Big or Small?

 When I first starting running, the “big” races were the only way I knew to go.  My first 1/2 marathon was an ING race (now Publix in Atlanta).  Looking back I think it would still be considered somewhat small–only 7 Corrals.  I followed that with a ZOOMA race which wasn’t my favorite.  I thought it was because it was small.  I followed those with 5 Rock and Roll series races and loved it.  Big races were it.  Or so I thought.

At the time I didn’t know as much about running (and its insanely large community) and I didn’t realize how many race options were available. Competitor did a great job with advertising and constant contact and kept me in the loop on their series.  And of course, I love the bling so the idea of getting more medals was awesome.  Rock and Roll races were the way to go.

After reading this post on Facebook yesterday from RNR New Orleans I really started to think.  Is bigger (and more famous) really better?

So with another year of running under my belt and several small, local races later, and reading many of yalls race reports, I have changed my mind…I think smaller races are the way to go-for several reasons.

1.  Better Schwag

I can tell you exactly what to expect at each and every RNR race.  Same exact shirt with a basic design and the same exact round medal with a different city theme on it.  It is typically the same exact same stuff at the expo as well.  And, well, kinda boring.  At smaller races the medals and shirts have been much better.  They have more character.  I wouldn’t say their expos are better, but overall goodies definitely are.
Park City 1/2 Marathon medal and shirt
Wineglass Marathon-shirt, medal, champagne split and wineglass
Big Sur medal
a few from my RNR collection.  Similar shirts and medals.

2.  Less Chaos
It’s less hectic at a small race in the city where you are running, on the race course, getting to the race, etc.  Smaller races are very organized when it comes to transportation to and from the race.  There aren’t as many parking or shuttle issues.  I also think it is also easier to find a place to stay and enjoy the town you are visiting–and it’s definitely easier to find a dinner reservation.  The course is also less congested and you spend less time dodging people at smaller races.

3.  Race Support
I have found that the people that put on the smaller races are very friendly.  The locals have been volunteering for a while and know what is going on.  Not necessarily the case in larger races.  They are often just “extras” that were told what to tell runners.  The big races are also much more strict on day-before-race packet pickup and that you can’t pick up a friends packet.  And while I appreciate the cheerleaders and bands, I think local spectators and homemade signs are more fun.  I seem to always hit the bands on the course when they are on a break.

4.  Cost
I was really discouraged after reading the FB post above.  How is it okay to just change the rules of your deal?  Just because you lost money?  7,000 people signed up to run RNR New Orleans on the day you could save $55.  That just proves cost has a lot to do with it.  People love a good deal.  I am constantly stalking Delta and hotel sites for deals so that I can save when I travel to races.  Charging over $100 for a 1/2 marathon is ridiculous.  Most small, local races are around $40-$50 (if you sign up early).  Do the math on that for those of us trying to race the states.  I always sign up for the big races when they have a deal-and its still $55-$70 (i.e. ING Miami for $55 back in March, New Orleans in April for $65).  I know that big race companies have to keep the investors happy–but we run for our sanity, health, competitiveness, fun, goals, etc.  Not to spend tons of money.  Looking at my 2012 schedule, I am very pleased with my small race cost options.

5.  Post Race Activities
I am always starved after a race.  The small races seem to have pretty awesome post-race goodies (and along the course).  The bigger races tend to have the same stuff at each race-which is fine-but when the local races get the local places to donate-it’s even better.  Pizza, soup, sandwiches,etc. are much better than a banana, bag of Pop Chips, and Snickers Marathon bar.  I will admit I like when RNR has the ice buckets to soak your feet and love when they have good post race bands.  Sadly, most of the post race bands have been no-name “headliners” that I don’t care for and wouldn’t pay to see.

These were at RNR Chicago and Vegas last year
only “decent” headliner I’ve seen
post race food at Big Sur
mid race at Park City
hard to see but awesome post race at Wineglass Marathon

It’s interesting to me to see how my perspective has changed.  What I once thought was fabulous has now become somewhat of a hassle.  Don’t get me wrong, I will continue to run RNR races and other large races.  I plan on running New Orleans every year.  I just think I will choose other small races with more character for other states that I am trying to check off.

What do you think?  Do you agree?  Is a smaller race better?  Or do you prefer the larger productions?  Did I miss anything?

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  • I've only run one 'big' race, Pittsburgh and even it is smaller than some out there. It was fun for the spectator support but other than that, big didn't do anything for me and have liked the smaller events!

  • I really like this post. I finally came to this realization at the R&R; San Jose. I do like the idea of the Heavy Medal Series, and on hot races having the sponges, but aside from that not much. I was LESS than impressed w/ RnR Chicago, but it fit into my schedule. I too hate the congestion and how the medals suck. New Orleans was neat because it was a bead ribbon, but all the other ones are plain colors- that is one of my favorite parts of the medals. I'm with you on the philosophy of races. As I'm almost half way through my quest, money is more and more of a factor- unfortunately though so is what fits in the schedule— sometimes I have to spend more to get one in though 🙁

  • I agree with you! Of course, I signed up for NOLA with that huge discount. it'll be my first (and probably only) RnR event. Last weekend I visited a small town in Kentucky, ran through horse country and shopped at local artists' galleries. That, for me, is what race travel is all about: getting a chance to see something I wouldn't normally see. RnR is too cookie cutter. I'm too eccentric for that. Good post, E!

  • The thing I hate about the RnR races is they are SO big that you essentially have to spend a whole weekend just to deal with it since their expos close early and force you to pick up your own packet, in person, in an expensive downtown convention center. I do, however, like running with more people.

    With that said. My PR is still from a race that didn't even have timing mats – where i met you! in Mobile.

    Best post-race food? Casper Marathon, in Wyoming. Hands down.

  • I think the bigger races are nice to do once in a while but the cost for the Competitor Group races is really too much. Too much to do too many in one year, anyway. The big ones do attract a lot of people which make them fun for meet-ups. The logistics of the bigger races stresses me out so I think for the majority of races, I will prefer more mellow, smaller races for distances up to a half marathon. I think that for marathons, though, bigger races may be better for the extra energy that is needed to run so far.

  • Some of my favorite races have been the small races. Everything is just better about them BUT I keep doing the bigger races because its a chance to run with bloggy friends

  • Great post! I have done big and smaller races, and I have to agree that the smaller ones win. I have only done the RNR event in Dallas (1/2) and I've done it twice and will probably do it every year because it's convenient, but it's expensive, the shirts are lame and fit poorly and I don't love the food at the end. I much prefer more local halfs. I did Chicago Marathon last year, and while I think it's a great race, it was a little too chaotic for my taste. I prefer mid-size to small races, especially for marathons. That said, there was hardly a spot in Chicago without spectators, so if that helps motivate runners, I recommend that race. I'll still do some of the big races – NY and MCM are on my "list" but I'm saving those for a little later. I'm excited about trying Wine Glass or the Soldier Marathon next year…

  • I've been doing smaller local races for a long time (especially the free Atlanta Track Club ones) and I love them. My love grew even more when I started doing trail races.

    I want to get in and get out and go on about my day. I don't want to drive downtown in rush hour traffic to pick up my pack the day before the race. I don't want to buy overpriced goods at an expo. I don't have time for all of that.

    And maybe I'm crazy but most of the time I actually don't like a lot spectators. Sometimes I just need to take a walk break and I don't want any eyes on me or "encouragement" from the crowd.

    I did run the Atlanta Marathon on Sunday and it was big but small enough to not be too annoying. That was the biggest race I've done in forever.

  • I'm a 100% small race runner! My very first half marathon was the RnR in VA Beach and I almost quit running afterwards, I didn't like the crowds. Somehow I made it back to running and started running smaller races and loved them! Then I ran my first marathon (MCM) and I hated it from the first second to the last. The crowds are killing me!!! This was the day I decided never ever I run a race with more than 10,000 runners. I signed up for Wineglas as my redemption marathon and LOVED IT!!

  • I agree! My last two HMs were very different. One had less than 400 runners & the other was a RnR. I enjoyed the smaller race so much more…including the pizza afterwards & the few, wonderful people cheering us on! Mostly, those were the volunteers & policemen. And, I saw the same people cheering multiple times as they kept moving to cheer on their love ones.

    After the RnR, I didn't get any protein (as I do not like the Snickers Marathon bars) & had to walk incredibly slowly for 15 mins just to get out of the food area. Then, it was a Long walk to family meeting area & a very long walk…with 2 sets of stairs…to get my bag I'd dropped off. I was pretty miserable!

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