Size Matters: The Differences Between Big Races & Small Races

Over the weekend, I finished my second marathon. Yay! This race was unlike any of the other race that I’ve competed in—it was small! Depending on what you are looking for in a race, participating in a small race could be the fun and casual experience you’re looking for! Or it could be detrimental to your success. I found that there were some major differences between running in small races and large races.

Number of Participants

I should have known just how small the race would be when the sign-up form on the event’s website said that it would be cut off at 200 participants. For some perspective, the Phoenix Marathon that I ran in had 8,000 runners while the New York City Marathon typically has 50,000!

Low Bib Numbers

Last Chance Marathon 2016With less than 200 participants running, our bibs didn’t need four to six digits. We topped off at three-digit bib numbers. Hence me getting the giggles like a twelve-year-old boy when the woman checking me in to the race handed me bib #69.

No Expo

For me, the expo is an inconvenient part of the race experience. You mean, I have to show up the day before, find parking, and wind through aisles of vendors trying to sell me on the latest gu just so I can pick up my bib?! This small race skipped that BS. I hopped in line an hour before the race, a woman found my name on the list, handed me my bib and T-shirt, plus told me to grab a few other freebies…and done!

No Timing Chip

Ten minutes before the race was to start, the race director stood up on a chair in the heated pavilion. He introduced himself and explained the course. Then he announced, “No one’s going to be qualifying for Boston here! So just go out there and have fun and be careful on the trail; it’s slippery.” The pressure was off to get the perfect time!


A local running club puts this race on each year, and unlike the big-time races, it felt like I was going to be running with a community. The event coordinators had coffee and tea for us before the race and they were fixing sandwiches, bacon, and soup for after the race. The one email I received just days before the race reminding about the event, was sent by the race director himself, not some marketing firm. The email was light-hearted, casual, and got me excited to run with this community.


The race was an out-and-back course (times two for marathoners). So at some point, we crossed paths with other runners making their way back through the course. I’ve run other out-and-back courses before. There is usually one runner who seems to know everyone that they pass: “Hey, Sarah!…You got this, Bill!…See you for drinks after?!” However, during this race, it didn’t matter who you were, whether you wearing a marathon or half marathon bib, whether you were walking or being passed from behind, each runner made it a point to say “Great job!” I loved this! I wish that every race could be like this!

Fewer Toilets

Despite having used the facilities three times before the race (yes three!) at the half-way mark, my bladder was screaming. There were two available toilets, one on either end of the course, six miles apart. This is all fine and dandy until you start having GI issues mid-race and a leaf and a bush aren’t your preferred method of doing your business.


Despite all of the friendliness and community on the course, I still found it to be an extremely lonely race. This was probably the biggest downside to the small race. When I ran the Seattle Marathon, I found my pacer bunny, jumped in line with her and 10 other runners and we ran the race together. I was always surrounded by people. I could listen to their conversations or join in. Along the path there were spectators cheering, signs encouraging us to keep going, and even marching bands loudly drumming out the evil voices in my head telling me to quit.

As I mentioned, the course for this small race was an out-and-back, times two. The beginning of the race was much like every other race. Runners clumped together in a pack, but by the sixth mile, the herd thinned out. And with every mile, I found myself more and more alone. After the majority of the half marathoners were finished, it was just us marathoners left of the trail. There may have been 70 in all, but it felt like five. I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me, nor anyone behind me. It was just the sounds of Beyoncé in my headphones, my feet shuffling over the gravel, and my inner voice. I was lonely. And I had to fully rely on my mental strength! Believe me, that was no easy task.

Running in a small race is quite a unique experience! An experience that I’d recommend most runners try at least once. I’d just suggest doing so with a friend and/or for a race shorter than 26.2 miles.

Share your #runnervibes below: Did I miss any major differences between large and small races? Do you have a preference between running in large races or small races?

The differences between small races and big races from
This is what you need to know before running in a small race.

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