How To Choose The Right Half Marathon For You

Runners hit the French capital's streets at the Paris Marathon. (© Javierjmt |

Runners hit the French capital’s streets at the Paris Marathon. (© Javierjmt |

With hundreds and hundreds of half marathon races across the country and around the world to choose from, how do you pick the one to run that’s right for you, particularly if you are a beginner?

For most people, the answer is most likely driven by their work and vacation schedules, but it’s a good idea to consider as wide a selection of possible choices before committing to a race.

Especially if you’re a beginner and the only race near your local area is a difficult race designed for experienced runners, you’ll want to consider running your half in another city, to make sure your experience is a positive one. Here’s a few points to consider when choosing your race:


No doubt, this is the number one factor for most half participants in most areas. And it’s usually a good guide for selecting your race, especially for beginning or intermediate runners who don’t want to take on the travel and lodging expenses of running a race in a faraway city.

However, consider additional factors when you’re selecting the location of your race, including the number of participants, the course views and the level of organizational support. Running a race that is well-attended will be an enjoyable experience that will offer plentiful fan support along the course, especially through the difficult later miles and the finish line!

Weather and climate

Because nearly all marathons and half marathon races take place in the fall, winter and spring months, participants usually don’t have to worry about excessive heat during a race. Particularly in Southern climates, race organizers are careful not to schedule their events during the often brutally hot summer months.

But rain, snow flurries and other inclement weather can put a damper (quite literally) on your race, so it’s best to check the average temperatures and rainfall for the area you’re considering for your next half well in advance.

This writer has run a couple of events in the rain, which can slow down your time significantly and make the entire event a dreary affair, so the advantages of planning for wet weather (bringing a rain jacket or poncho) are clear.

Also, consider running your half in climates that get little or no rainfall, such as the Southwestern states, where many races also offer beautiful, scenic views all along the course.

Road race or trail race?

Road races are by far the more common variety of running races, but trail races (including 10K, half marathons, full marathons and even ultra-marathons) are rising in popularity in recreational (and especially mountainous) areas across the U.S.

It’s important to note, however, that trail races generally attract much more experienced runners and are designed for participants looking for very challenging events.

Trail running calls for different kinds of shoes and gear, which you’ll need to own and have experience running in before you want to consider a trail event. For that reason, a road race is probably a more suitable choice for most runners, unless you feel you have the stamina and commitment to run a trail race.

Elevation changes

This is probably the most difficult element of a half to gauge if you aren’t already familiar with the terrain and the city/area of a race you’re considering running.

Some half marathons can have long, steady elevation changes (such as the marathon & half marathon at the Bermuda International Race Weekend, which challenges participants with a steady incline about halfway into the race), while other races feature almost entirely flat race courses.

You can get some idea of elevation changes on race websites, many of which offer both course layout and course elevation maps and diagrams. The best way to get an accurate sense of how “up and down” a particular half marathon is for runners, however, is to call the race organizers and ask to speak with someone who’s actually run the race herself. Be sure to ask about particularly difficult spots or rises in elevation, and recommended ways for runners to tackle them.

“Fun” factor

Another difficult element to figure out until you actually run the race, the “fun” factor can mean several different things: How many people turn out for the race? How many participants take place? Do the race organizers permit “characters” in the race (people running in costume, participants running backwards, etc.)?

These can make for some great memories and help take your mind off your run during the race, which is particularly helpful the further you get into a race.

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