To be honest there really isn’t a wrong time to register for a race but is there a perfect time? I would say yes there is. Of course it depends what race and what year you’re talking about and it could even vary from person to person. How can something so simple also be so complicated? You have to balance out the reality of how busy you will be when it comes time to train and even the danger that your dream race will sell out. If you have to travel for your race that can really influence the right moment to register as can a recent injury. Of course the most important thing about registering is not when you do it but that you do it at all! So with that in mind here is the perfect time to register for an upcoming race in a bunch of different scenarios.
A race you have to travel for
Some of the races I’m currently thinking about maybe someday doing are ones that involve a huge outlay of cash and traveling. I could be corrected but I think that the travel costs always outstrip the cost of actually registering for a race. So just say you’re thinking of doing a half ironman in Mount Tremblant the very first thing you should do is get your registration in. As soon as it opens or you know you want to do it. Maybe even the year before. Once that’s in place you can start to book things like flights, hotels and rental cars. If you do end up having to pass on your race that year later on due to injury or life you’ll really only be out the race fee. You can always wait to book all the other stuff until you know (mostly) for sure you’ll be able to go. Losing your registration fee really is a worst case scenario though. You might be able to defer to next year or sell your bib for a bit less if the race allows that. If you do find yourself in this position reach out to the race director as early as possible. Most will work with you because they are humans too.
A big step up race
Say you’re going from the 10k to a half or from a half to a full this year. First off good for you and you can do it! But when do you pull the trigger and register. Some of the other factors here could apply too so have a read through before making your final decision. But all things being equal some time around the halfway point in training is about right. When you step up to a new distance there are a few things that can happen. You might get overwhelmed and decide that this is not in fact the year for it, you might get injured or you might have other life stuff get in the way. The only reason not to register too early is that you might have a harder time walking away from it if that turns out to be the right choice for you. Once you get to about the halfway point though it’s really, really likely that you will finish your training and the race so that’s about the right time. However … if you want to register earlier or later than that then that’s okay too. As long as you have a great training program and time and space in your life to tackle your new goal, you’ll be able to get it done!
A race that might sell out
If you do set your sights on a race that at least sometimes sells out you HAVE to be strategic. The safest bet it to find out when registration opens or stalk their social media and get on that the moment it opens. How do you know if a race might sell out? There are a few clues so put your detective hat on. One way is to ask people who’ve done it in the past. Even if they got in early they probably know if it sold out the years they attended. You can even put a quick post on a local running page asking if it sells out and how fast if you want. The other option is to scroll WAY back on their social media looking for a post that says it did sell out in previous years. Register about a month before you think it probably could sell out. Basically as early as you are comfortable with. If however it does sell out shoot off an email to the organizing team and get yourself on the waitlist ASAP. It’s been my experience that if race directors can accommodate you they will.
A regular old race you have to train for
This is going to vary a lot from person to person. I find it motivating in training to already be registered. Once your training program starts to require sacrifices in your life otherwise that’s a really great time to pull the trigger and put your money on the line. For others it’s always the first step in getting started. In a lot of ways the earlier you register the better for most of the other reasons on this list. Plus some races have price step ups as the date approaches so you could save a few bucks too.
A race when you’re coming back from injury
This registration is the one you might want to put off if you can. In years where you are coming off an injury you might not want to set your sights on one of those races that’s likely to sell out. In general, if you’ve been injured recently or heaven forbid even during your training you’ll want to delay registering for as long as possible. It’s so much easier to walk away from an event for health reasons if you don’t already have the pass in your apple wallet. Some great races, like Bluenose, will let your register right up until the week of the event. If things really are touch and go this could be the perfect sort of race for you this year. The flip side is that your event might sell out so it is a delicate balance, especially this year with restricted numbers and pandemic ups and downs. So basically, wait as long as you possibly can to register. Ideally you’ll be able to put it off until you know you’ll be healthy enough to do it on race day.
A super fun ‘extra’ race
Depending on the runner that you are and the point of the season that you are in you might be able to spring off the couch right now and run a 5k or a 10k with only a moment’s notice. You might even be able to enter a half or a full in much the same way. I think we’ve all been there. We are talking to someone, an email pops up or we see an ad or post on social media for a race we didn’t know about. I know this one gets me a lot, a touch of boredom with a lot of FOMO means we are highly susceptible to earning some last minute bling. Usually you can totally do this as often as your budget allows. The only thing that should hold you back from signing up for a last minute is training or recovering from another race. In this scenario we tell ourselves some lies in order to give ourselves permission to do something. We say things like, “I’ll go easy and just treat it like a training run.” But… we all know that’s not true. Come race day you will be racing when you get caught up in the atmosphere. I’m not saying you can’t sign up for some impulse super fun races along the way to a bigger goal I’m just saying think about it. If you’re training for something big you probably can’t do them all. In general hold back from these ‘extra’ races in training if you’re tackling something bigger, if it’s for the first time, later in training or if you’re already feeling the effects of your program. In those cases look for bonus races that are just as fun after your main event this season.
These are all the things to consider when registering for a particular race but ultimately you decide what’s best for you. I have running friends that always register at the last moment even for the important ones and others who register the very moment they can. Remember though running a race when it would be better for your health not to is never a good idea whether you’re already registered or not! Are you the first one signed up or do you always have to write your name on your bib on race day? Leave it in the comments below!
A lot of races open registration in December and give big discounts if you register early.
This can be risky as it’s hard to know your health or the state of the world 6-12 months out.
I used to love registering for a bunch of races around the holidays. It gave me something to dream about and train for.
If a race that I want to do gives an early bird discount, I’m all over that!
My injuries more than COVID put an end to that. But I hope to be looking for early registration discounts soon.