Monday, November 19, 2012

Does Size Matter?

All of us here at runningprofs have done our share of big marathons -- New York, Chicago, Marine Corps, Dublin, and for one of us, (Max) Boston.  There's no substitute for the rush and the adrenaline of the start, and the pull you get from the steady line of runners.  

More recently, I've run a few smaller races.  Spencer and I ran the Hamptons Marathon in 2011 (300 or so).  This year I ran Brooklyn (500ish).  Both have been small races and great experiences.  There's something wonderful about wandering up to the start 30 minutes before the gun and still having time to stretch, use the port-o-john, check your bag and line up.   In the smaller field, there's something joyous about the conversation groups that form along the way as pace groups form and unform.  This is particularly nice in a marathon, where the pace is not so hard that you can't chat.  There's something spectacular about the conviviality at the finish as you have time to thank the folks who dragged you through the last hard miles, congratulate the folks who passed you and then cheered you at the end, and to cheer the folks you passed as they finished.  

A second question is what effect the size of the field has on your time.  In a big marathon there's often jockeying for running room from beginning to end -- a sharp turn here, a stutter step there.  These take a toll.  In a smaller race, it's easier to settle in, listen to your body and just run.  Yesterday, in the Brooklyn Marathon, even thought the course was 6 times around a hilly loop (with three times around a slightly less hilly loop), I felt like the familiarity of the course, the steadiness of the pace, and the pull of a small pace group made all the difference.

So which is better for a fast time, a big race or a small one?



  1. I'll take small any time. I pr'ed in Madison which had less than a thousand and the hilliest course I have ever run.

  2. I have insufficient data. I seem to get tuned up more for big races, probably because I am forced to sign up a year in advance so it becomes the A race by default. All my small races have been semi-larks, including Athens, OH (woke up early that morning, realized I had nothing to do, searched the internet, and drove from Cincinnati to the start -- utter train wreck) and the North-Central Trail Marathon near Baltimore (I was in pretty good shape and hadn't run a marathon in 5 years, so it felt like the thing to do -- went fine, but nowhere near a PR).

    I just learned about a small race run in May in Seaside, Oregon -- the Trail's End Marathon. It's famous for speed. In 1982 the female winner set a women's world record there. Lili Ledbetter -- not _Lilly_ Ledbetter of Fair Pay Act fame -- apparently ran several minutes under 3:00 in 1975. An incomplete list of fastanding races includes the data at this page: And here's what turned me on to the race: in 1979, two girls 12 or younger finished under 3:10, including a 10-year old with a 3:04.

    Maybe not 2013, but 2014 if possible.

  3. I just googled the Trail's End Marathon. It looks like the 2011 edition was cancelled, and I can't find any sign of a 2012 running. It looks like fun, though, if it still exists.

  4. Hey, I've run Boston too - sniff - don't forget me!
    My PRs have always been London, despite the crowds of runners, but probably because of the crowds along the course....I find it hard to close em out and run slower when I have to...this is dangerous of course and I blew up once going out too quick and paid for it for about 22 miles, but crowds help me for some reason. I've always thought though that a teeny race with a flat course and good logistical support (I like my aid stations, I neeeeeeeed my aid stations) would bring a PR for me. There is a little one in the next town that I've run once, I wasn't trying to PR, but it was cool, flat, friendly and well-fortified with support and aid at key points: the Abingdon Marathon. I think if I get back into running enough to even consider dialling up close to a PR again, I will go for it there.