC Marathon. Just something to think about…

Course Built For Your Strengths

For me, I know that I don’t prefer pancake flat courses. I train on pretty hilly terrain, so I’m more comfortable with a few hills (nothing crazy), like the NYC Marathon course. If you train on mostly flat ground, you’ll probably want to find a flat race. HalfMarathons.net is a great resource and gives you course info, elevation maps and average temperatures. Running In The USA is a great place to look for half races and marathons. Definitely make sure to look at elevation maps before registering! I’ve decided against certain races because of crazy hills ;)


Do you imagine hundreds of people cheering you on and screaming your name? If that thought pumps you up, go for a bigger race. I have yet to run another marathon besides NYC and I’m honestly kind of nervous to! I loved the huge crowds and am scared another race just won’t compare. Though, at the same time, I ran the Philly Half in November which was a bigger race and kind of regretted it. It was packed on the course which can get frustrating.

So I would suggest deciding on your two options: a crazy spectator crowd or perhaps less of a crowd and less people on the course (no worrying about dodging runners or delayed starts). I personally would say go with the bigger crowds. As a first timer, there’s nothing like having people screaming for you, high-fiving you and cheering you on. That’s what got me through every mile during both my marathons. My first half marathon (Long Branch Half, NJ) had less spectators but still had good support throughout the entire race. It was more suburban, so people were outside on their front lawns cheering the runners on.

Team Up With A Friend

I’m so inspired and impressed by people who run half marathons and marathons alone…I really can’t imagine running one without my mom! If it’s your first time, finding a running buddy who will join you can serve as motivation and support. You have someone to talk about training with, and vent about the bad runs, injuries, etc. You’ll also have someone there on race day to share your nerves and run with you. Even if you decide to both run your own races, it’s great to have someone there before the race…and after!

Read Race Recaps

Reading race recaps helps you get a perspective from another runner. I’ve been searching for a spring half marathon and fall marathon and have read a million race recaps. No matter how small the race, I bet you’ll find a recap. Don’t be afraid to leave a comment or tweet them with any questions you might have – runners love that!

Weather (Not Just Race Day)

Sure, race day weather is an important consideration (do you want to run a race on the east coast in December?), but I’m more focused on the weather during your training. A fall race means summer training, and a spring race means winter training (which is why I have yet to run an early spring race). I prefer summer running, but many enjoy running in the winter. I know I will not be running much in Dec.-Feb. so my spring half will probably be in May.

Another thing to consider is Daylight Savings. During the end of my training for both NYC Marathon and the Philly Half, training got tough because it was getting dark around 4:30 – 5:00, which was when I would get out of work. I don’t live in a well-lit area, so it wasn’t easy to run at night….though I then figured out that going to my local college campus where it WAS well-lit was perfect for long run days. No need to wear a headlamp or anything.

This post just got me excited for half marathon training to begin. One day, my spring race will be the Boston Marathon…though that’s a looooong ways away ;)

What tips would you add to this list?

What was your first half or full marathon?  Or will you be running your first this year?


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  1. I ran my first half marathon with a bunch of friends! It was the first half for all of us, and so much fun to do it as a group! Great list! :)
    Karen G. recently posted…Why I’m Breaking Up With My GymMy Profile

  2. Maybe….in 2016 I’ll be planning a half …or a marathon if I’m crazy! For now I just need to find a good 10K!
    Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine recently posted…A Guide To Gluten-Free Flours + Homemade Oat Flour RecipeMy Profile

  3. Great post! You made some excellent points. I love all of your tips! :) The only thing I would add is … to have fun! ;)
    Rachel recently posted…Motivation MondayMy Profile

  4. I also think of my close friends/family.. will they be able to come support/enjoy my marathon with me :)
    Jennifer recently posted…Monthly Goals – February 2015My Profile

  5. So many great tips here! I’m thinking about what half marathon I want to run this year. For me, it’s a combination of location (usually close to home) and course profile. Reading reviews is so helpful!
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted…Do The WorkMy Profile

  6. Awesome tips Patty! My first ever half marathon was local. I like both local and destination races, they’re all great!
    Jen @ Pretty Little Grub recently posted…Adventures in the Canadian RockiesMy Profile

  7. These are great tips! My very first half marathon was chosen for me. My sister asked me to run with her…and it was AMAZING. Horrible, because I didn’t train, but amazing none the less. Myrtle Beach half marathon, 2005. Not too big, but definitely not a small race!
    RFC recently posted…The Benefits of Trail Running: 8 Reasons to Hit the TrailsMy Profile

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