Big or small–what’s your pleasure?

I’m talking about race size here. Each year I do a wide variety of races in terms of distance, size, terrain, etc. I like them all for a different reasons, but lately I’ve been thinking about race size and how much it affects my enjoyment of the event.

As I see it, the cons to racing the monster events:

  • Hassle factor–getting to these races is generally an ordeal–it requires leaving at some ridiculous hour to make sure you can get parked and have plenty of time to warm-up, line-up, etc.
  • Fighting the crowds at the start. While many races are getting better at setting up corrals and enforcing them, there’s still the jostling for position. In really big races, you sometimes never get much breathing room.
  • Finding family and friends at the end can be difficult and time consuming.
  • Getting back out of the venue can suck up half your day.

The pros to the big races:

  • Usually very well-run events
  • Great crowd support
  • It can be fun to be part of a huge community of runners out there sharing the day

The cons to small races:

  • Organization is not always the best
  • May not have accurate mile markers/timing
  • Lack of crowd support
  • May not have adequate water stops, etc.

 The pros to small races:

  • Easy to get into/out of
  • More camaraderie with your fellow racers
  • Finding family and friends at end is easy
  • More room to spread out and run a good race

Clearly, there are upsides/downsides to both. For me, though, I think I’m starting to lean towards the smaller affairs for most of my races these days. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a NYC marathon sometime (gotta run it once, right?) or that I won’t partake in some of the local big events like the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. But for the most part, I think I’m giving my nod to the small- to medium-sized races. What about you?

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge


  1. KC (my 140 point 6 mile journey) says

    As much as I LOVE doing the Boston Marathon, I tend to lean more towards the smaller races, especially when it comes to a marathon. For example, the main reason I stopped doing the Disney Marathon around 2003 was b/c it became too much of a race day hassle (get up at 3am to catch the bus to Epcot, sit on the ground for 1.5-2 hours waiting for the race to start). On the flip side, I love doing the Jacksonville (in Florida) marathon. 5 minute drive from the hotel to the race site, no standing around for hours, about 1000 runners at the most and no traffic leaving. Basically hassle free, however, very little crowd support. I've found that i don't need crowd support, just a well charged up ipod.

  2. Hannah says

    Ok, your title is cracking me up. Love it!

    All of my scheduled events this year are big marathons (all in the Rock 'n Roll series). I didn't really plan it that way, it just happened with the first one, and continued on. When I did the half-marathon in my hometown, I could see how – if you were running alone – it could get lonely on the course. I had two great friends with me, though, so it flew by and wasn't any different than a long training run.

    It will be interesting to experience a big race. I'm excited!

  3. Matty O says

    I HATE CROWDS! So I vote for the smaller races. I did a smaller marathon in April and I was still freaking out. If I can't run my pace from the start I get pretty irritable and messes with my race day chi 😉 haha.

    I love the small 5ks that have like 100 people tops, makes me feel like it is not a mainstream sport anymore and that its just a group of people out having fun.

    I agree with all of your points, hit the nail on the head there!

  4. Staci Dombroski says

    I am still so new to races that I do not have a preference yet :) I would love the large crowd support though. The couple of races that I participated in previously did not have a lot of support :(

  5. Teamarcia says

    I totally agree there's something to be said for both mega and mini races. I'm on the fence…can't choose… I think a mix is nice for me.

  6. run4may says

    I also dislike crowds and prefer the smaller more local races. Although, just like yourself I have a few bigger races that I just can't pass up.

  7. Big Daddy Diesel says

    Some other things I consider as well, the cost, bigger races are more expensive, not only the race fee, but the expo tents seemed to marked up on finisher gear, and you have to travel, thats includes possibly hotel, air fair, car rental, food, and so forth.

    In my opinion, if its a marquee event, like 70.3 or 140.6, I tend to see the advantage of the big race, all the bells and whistles that come along with a long day on the course. Smaller races, I stay local, for like you said, the time with friends.

  8. Cate says

    I tend to like smaller races, although I REALLY want to do the NYC Marathon just once, for the experience

  9. Holly says

    I definitely like the small races… however I have yet to run a "big race." My first "big race" will be this fall.

    At small races they give you AWESOME dorky T-shirts and you have better chances of placing in your age group. Thumbs up!

  10. Johann says

    I love the small races. I don't like crowds. I do run some large events and enjoy them but I prefer small. Rather be 1 of 34 finishers in some low key 100km than 1 of 10000 in a large marathon. Something about the small races is just special.

  11. EZEthan says

    At this point in my running career I don't race very often so when I do I like it to be a big "event"

    Once I get more adapted to my level of mileage I'll probably race more often and start enjoying the benefits of low crowds, cheaper entries, and awards!

  12. MCM Mama says

    I've discovered that the shorter the distance, the smaller I like. I do some of the really big local races, but I prefer the medium sized ones. For a marathon though, I need a bigger crowd than the one I raced a couple of weekends ago.

  13. Julie says

    Right now I like the bigger events. The spirit of the day always motivates me to push harder. The last small race I did, 10K somehow ended up to be 8 miles… Hmmmm.

  14. Kenley says

    It's kinda embarrassing but I wouldn't know. I have only ran small 5 and 10 ks with groups or my virtual races (lol). I like those, I don't have to worry about anything but myself. lol. Although, June 13th I plan on doing the Strip Mine 9 (15k) I believe that to be a medium sized event. I guess I will find out. I have spent a year and a half running and losing weight. Now it's TIME to race and have fun.

  15. chris mcpeake says

    I usually love small races … with the exception of the 10k race that ended up being 11.1k .

  16. Jennifer says

    I am still pretty new at this. With my 1st (and only) full marathon it was a rock-n-roll affair, good for a firster. My next is going to be a medium/small race where I can concentrate on beating my PR. For the several half's I have done big and small, I like the small better. Did a 10K in New Orleans once that had 40,000 runners, hated it. I guess I am leaning toward smallish.

  17. Emz says

    I could NOT agree more. I ran the RNR here in AZ and it was crazy. CRAZY. CRAZY.

    I'm certainly loving more of the mid-small races. I must do NYC though. :)

  18. LMC says

    Good question. I prefer well organized races and those tend to be the bigger ones, although, I don't go out of my way to find big events. I'll gladly run a small race, particularly if it's a flat route!

  19. Robyn says

    Hmm the one thing I don't like about small races if no timing chip but I love races that are walking distance from my shore house b/c it makes it so easy and convenient!

  20. Barefoot AngieB says

    So far the races I have ran in Des Moines have been a mix of both big and small. From 650(which was under 200 last year) to 8,000.
    The only one that I had issue with was the Living History Farms XC race. I was hopping the fence and jumping in line as the race started after sitting in traffic for an hour to park. My continence was tested that morning for sure and it was hell for that hour! Other wise the other races had excellent parking even when they were done downtown.
    The aide has been fantastic at all of them.

  21. Pat says

    I'm claustrophobic and get really panicky standing at the start of a big race where you're jammed in with a bunch of people. I haven't run Cherry Blossom since '03 because of the crowds.

  22. The Happy Runner says

    Small to medium, for sure. But, I would love to run one of the really big marathons, just because.

  23. trifitmom says

    the small races scare me b/c more of a chance of being last. i like the feeling of the BIG races, much support and cheering and stuff. i lived in nyc for 13 years and EVERY race in central park was great b/c they would have such hupla….

  24. Candice @ I Have Run says

    I sat here trying to decide, and I just can't. The pros and cons for me balance things out. I guess I just love races.

  25. Laura says

    Interesting post! So far I've only run one small race, about 40-50 people and I'll be running what I think will be a medium to large race for my half in June… it was interesting reading about your thoughts on the different race atmospheres :-)

  26. Running and living says

    I "think" I like to race smaller races. But I like to run bigger races, for the experience of it all!

  27. Michelle says

    I'm so new to this that my comment doesn't hold much weight. I will say that I love organization, so I would probably lean towards larger/medium races b/c of this.

  28. RockStarTri says

    Wait. One. Minute. I thought there was a girl "code" thing where size didn't matter. It is all about preparedness, execution, style, etc. Oh, that applies to races too.

    But in all seriousness, I find large races good for fun but don't even think about going fast die to the crowds. If you want to go for a PR or some kind of performance, a well organized small race is best.

  29. ajh says

    I like all sizes. At different times. For different reasons. But overall medium is probably best. I don't think I'd like a marathon that is too small, need the crowd. VCM – this weekend yeah – has about 5000 runners, many of them relay. Good size. When I did MCM a few years ago thankfully my daughter and I had 3 options for finding each other at the finish because it was the third one we had to use. Crowds everywhere were crazy. I loved it but wouldn't want to face this crowd size often. What I hate more than anything are races that are poorly organized. Give me a well organized race of any size.

  30. Anabela (Bela) Neves says

    I have only ran two races…one big, one small. They both have their advantages and disadvantages I agree. I think I have to run a few more to really have a favourite 😉

  31. Judi says

    I tend to get nervous before a race so heading to a big race always means traffic and then my nerves really get going! :) Thankfully my husband usually comes along and does the driving! Smaller races are usually cheaper – I like that! :)

  32. Julie says

    I like the medium sized races. I don't like them when they are to small. On the other hand, I hate the huge ones where you are tripping over everyone else. I like the medium sized races where there are people running close to me for motivation but not close enough to be in my personal space:)

  33. Meg says

    Well-organized races are for me…I don't mind if they are crowded or not but I like to feel safe and motivated to be out there. I once ran SF Marathon and it was HUGE but there were NO mile markers, very few water stops and no crowds…it wasn't very fun but there were a lot of people. I like to stick to the races I've done before!

  34. Irene says

    I suppose size is relative. I live in an area where people can all year long, and races are getting bigger and bigger. I think the smallest race I've ever run in had about 600 people. Regardless of race size, organization is everything.

  35. Colleen says

    You know… I race both. I mean, I did a 5k a few weeks ago with 200 people max and then in August I'll do the biggest Ironman with nearly 3,000 people. I've run Chicago marathon with 45,000 of my closest friends, but have the most fun at the local half marathons that have 300 people max. :) Depends on the day for me I guess!

  36. Patrick Mahoney says

    I think we can take a nod from the music industry. Any time there has been really healthy independent labels and promoters, music has been interesting. You may not personally like the output, but you have to admit the innovation.

    Once things swing towards big (read: consolidation in the case of music) things get lame. Prices go up, quality goes down.

    I'll race whatever I can but I'm watching the smaller races because they are where things will get cool as the sport continues to grow.

  37. Alison B., "Runbuggy" says

    For me, I need a BIG race like NYC to do a marathon. Although sitting in Staten Island for 4 hours waiting to start is AWFUL, I need the crowd support and hoopla to pull me through the miles. For half marathons and below, smaller races are great for all the con reasons you listed.

  38. Jeff - DangleTheCarrot says

    Gotta say … saw the title of the post on my google reader was expecting something completely different ..hehhe

    My preference has become races that are closer to my home. I am doing a 70.3 in November 30 minutes from the house. There is a bigger, better Ironman 70.3 in Austin (2.5 hour drive and hotel stays needed) a few weeks earlier and I made my decision based solely on the convenience of not having to drive to Austin and stay at a hotel. convenience is my Trump Card!

  39. Molly says

    most of my races have been small, even my half marathon. If you're talking distance the only ones I really don't like is a 5k.

  40. Rad Runner says

    This is a GREAT post. Simple, but straight to your point, I simply must agree with you on all the pros and cons! I love big ones, I love medals, I love screaming crowds to cheer the runners on, I love the big sponsors!
    Although, I also love, the hummbeling thoughts and actions at the smaller races, and the effort you can really see…

  41. Tara says

    I've only ran in the smaller events and have been sooo impressed so far, but then again I've never raced in the big events! I'm running Chicago in October, so it will be a huge adjustment. I really like running by myself, so that is why I love the smaller ones. I can see where the crowd noise and cheers would really hype you up though!

  42. Beth says

    I like them both! As long as the t-shirt is nice and there is plenty of support on the course, I'm not picky.