How to Choose a Race [Values]

The trail running + ultra running scene is growing at an exponential rate. There are hundreds of trail +/or ultra races to choose from each year, meaning you have more choices than ever before. We’ve already chatted about what to consider in your own personal life before picking a race…but what if you have narrowed it down to two or three races. How do you choose which one you *need* to do this year?!

Very, very carefully! Or impulsively. You decide.

Never Summer 100k

But before you click that ‘register’ button + sharpie marker that race onto your calendar, we’d like to offer up a few other race specific things to think about before choosing.

Personal Story: I just recently signed up for my first race in two years. After nearly 10 years of running multiple races each year I took a two year hiatus. I think I’m ready to be back…so I had to choose a race. Since I have lightened my race schedule a lot I wanted to pick a race that actually meant something to me. These are the things I took into consideration when I decided I wanted to race again. I ended up signing up for the Silverton Ultra Marathons 100K in August, put on by Megan Finnesy who also RDs the Dirty 30 Ultras [my first DNF!].

Race Atmosphere

For starters, what do you want your race experience to be like? Are you looking for a hyped up, exciting race? Or maybe a more mellow, low key race? There are trail + ultra races out there that offer up both. In general, you can expect the race directors + race organizers to offer up a basic standard of runner safety, course markings + race communication…but always check in on that too as it will directly affect the overall atmosphere of the race.

Get Stoked!

If you get stoked on the overall high energy of a race you may want to look into a more popular race. At races like the Leadville Series or Angeles Crest you’ll have a lot of excitement leading up to the race + during the race. These races also tend to sell out quickly, so plan ahead!

Take It Easy…

On the contrary, there are a lot of races out there that offer up a much more relaxed experience. You’ll get the same great care at each aid station + throughout the race, you just won’t need to arm wrestle anyone for that last orange [or an entry into the race!]. If you’re someone who finds your happy place while running on remote trails alone…look into smaller, locally based races. This is where you’ll find the events that make you feel right at home, without any ‘ahhh, parking’ or ‘ugh, everything is sold out’ dread during the planning process.

Dirty Thirty 50k Start

Whichever you choose, prepare yourself for the atmosphere you signed up for — during training + as your plan out the logistics of race weekend.

Personal Story: Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of the chaos that comes with huge events + it does not matter how well organized they are. I like being able to roll up on race day without stressing about parking + there’s something calming about your crew arriving at aid stations without a shuttle ride. The Silverton Ultra is on it’s third year + the entrant list is still pretty small, making it a low-key race just a few hours from my front door.

Race Location

When choosing your race location, it is probably a big part of the logistics, as well as your training plan. Keep all of that in mind, but also think about the fact you’ll be out there for hours upon hours. Find a race that offers up scenery + terrain that makes you happy. If you’re not a fan of hot, humid running it may not be the best idea of sign up for Cruel Jewel in Georgia. Someone in search of mountainous views + rugged terrain should check out a race like Cascade Crest.

Personal Story: There were a few races on the table + all of them were in the mountains, because I love rugged mountain running. So, how did I pick the Silverton Ultra? It’s in the San Juan mountain range of the Colorado Rockies + those mountains will forever hold a chunk of my heart. They are amazing + I know I’ll love racing [maybe even training?!] in them.

Race History + Purpose

This one is subjective + may not be that important to everyone, but it’s worth mentioning. Some races come with a long history, such as Western States. Others are new races that are taking us out on new routes. There’s always something that gets a race director keen on creating a race, if you’re into the story seek it out.

All races also have a purpose — especially financially speaking. Obviously the race directors deserve to make money for the massive amount of effort they put into creating safe, entertaining + worthy races, no one is denying that. But some races are put on by big companies where your race fees cover the cost of the race then become profit for the company. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it may be something you want to consider before signing up for a race.

San Juan Mountains

Other races are run locally by a small company or individual race director. Generally speaking, any excess income from your race fees in these situations go back into the community or to a local charity. This is why many shorter races [5Ks, 10Ks, etc] come to be — fundraising for a charity. There are a lot of trail + ultra races doing the same thing + if you’re looking to support a local organization or charity while running your legs off you may want to see one out.

Personal Story: There is something about giving back that makes me feel warm + fuzzy. I’d like to think that isn’t the only reason I seek out opportunities to make a difference, but there’s no denying it’s a factor. The Silverton Ultra is aligned with Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Southwest Colorado. All of my race fees go toward the race then Big Brothers, Big Sisters. The RD is also encouraging everyone to raise at least $500 toward the charity. Speaking of which — want to contribute to Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Southwest Colorado?! That link will take to their page where you can donate, if you’re so inclined.

Obviously this is a very short list of things about a race to take into consideration when you’re deciding when, where + why to race. There are many other aspects of running, racing + training that go into your summer mileage, but this might help you decide where you’re putting your time + money.

Or, you could just pick the race on the right weekend with the right price point…it’s all up to you. We’re just here to put a few extra thoughts in your mind when you’re picking + choosing between one of the 100+ races available to us trail + ultra runners!

Heidi Kumm

Heidi Kumm

Heidi Kumm is a trail runner, world traveler, mountain climber, and all around adventure enthusiast. As a trail runner she has covered thousands of miles in the Colorado Rockies and beyond training for and running races from the half marathon distance to the one hundred mile ultra. Heidi is so stoked about finding adventure on trails that she has made it her career as the owner of Adventure Feet First, a travel company that focuses on getting people outside to explore the world as they travel. Over the past years Heidi has spent months living abroad, volunteering around the world, living out of a van/car/truck, and finding new ways to explore on foot, by bike or with a backpack. She has learned the ins and outs of self propelled exploration the hard way, so she’s here to help us learn from her mistakes and to help us become more informed on how to make your own mistakes…safely.

Trail Sisters is committed to creating opportunity and participation for women in trail running. Our content is always free to read. Consider a monthly contribution on Patreon to support Trail Sisters so we can continue to inspire, educate and empower others!

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