03/27/2014 09:36 pm ET Updated May 27, 2014

Tips to Choosing a Race

When choosing a race to work towards, proximity can be the deciding factor on whether you show up to the race or not. If, like me, you're not an early morning person choosing a race you can get to easily can help get you out of bed that morning. When I ran the Women's Half Marathon last spring, which is located in Central Park, I fought with myself in the morning to get up knowing I had a 45-minute drive ahead of me.

I live in Rockland County so I couldn't simply get on the subway and go. Not only did it take me almost an hour to get to the race, but it took another 45 minutes to find parking. I almost completely missed the start off, and by the time I got to the park I was frustrated and wanted to go back to bed.

Having a plan is essential. Spend the night at a friend who lives near the race location or prepare yourself better the night before by setting everything you'll need out and getting a good night's sleep so you have a better chance of getting up the next morning.

Group or individual:
I've run both with a group and alone and they both have their pros and cons. If you're running in a group the race tends to be more exciting. You keep tabs on each other during the training process, advise each other on injuries and how to improve, and the excitement of race day is jacked up with team spirit. That is, unless you have to deal with competitive friends who can very well ruin the experience you've been training so hard for. I've had people I was supposed to be training with stop talking to me out of competition, someone even told me they hoped I tripped and fell during the race.

As laughable as this behavior is now, it was kind of hurtful then, because running has a lot to do with motivation and working through the ups and downs. For a sport so simple, it is very emotional and rough on the body. When running with a group it is essential to find supportive people who are more likely to de-stress the situation and make it fun.

The few times I've run alone I had to be my own source of motivation. I had to pump myself up and keep myself going. Race day, although still exciting, gives me more of a reflective feeling of internal peace as I ready myself for the upcoming challenge. It's less fun, and more a personal will to do well and succeed. I highly recommend this experience as well as running with a group because the run is more about yourself and your goal.

Always research the town and course you're running! I cannot stress this enough. I've learned this the hard way. When I ran the Sleepy Hollow Half Marathon last weekend the entire town, let alone the entire course was uphill. I'm not going to lie. I was horrified when I took a look at it the day of. The first big hill was not even half way through the first mile. I almost hailed a cab, but I was so unfamiliar with the area I was running I didn't know where to find one.

My other races had been relatively flat, so I never even saw this coming. Researching the area is not only a great way to be knowledgeable of the hills during the race, but it also gives you an idea of the type of training to focus on. Is the town concrete, or does it have carriage roads. Will you be on the highway or is it a town, street, neighborhood run. Is the town of normal elevation or is it ENTIRELY uphill (seriously, the whole thing!). Re-con will be a deciding factor on whether you want to run the race, whether you can prepare for the race in the amount of time you have, and what kind of training program to use.

If you live in New York and have run at all this winter you'll understand why "season" makes the list. In my opinion, the running season starts in the spring. People are going for new beginnings and want to start the sunny season off strong. I've done a lot of March races for that reason. Training for the Sleepy Hollow Half Marathon in New York was brutal this year.

With the constant snow storms and frigid winds, New York was a frosty witch that made everyone miserable. Most of my training was done indoors, on a treadmill at the gym. Although I trained as well as I could, I didn't feel prepared by any means. The treadmill inflicts injuries in the ham strings, shins, and gluteals. You also have less range of motion on a treadmill. My biggest concern was the effect of the cold air during the race.

When I ran the Rock n' Roll DC Half Marathon last March, the winter was milder and I was able to run outside more. When you train outside you build more of a tolerance to the cold air, and because I wasn't able to do that I coughed more and it effected my running pace.

Where you are in your training vs. how much time you have:
Running is a sport where you're constantly pushing yourself. Pushing yourself is great, but not to the point where you're being careless and it is obvious that you will injure yourself. If you cannot run three miles, don't sign up for a 5k two weeks from now. Give yourself time to work up to that mileage. Training is a huge part of the glory of running through that finish line. You worked for it and obtained your goal. Many online training schedules will tell you before you start that you should be able to run a certain amount (each training schedule specifies a different amount) before starting. Find the training program and race right for you. Especially if you're a beginner, the more time you put into training the more enjoyable and rewarding running is.

The company sponsoring the race:
I've run races sponsored by big and small companies. The atmosphere is always exciting regardless, but they each have their own perks. I ran the D.C. Half with Rock n' Roll marathons and The Women's Half with Road Runners. Those are pretty well known running companies who better advertise their races. They tend to have expos during check-in at the races which are really fun.

There are booths that specialize in running gear, training nutritional programs, fashionable workout gear, even runner jewelry. It's a fan club celebrating runners and it pumps you up even more for the race you just checked into.

Smaller companies like Rivertown Runners, where I ran the Sleepy Hollow Half marathon, have great races but people don't know about them because they aren't as well advertised. They do tend to inform you about the race better than the bigger companies do, and although they don't have huge expos they have community celebrations on the day of in the town you're running, which is really enjoyable. Sleepy Hollow had a barbecue, the Bronx Zoo which is sponsoring a race next month is offering a free day pass and face painting. Big and small company races have a different feel but they are both meant to make the runner feel good and confident.

Many runners choose their races in accordance to the cause it is fundraising for. That can be motivational in itself. It gives you a reason to keep going because you feel passionate about the cause or maybe know someone struggling with that particular illness. I ran a race for Lymphoma last year to support a family member who has it and it definitely added to the pride I felt when crossing that finish line.

Next month, the WCS is sponsoring a 5k/Family run at the Bronx Zoo to raise money to stop the slaughtering of African Elephants for their ivory. You can read more about this by researching the 96 Elephant Initiative, which is so named because there are 96 Elephants killed in Africa a day. This type of race gives you the option to go as an individual or join a team. If you are interested and want to join a team look into mine. We are Team Snuffleupagus!