““i am new to running and want to take on a marathon.  what are some of the best marathons for beginners?”

My introduction into running is quite different than most people.  For some people that run in the Chicago Marathon in 2009-2011, you may have seen an over six-foot tall turkey wearing a Pilgrim hat giving high fives along the charity mile.  Without ruining any of the magic, did I mention I was the Director of Marketing for the event management company for the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade?  While taking in the sights and sounds of the great event, I always thought to myself that I could do a marathon.  And, yes, Teddy debated about running it too … wondering if he could keep a 15:30-minute pace.

The beautiful town of Ottawa, IL – Start Line of the 2014 Starved Rock Country Marathon
At the entrance of Starved Rock State Park during the 2014 Starved Rock Country Marathon.

In 2014, I took a freelance gig doing the marketing for the Starved Rock Country Marathon & Half Marathon in Illinois.  I was a hockey player, didn’t know much about running, and took the job to make a few extra bucks.  With medal reveals, inspirational stories, and participants logging their miles, I slowly became engulfed in the culture.

Promoting the Starved Rock Country Marathon and the area during the 2014 Chicago Marathon expo

That year, we also promoted the 2015 race at a booth at the Chicago Marathon.  With all the excitement seen in the runners faces, the cool vendor booths, and hearing some more amazing stories, I knew I wanted to take on this challenge.

I ended up signing up for the 2015 half, telling my story though the SRCM blog.  Talked about my successes and failures, and had fans of the race supporting me on the way.  And, I completed my half (second to last, but that isn’t important).

But that didn’t stop me.  I ended up signing up and completing the 2016 Walt Disney World Marathon.  I figured if I was going to take on a huge challenge, Disney was the best place to do it.  I’m a huge fan of Disney and the chance to run through the four parks … couldn’t pass that up.  I beat the 7-hour limit, as I trained to the best of my ability at the time.

Fast forward to know, where I’m 4 marathons in – 3 Walt Disney World Marathons and 1 Chicago Marathon. That includes a ton of other shorter-distance races.

2016 Disneyland 10K with Mrs. Biggest Bark

So, that’s my running story – why am I telling it?

For those that may not have exposure to races like I had (or my Disney-fandom), they may not know where to start.  Where might someone look to find out more information?  I ran an experiment with two options – Google and ChatGPT.

The Experiment

I used the query, “i am new to running and want to take on a marathon.  what are some of the best marathons for beginners?”

ChatGPT responded with:

  • TCS New York City Marathon
  • Bank of America Chicago Marathon
  • Walt Disney World Marathon (Florida)
  • Marine Corps Marathon (Washington D.C.)
  • Edinburgh Marathon (Scotland)
  • Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series (Various Locations)
  • Paris Marathon (France)

ChatGPT also provided a 1-to-2 sentence reason for each response.

Google responded with articles from:

Why did those results pop up?

ChatGPT poses itself as the expert, especially when its able to access all the articles, online reviews, and all the content in can consume.  Although, by its own admission at the bottom of the screen, “ChatGPT can make mistakes. Consider checking important information.”

Google highlights content it believes to be from the experts.  Its algorithm takes into authority, experience, and relevance.

Now, the races themselves don’t explicitly brand themselves as beginner-friendly.  Experienced runners may get turned off from slow, inexperienced runners blocking the tangents with a group of 10 friends.  (The 26.2 miles in a marathon is the “shortest” possible distance you can run … assuming you ran all of your angles correctly.  In my first marathon, I was inexperienced and put on just over 30 miles – wasting time and energy).

Should every race try and be beginner-friendly?

This is all part of product positioning, and it all depends on what that organization wants its to be.  An example of a race that I’ve taken photos at is the Lemont Quarryman Challenge.  I was working social media for the Village, and this was one of their signature events.  This is a 10-mile race in Lemont, IL … and as you can imagine, it’s not easy.  The word Challenge in the title is not just being clever.

The race itself is pretty much “5 miles up and 5 miles down.”  It’s a challenge, and it draws many runners throughout the Chicagoland area.  Runners know what they’re getting into.  Yes, some beginners wanted to take on the challenge, but it was not an easy race.

There is not readily accessible data on the number of people that attempt to run a marathon for the first time each year to determine if this is a worthwhile market to pursue.

How does Google come up with its responses?

As I referred to earlier, Google’s algorithm takes into account authority, experience, and relevance.  Is the article talking about a subject relevant to the search term, does the home site have a established presence, and does the site offer a good user experience.

It’s not just putting up a site that says “We’re beginner friendly”?  It’s getting lots of traffic to the page, backlinks from other web sites (to help showcase you as an expert), having other race-related content, and more.  This, of course, is a 10,000-foot view of search engine optimization.

How does ChatCPT come up with its response?

Well, I actually asked ChatCPT, and here is its summarized response:

“Popularity and Accessibility, Course Characteristics, Support and Atmosphere, Unique Experiences, Global Representation, Feedback from Runners, and Organizational Excellence.”

In all of the characteristics that it measures, it’s looking through testimonials, online reviews, and other articles.

These characteristics, by the way, are important!  We’re going to come back to this later.

What’s the key similarity?

The key similarity is “other people talking.”  SEO thrives on back article links to establish authority, and AI thrives on those same articles.  It’s people telling your story, even if its not directly the story you wanted.  .

Why is this important?

It’s important to know how both Google and ChatGPT (and their various competitors) work.  Google is still the “right now” in terms of search, but ChatGPT and other AI models will soon be the future.

Whatever your business, you need to be aware of your brand’s perception and – if the strategy tells you to – either embrace it or pivot from it.

How to get “optimized”?

Getting optimized is not a sprint, it’s a marathon … and yes, the whole idea for the article came from that joke.

  • Be clear and directly state your brand.One of the keys we focused on for the Starved Rock Country Marathon was the scenic beauty of the area.  “A Beautiful, Doable race” only 90 minutes from the City of Chicago.  And, we complimented the marketing with photos from the amazing landscapes and nearby canyons that were part of the area – a purposeful contrast from where we marketed the race in Chicago.  The “doable” portion of our brand was to help with one aspect … hills.  The Starved Rock State Park area is filled with hills and canyons, so we didn’t want to overwhelm anyone who wanted to take on the race.
  • Determine what you want your customers talking about.Remember how I asked ChatGPT how they determined a beginner-friendly race?  The characteristics measured were “Popularity and Accessibility, Course Characteristics, Support and Atmosphere, Unique Experiences, Global Representation, Feedback from Runners, and Organizational Excellence.” What are those pillars that you need to knock the socks off of your customers and show that your fulfilling your brand’s promise?
  • Deliver what you want your customers talking about. Here’s the perfect opposite of a beginner-friendly race – the Boston Marathon.  To even qualify, you time needs to range between 3 and 4 hours (depending on age and gender).  For the Walt Disney World Marathon, you must finish in under seven hours to avoid being “swept.” Trust me, I’m more of a seven-hour guy than a three-hour guy. But, your brand isn’t going to exist if you aren’t delivering.  Want to have the best burger in the area?  Don’t skimp on your meat quality.  Looking to be the top realtor in the county?  Make sure you’re attentive and not send every call to voicemail.
  • Get your customers talking.  If they’re not genuinely talking about your brand, there are ways to spur on the conversation.  Anyone can put anything on a web site, Facebook comment, or Yelp review.  People are more apt to trust reviews, so if you can get more people talking about your race, the better.  This goes hand-in-hand with my next point. There are ways to encourage this.  I lived in one apartment complex that would enter you to win $200 if you left them a five-star rating on Google.  This is sort of similar to “like, comment, subscribe, and you may win something” that you see on social media.  I’m not the biggest fan of bribery, but it does work.  (Google does attempt to crack down on this as well). Some other ways are to highlight five-star ratings on your web site, sincerely thank them, and ask for referrals.  Seeking direct feedback is another effective strategy. Consider forming a customer improvement panel to spotlight strengths and openly address areas for enhancement. While this approach may initially present challenges, the long-term benefits of transparency and continuous improvement can significantly outweigh the initial discomfort This method works for offline brand building too… just like SportClips refer a friend card.  This gets the word-of-mouth going, and provides a bit of a incentive for the card as well.
  • Embrace influencers. If you’re industry has influencers, embrace them.  It can be scary, “because what if they trash us.”  But, this is where confidence in your business and brand will help.  Influencers can help showcase your business and establish back links.  The more mentions you can get anywhere, including through influencers, can help with your authority and to be noticed by ChatGPT.

The Future of Optimization

There are still many questions on the future of both AI and SEO.  Will the simplicity and quick answers of ChatGPT bring more people to AI compared to search?  Will Google’s new AI make their search even more powerful than before.

Both SEO and AI, to different degrees, try and learn more about the user and tailor responses to that individual.  Will governmental influence derail this in the interest of privacy?

Will AI be able to parse through YouTube, TikTok, and podcasts?

There’s a lot of discover, a lot to know, and a lot to take in.  But stay tuned to Biggest Bark Marketing Solutions, as we’re going to talk more about AI, SEO, and other marketing tips to help out your business.

And keep an eye out for the next article in this series:  “AI vs SEO – Ranking the Best Restaurant.”

Cartoon bulldog, dressed in business attire, typing on a laptop at its desk.

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