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The BibRave 100: A look into the list of top races

As any runner knows, there are countless online articles and listicles featuring “the top road races in America,” “10 must-do races,” “best half marathons for beginners” and many others.

The majority of those compilations are based on one person’s whimsy or influenced by race sponsors. Still, given that there are tens of thousands of races from 5Ks to marathons — and that doesn’t include ultra distances, triathlons or obstacle course races — it would be a massive undertaking to separate the “must-do” races from the meh races.

And that is what BibRave set out to do recently with its BibRave 100 list of the top races in America.

“Other ‘best of’ lists definitely exist, but those are usually for editorial purposes or are kind of randomly assigned,” BibRave co-founder Tim Murphy says. “The BibRave 100 was meant to be a reflection of the larger running community, shining a light on the races doing it right.”

In its short time of existence, BibRave has become integrated within the road running and racing community. With its online community of BibRave Pros established, Murphy and his team set out to produce a community-generated list of top races.

“It actually came out of some self-reflection,” he says. “In looking at who we are, we realized BibRave has this amazing online community of runners (The BibRave Pros!). We have all these race relationships. We have all these brand partnerships. And we have a ton of race industry service provider relationships (timers, registration, photo companies, bib companies, apparel, etc.) — and we thought, why not bring all of those stakeholders together to form the most authoritative, well-informed list of the Best Races in America.”

The 100 races were split into various categories and voted on: top 20 marathons, top 20 half marathons, top 15 10Ks and top 15 5Ks. The remaining spots were broken up by the top 10 in medals and bling; on course scenery; and race management.

To date I have completed more than 50 races, none of which made any of the “top” lists. However, I am registered for the Chicago Marathon (No. 4 on top 20) this October, expect to run the Boston Marathon (No. 3 in April 2019) and have my eyes on the New York City Marathon (in top 20 marathons). I am also considering BolderBoulder, the second-rated 15K, possibly as early as May.

A surprise at No. 1

While I was disappointed that my favorite marathon, the Indianapolis Monumental, did not make the cut, my biggest surprise was the top-rated 26.2-mile race. That distinction went to the Missoula (Mont.) Marathon over bucket-list races such as Boston, New York and Chicago.

“I must say, I was a bit surprised too — but we shouldn’t have been!” Murphy admits. “They were ranked the Best Marathon in the country in 2010 by Runner’s World, their community and race operations are absolutely top notch (believe me — the people of Missoula BELIEVE in that Marathon). And they actually made Runner’s World’s Top 10 Bucket List Races just this month! The folks at Run Missoula seem to have nailed the perfect combo of small town charm, professional race management, gorgeous scenery and killer overall experience.”

From the BibRave writeup: “It’s not just the community that makes the on-course experience amazing. Missoula also offers 360-degree panoramic views of the mountains during sunrise and an exciting finish through downtown Missoula. All of these elements add up to a perfect recipe for a bucket list race.”

The Missoula race, held in July, also offers a half marathon and 5K. It has not only risen to the premier spot in the BibRave 100, it now resides on Murphy’s and my to-do lists

“The Missoula Marathon and the top half marathon in America — the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon — are definitely at the top of my list,” says Murphy, noting the Jim Beam sponsored race held in Louisville each October. “Beyond that and if things work out, I kind of plan on working my way through the list over the next few years.”

It does seem that BibRave has crowned Kentucky as the home of the best half marathons. Following the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon was the Kentucky Derby Festival Mini Marathon, also in Louisville, while the Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon in Lexington also made the list.

The list going forward

As an ultra runner, one criticism I would have about the list is that it ended with the marathon. There are well-deserving ultras such as the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run, the Wasatch 100, Hardrock 100, Leadville 100 and the American River 50 to name a few.

Why did BibRave choose to use the marathon as the cutoff point? And will future top 100 lists include races of longer distances, or for that matter, other distances not included in the original list (like a 10-miler)?

“That’s a fair criticism,” Murphy admitted. “And the honest answer is that this turned out to be a massive, massive project. And as a result, we had to make some difficult exclusions from the category list.

“We wanted to just focus on the marathon and below because that covers the lion’s share of races. There are about 30,000 organized races in America every year, and road races dominate that number. So as much as you and I love trail ultras, it didn’t make sense to try to include them in this first edition of The BibRave 100. Not ruling it out for the future though 😉.”

He also noted that BibRave is keeping its options open for other distances, too.

“Regarding other distances, pretty much the same reason — there just isn’t the critical mass for us to include those races in this first edition,” Murphy says, noting a recent Runner’s World survey that indicated 6 percent of respondents listed 12K, 15K or 10 mile as their favorite distances.”

Given the success of the initial BibRave 100, Murphy confirms that it will become an annual event and the team is considering changes. But he is pleased with the diversity in races listed in the first edition.

“There are actually a ton of smaller, non-majors and sub-mid-majors on the list — and at all distances,” he says. “That’s why we were so happy with this list! That being said, we can always drill down further, so I could see different iterations of the list focusing on different sizes, regions, themes, etc.”

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