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It takes me a long time to choose my next race, but it always feels good when I do. Sometimes it's a half marathon or a 5K, but this time it's a full marathon. On Feb. 17, I'll be running the Austin Marathon, and there's no turning back.
Nothing motivates me like having a race date to work toward. It helps if it's centered around a fun trip with friends, like this one. But first, I'll focus on my training, which is in full tilt.
Here are five things to look for when choosing a race:
• Decide if you like big-city or small-town races. There's a huge difference between the crowds in Boston each Patriots' Day and a local race where you may not see spectators for miles. Consider races that suit your style. There are so many to choose from! If you want to run close to home and don't care about fanfare, choose something local and don't worry about the rest. If you expect thunderous applause, don't sign up for Granny's 26.2 in Tiny Town USA or you'll be very disappointed.
• Figure out your relationship with hills. Runners like to talk, so reach out to people you know or sign on to a message board before you register. You could be unpleasantly surprised if you sign up without checking a course map and elevation chart; most big races have those posted on their websites, so check out what you're signing up for.
• The type of course can make a big difference. If you're an out-and-back runner or someone who always follows the same running route, you'll want to look for a course to match. If you're hoping to check out a new city, you won't enjoy repeating a four-mile course more than six times to get to 26.2. There are so many options in the U.S. and abroad, so you don't have to compromise -- choose what you like best.
• Altitude can make a big difference, especially if this is your first marathon. Don't assume you can run anywhere; even the pros go out to train at altitude to adjust to the conditions. If you train at sea level, you will struggle through a race at altitude; if you don't plan to practice at higher elevations, don't put your body through the extra torture if you can help it. Doing 26.2 in decent conditions is challenge enough. You don't need to push your body beyond its limits if you're not prepared for more than 20 miles of sucking air at altitude.
• Find a race that can include your fans. If you're traveling with children, choose a race in a kid-friendly location. You can't beat a spot like Walt Disney World; marathon weekend in February includes runDisney Kids' Races and a Family Fun Run 5K. No matter what spot you choose, find an event that will incorporate everyone who'll be there with you. The happier they are and the more inclusive the event, the better it will be for all of you. Keep in mind that when you're ready for 26.2, your best girlfriend may be in shape for 13.1, and a race weekend with both is the perfect girls' getaway!
Rachel Cooperman is a contributor for espnW.