Spring running season: Should I bother signing up for a race?

Mary Jennings: A doable yet slightly challenging training plan brings consistency, confidence and clarity

In recent weeks my social media feed has been full of snaps of smiling runners at race finish lines. Not the usual winter parkrun poses with woolly hats and warming coffees, but now it is race medals and glasses of champagne in locations further afield. From Paris to Cobh, Bohermeen to Berlin, the season has truly started and I must admit I’ve a touch of race envy.

Finish-line envy

Let me clarify that my jealousy is purely for the finish-line feeling, not the long, hard months of winter preparation. I have trained many times for long-distance spring races and know the discipline it requires on dark winter days when the couch seems like a more cozy option. Winter training is strangely satisfying when you are in the thick of it but the thought of getting going can be enough to turn many people off ever getting started. So while I’m here to praise all those of you who are lining up at start lines this spring, I’m also hoping that your success will inspire many more runners to follow your lead and sign up to a race this summer.

Why bother with a race?

If you need some structure and focus in your running training, nothing works better than having a deadline. Deciding to commit to something new takes us right out of our comfort zone, a place where it is easy to hide out. A race date in our diary puts manners on our routine. It helps us prioritise what needs to happen if we are going to be able to muster a smile and actually enjoy the race day. A doable yet slightly challenging training plan brings consistency, confidence and clarity. The weeks and months don’t pass by in a blur but instead you get stronger, fitter and more resilient as you tick off each week in your training plan. There is a lot be to said for having a goal.

Days to remember

Interestingly while the finish-line celebrations seem to be the obvious attraction in signing up, it is the discipline of the training that is the unexpected highlight of the journey for many. It is often the memories of a training run and conversation shared with a friend, an unexpected sunset or even the satisfaction of overcoming a tough training run that stays with us long past the race day. All the little challenges and hurdles we overcome along the way make us stronger, not only in our running, but in the rest of our lives too.


The time is right

While many of us have wonderful memories of summer races in the past, lots of people who started running in Covid times have never experienced the big-city race buzz or indeed the joy of turning a corner in a scenic rural race to the glorious sight of hundreds of colourful runners snaking down the side of a mountain road. While there is so much joy to be had from running solo, it is also hard to beat the buzz of a race day. I’m getting excited thinking about that collective nervous energy at the start line, the shared highs and lows en route and then that rewarding sense of satisfaction that hits you just after you are carried across the finish line by the cheers of the crowd. Oh it makes me want to go and sign up for a race right now.

Which race should I pick?

Before you choose your location, consider first the right distance for you. If 5km is currently your long run, give yourself eight weeks to get to 10km. If you are already at 10km, you could take on a half marathon in 12 weeks. If the word marathon is spinning around your head but you can’t say it out loud, well that’s very possible too if you are strong and comfortable over 10km and can dedicate 16-18 weeks of training. You might consider a run that is not one of the traditional road race distances to take pressure off the clock if you don’t feel you are in personal best shape. Trail runs are often unusual lengths that can be useful if you want to steer clear of comparing times with other people or your past running history. But most importantly, think about what you really would love to do, what is possible, what might excite you and what is a little bit beyond your comfort zone right now. You want to be stretched enough to be challenged but not enough to turn you off running or get injured.

The choice is endless

While race locations have been quite limited through the winter months, now you can find a race in whatever county or country you wish to travel to. From scenic mountain trail races to busy city road races, the choice is endless. You can stay local too and take advantage of midweek races taking place on these long evenings. While some of the big-city events are long sold out, with a little internet research you can find yourself down a rabbit hole of wonderful tempting and unusual races. You have been warned. I have yet to find one website that consolidates all events at home and abroad but surely someone soon will make that happen. In the interim, go where Google takes you and you never know what you might find.

You get to decide

One place you will most certainly get inspiration from is your television in less than two weeks’ time. London Marathon will be broadcast on April 23rd and watching it will make you wish you were there. You might be too late for that one, but you do have a chance now to plot you summer steps. As we finish off the Easter eggs and leave this bank holiday weekend behind, decide to make a plan for your summer. What feels right for you this year? Find something that excites you, inspires you and then why not get a crew on board to join you on the journey. Many of us have spent a lot of time running solo. Could this be the summer to get back running together?

That’s up to you to decide.