Pros and Cons of Different Race Distances

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

By: Billy Ornold, Senior Events Coordinator

While a few runners are happy running but never racing, most either need a goal race to keep them motivated or want to test themselves in a race setting. One thing that is great about our sport is the multitude of options and directions you can take. No matter if you are picking a race for the first time or are a seasoned racer looking for a new challenge, there are a few things to take into consideration:

Size of race: Small or Large
Distance: 5K to Marathon or beyond
Surface: Road or Trail (I like to think of these two as completely different sports)

I have always run, but started my own personal racing journey as a 5K weekend warrior. Think: as many 5K’s (and the occasional 10K) that can fit into my schedule and always trying to set another PR. I threw a half marathon on my schedule, and before I knew it, I caught the running bug and signed up for my first marathon. This transition all took place within two years. It is indeed a slippery slope. Fifteen years after that first race, I have now completed multiple ultras and even have a 100 miler under my belt. While this has been my journey, everyone has their own. I wanted to share some things to consider on each race distance, touch on race size, and end with some thoughts on road vs. trail. In the end, I hope this is helpful to you.

5Ks and 10Ks 

  • While you can run lots of miles if you would like, these do not require as much time to prepare/train for.
  • If you are racing for a personal best, these hurt (a lot) since you are usually running at 90-95% effort the entire time.
  • The race is typically over by the time you really get warmed up.
  • The registration costs are typically lower.

Half Marathons and Marathons

  • Really cool finisher medals and sometimes nicer race “swag”.
  • More likely to have an after party.
  • Requires a lot of time training (3-4 months or longer).

Ultra Distance

  • Think even more time and training.
  • More equipment needed (trail shoes, poles, hydration packs).
  • Sometimes these last anywhere from 4 hours to multiple days (yes, multiple days).

Large Race Size (Greater than 1,000 runners)

  • Usually increases the logistical challenges on race day (traffic, parking, etc).
  • Less chance of winning an award. 😊

Small Race Size (Less than 1,000 runners)

  • Higher chances of winning an award.
  • Can have a more personal race experience as you are more than “just a bib number”.


  • Faster running.
  • Less falls (but if you are a clutz, like me it sure hurts when you do fall).
  • Usually, you can start a run right outside your door.


  • Unless you are lucky and live next to a trail, you must drive to a trail.
  • Did I mention falls? These have roots and other trip hazards.
  • Requires more technical equipment.
  • Can be better on your body due to trails being softer than asphalt
  • The “trail” community is quirky and unique.
  • Unless you’re an elite, you get to walk the hills with a snack in hand.

No matter what your race adventures have in store for you, it is always challenging. I for one am grateful that our shared “hobby” is one that is fun, healthy, and includes great people. We at Charm City Run hope to see you at a race soon!


Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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