There are so many things to think about when you’re planning your race: the date, the location, all the logistics, and of course, the distance. Will you host a 5k? It’s a popular distance with both serious and casual runners. Or will you challenge your participants with a longer course: a 10k, a half marathon, or a full 26.2 miles?
Distance is a big factor for runners when they plot out which races they’ll tackle in any given season, so it’s important to choose a race length that will garner the response you’re looking for. It’s also important to choose a distance that you and your planning team can handle. If you’re organizing a race and trying to figure out the distance or distances you’ll include, here are five points to keep in mind as you move forward.
1. Shorter distances mean less stress.
If you’re planning your first race, it’s a good idea to keep it to just a 5k. Bigger races are more to handle in every aspect, from the sponsorship to the finish line.
2. Standing out versus fitting in.
Many race directors are concerned about making their race stand out from the others, and that usually means having a distance longer than 5k. There are just so many 5ks out there! But then again, 5k is a popular distance. Runners who would never consider taking on a whole marathon (or even a half marathon) can easily handle a 5k. You might have both a 5k and a 10k to increase the number of participants your race attracts. Also, don’t underestimate the good cheer that can arise and linger by including a one mile course for younger runners. Remember, the 7-year-old who has a good time running your event’s mile race may be the 17-year-old who comes back in ten years to run your 10k course.
3. Support from your local municipality.
Longer races require more road closures, more support from police and emergency personnel, and more agreement with the communities through which your participants will run. Before you finalize your race’s distance, consult with your local officials to see what’s feasible.
4. Consider the terrain.
The longer your race distance, the more terrain over which your runners will travel, and the more likely they’ll have to contend with challenging hills, sharp turns, and less than ideal territory. If your race is in a hilly or mountainous area, runners may shy away from a longer distance.
5. Factor in the race date.
If your event is toward the end of summer or early fall, runners will have had more time to train outside, and can usually run a longer race. However, if your race is in the early spring, especially in areas where winter is harsh, runners may not be interested in running a marathon because they haven’t had the time to train properly.
The good news for race directors is that every year presents a new opportunity to reinvent an event. Pay attention to the feedback from your participants. If you’ve been hosting a 5k but participants have been asking for a longer distance, you can include a 10k as well. Similarly, if participants have been bringing their children along to cheer, you might include a family-oriented one-mile fun run to make kids feel like a part of the action. Whatever distance you choose, keeping these five points in mind will help you be in a better position to make the right decision for your own race.