Picking a Marathon

BY Hal Higdon

Quick! Pick a marathon you want to run without the mental agony of selection. Don’t think: You have two seconds to decide.

Have a question about running? You’re in the right place. Every Tuesday, world-renowned coach, author and athlete Hal Higdon posts and answers athlete questions here. You can submit your question by joining the discussions on Hal Higdon’s Virtual Training Bulletin Boards.


I’m planning to run my first full marathon this year. How should I choose one? Which is better: Local or Destination?


Quick! Pick a marathon you want to run without the mental agony of selection. Don’t think: You have two seconds to decide. Almost like throwing a dart at a board. Forget what friends or supposed experts (like me) offer in the way of reasons to run this race or that. Do what your instincts tell you.

Having said that, I suggest you first think local. Assuming that a reasonably well run marathon exists in your home town, the advantages are many. You can train on the course. You don’t need to jump on a plane to reach the race, and you don’t have to book a hotel room either. You can sleep in your own bed and prepare your pre-race meals rather than subject yourself to a generic Pasta Feed at the Expo.

Still, destination races are fun, because they take you out of the comfort zone just mentioned. The Big City marathons are fun, because there is an excitement to milling around in a hotel lobby and at that Expo with 10,000 or more like-minded runners. Also, there is security in numbers, particularly if your time goal is five or six hours. You will find a lot of people around you while running a “slow” pace, whereas you might feel alone and vulnerable in a local race with a smaller field.

Whatever your final decision, you can’t make a bad decision. Whichever race you choose for your first marathon, it will be a memorable event for you.

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About Hal Higdon

Hal Higdon is a Contributing Editor for ‘Runner’s World‘ and author of 34 books, including the best-selling ‘Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide’. He ran eight times in the Olympic Trials and won four world masters championships. Higdon estimates that over a quarter of a million runners have finished marathons using his training programs, and he also offers additional interactive programs at all distances through TrainingPeaks. Hal uses TrainingPeaks to power his interactive marathon and half marathon training plans — check out more of Hal Higdon’s training plans on his website.