A blog by runners. For runners.

The pros and cons of registering for a race early


Last March, I happily forked over about $260 to the New York Road Runners. I had guaranteed entry into the New York City Marathon (NYCM) for 2013 and could not wait to run the race, so I didn’t think twice about securing my spot eight months in advance.

Fast forward to July when I found out I was pregnant. I’m all for running during pregnancy, but running a marathon during pregnancy? That wasn’t for me.

Luckily, NYCM allows deferrals, so I deferred my entry until 2014. But here’s the catch: I had to pay the registration fee again when March rolled around this year. So, I basically threw $260 away last year.

Registering for races early is becoming the standard nowadays. Many popular races sell out within days or hours of registration opening, at a date that’s months before race day. And as any runner knows, a lot can happen in the time in between that can keep us from reaching the start line.

What’s a runner to do? Carefully weigh the pros and cons of registering early before pulling out his or her credit card.

Pros of registering for a race early:

  • You may save money. Many races have tiered pricing where the cost to race increases every month or so. The earlier you sign up, the less you pay.
  • You don’t have to worry about the race selling out. This is a no-brainer. If you sign up the minute registration opens, you don’t have to worry about missing your opportunity.
  • Early registration may be your only shot. NYCM and other races with lotteries and qualification standards only open registration for a short window of time – so you have to sign up early.
  • You can take advantage of all of the swag and perks. Many races only guarantee tech shirts and personalized bibs if you register by a certain date. Some races gift free items, like duffel bags, to the first 100 or so runners to register. Other races even offer free group training runs regularly for participants who are already registered.
  • You have something to train for. You can’t put a price tag on motivation. Even if the race isn’t for several months, knowing you have it on your calendar may be all the motivation you need to lace up your running shoes every day.

Cons of signing up early:

  • You can’t see into the future. Pregnancy, moving, starting a new job, or a nagging injury are just some of the reasons that can keep you from toeing the line come race day. Often, we can’t predict when these events will happen, so signing up for a race in advance is a gamble.
  • Not all races allow for deferrals and refunds. If you register for a race early, make sure you read the race’s deferral or cancelation and refund policy. Some races allow for deferrals for any reason and credit your registration fee towards the following year’s event. Other races only accept cancelations for medical reasons and a doctor’s note is required to receive a refund.
  • You may not save any money. Those early bird specials aren’t always the cheapest rates offered. Some races offer coupon codes to sell more spots as race day gets closer.

How do you feel about registering early? If it’s a popular race that I really want to run that I know will sell out, I sign up as soon as possible. But for smaller, local races, I usually wait until the last minute.

Written by Jen Matz.