The Mind of the Anxious Runner when Choosing a Fall Race

It’s time, again, to choose your fall goal race. Ok, unless your a super-procrastinator like I am, you’ve probably already picked your fall goal race. Why does fall race season bring out the worst in my procrastinating self?

Maybe it’s because it’s the perfect racing season, reminiscent of cross-country for those of us who ran in high school or college, and it rewards us with crisp air and pretty leaves  after training through the summer’s heat and humidity. There’s no denying the magic of fall running weather.

Maybe it’s because 90% of the best races happen in the fall, which also might be because of how perfect the conditions are to race. I feel overwhelmed by choices! They all feel awesome and awful at the same time.

As I attempt to choose a goal race, I thought I’d give you a look at the inner workings of an anxious runner as she considers several popular racing distances.

Anxious runner on the pros and cons of a 5K

Ooooh, yes, a 5K! I want to be fast again. And there are so many 5Ks! I could race a whole bunch and see myself get faster week by week.

But…oh, yeah. Do I really want to do speed work all summer? Like, legit speed work? Plus, I hate feeling like I’m going to puke, and the 5K is basically a 3.1 mile puke machine. So maybe not.

Ugh, but I haven’t PR’d in the 5K in forever. Maybe I’ll do it anyway?

Stretching in the one shady spot on the track - those clouds provided some much needed cover during my intervals!
There’s nothing like training all summer for a fast fall race and finding one tiny shady spot on the track!


OK, yeah, the 10K. That’s perfect. Still fast, still forces me to do that speed work, but maybe I won’t feel like I’m going to die the whole time.

Or I will feel like I’m going to die the whole time, but for twice as long. Also, no non-runner I know has any clue how long a 10K is. I don’t want to be answering that question all fall.

Half marathon

Yes! This must be the perfect solution! Long and impressive to runners and non-runners alike. I can do long runs and speed work, but I don’t have to give up my weekends. I’ll be fast but have endurance, and then I can use that to train for whatever race I want in the spring!

But …

then I’ll be wondering why I didn’t run a marathon.


Fall is marathon season, right? I’ve gotta do it then! There’s so many marathons, and I’ll have the worst FOMO if I don’t do it. Also, there’s nothing like that marathon finish line.

There’s also nothing like marathon training fatigue or the dread of the long run in week 10. And week 11. And probably weeks 12-14. Sigh. And if the marathon isn’t a good day … ohh boy.


This is the spiral you’ll find me in for the next week or so. I’m already signed up for a few fall races, including a half and a full, but I haven’t decided which I want to really make my race.

As with all choices that matter, there will be things gained and things lost. And it is a choice that matters when you care about your running. It might not make sense to those non-runners in your life; a race is a race, so why not choose the shorter one, or the cheaper one, or the one with the better t-shirt?

Grit your teeth and try not to roll your eyes when you get that advice, and take heart in knowing that all of us who truly care about running, for reasons we can and cannot explain, are feeling preemptive sadness about the race we didn’t choose, even as we feel growing excitement for the race we did.

Do you struggle with choosing a goal race?

I spend my days nerding out about books and history with my 7th grade students in Boston, MA. To keep my sanity, I squeeze in my runs before the sun comes up, usually jamming out to One Direction. Next big goal is a sub-3:20 marathon and/or sub-20 minute road 5K.

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  1. This is me trying to pick a goal race every single season! And I always end up just going with the marathon for precisely the reason you said … might as well.

  2. I gravitate towards the marathon when choosing goal races, it is my favorite distance but I think it’s also the might as well attitude. I like to run other races as tuneups, or workouts though. Choosing my distance is usually the easy part for me, picking the race I tend to waiver much more! Location, race size, time goals, etc etc etc.

  3. It’s hard to make a commitment!! I usually gravitate to the half marathon distance. This year I signed up for a full, and I’m having some pretty serious buyer’s regret about it!

  4. This is totally me! I tend to gravitate towards half marathons too. But then I’m also like “if I sign up now, I’ll end up injured and out the money so…let’s put if off for a few more weeks.”

  5. every summer I have the same conversation about the 5k – I haven’t p.r’d or raced a 5k in about 4 years… I should do it… but “the 5K is basically a 3.1 mile puke machine” exactly.

  6. My goal race in the fall is always a marathon but I’ll run other shorter races leading into it (except for 10Ks – I hate those)…5Ks I don’t love either, but they are short – I’ll pop those in just for fun – hey, extra speedwork, why not? I prefer 10 mile race to the half – but those can be done in a marathon build-up. Basically I pick a fall marathon, and then pick some other varying distances that happen to fit into my training.