I vomited at the end of my first road race—a 5K in 2000 when I was seven years old. I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking as the barf poured from my mouth and splattered on to the sparkling asphalt of the empty parking lot 100 feet from the finish line, but I imagine it was something along these lines: “Well, this kind of sucks.”
I have had a version of that thought pop in to my head at least once during most of the 40 or so road races that I have completed since then. Depending on the rigorousness of the course, the amount of training I completed beforehand, the amount of support along the way, how accomplished I feel after, and the amount of beer in the finisher’s chute, I’ve determined that the precise level of suck varies by the type of race I’m in.
According to Running USA, 30,400 road races were held in America in 2016. If trends hold steady, there will be slightly more in 2017. The organization groups the data into six distance categories. By far the most saturated is the 5K, with 17,000 events. The least is the marathon, with 1,100.
Here, I’ve used my totally scientific “suck coefficient” to rank each distance category, based on 18 years completing races of varying length. Feel free to argue, but my ruling is final.