I feel like I hear about a new endurance event every week. Many of them sound AWESWOME! How do I choose? There are many ways to group the kind of endurance events out there. I break it down into 7 categories, giving me a framework for how to decide what I want to sign up for. Do I want a fun run? A multi-sport challenge? A straight up road race? You may categorize events differently, but hopefully this will be helpful.
I try do at least 2 of these 7 every year (some I haven’t done yet):
- Traditional Road Race
- Trail Race
- “Fun” Runs
- Obstacle Courses
- Traditional Multi-Sport
- Off-Road Multi-Sport
1) Traditional Road Races: A simple road race (anything from a 5k to a marathon, depending on my goals). You don’t need the bells and whistles of colored dye being flung at you or obstacles to climb to get the basic benefit of a good old fashioned foot race. You can measure your running progress by leaving it all out there on the road. No distractions. Just you and the run and your personal best calling your name. The variety in this category is astounding; there are high profile events like the ING NYC Marathon, mega series like the RNR Marathon Series, holiday themed events, or ’boutique’ local races. If you can’t tolerate running, then a cycling event might get you rolling. Again, there are all kinds of distances from local city rides to 100 mile century rides. Just get out there and push to the finish line.
Pavement to pound:
- A holiday 5k/10k is great to get started. Think Turkey Trot, Jingle Bell Run, etc.
- A boutique, mom-and-pop, local race provides a solid community feel.
- A mega race series allows you to race in big cities and have a finish line party.
- A classic event (like Boston) is where you can test your toes against the best.
2) Trail Races: This may be an acquired taste, especially since trail runs are often associated with ultra distance events. But, you can take trails as far as you wish to go, through mountain or desert, even if only 3.something miles. It’s good to run around off the beaten path every once in a while where nature’s unpredictability keeps you engaged with your surroundings. From what I’ve been learning about trail runners, those who have responded to the call of the wild never looked back. Again, if you’re not keen on being on foot, you can take a mountain bike on some trails. Check your local bicycle store or parks and rec for information on bike friendly trails.
Trails to try:
- See Ultra Signup for a searchable list of trail races of all distances
- See Mountain Bike Racing event list
- XTERRA Trail Race Series
- Pacific Coast Trail Races
- SoCal Wine Country Women’s Half Trail Marathon
- Leona Valley Trail Races (SoCal)
- For the big win – any race in the Montrail Ultra Cup
- Leadville Race Series (Bike)
3) “Fun” Runs: You may argue that all running is fun. Yeah, true, but I put things like long distance relays, color runs or beer runs in the category of “Fun”. The reason being, is that for the majority, these events are about the experience and who you do it with. It’s likely you’ll do this kind of event with siblings or BFFs for kicks and giggles. These events are great for crazy photos to share on facebook and stories to tell later on. These are also a great way to get your non-runner friends do to a 5k with you as there’s usually a lot less pressure to “be a runner” or be fast. However, if you want to approach these events with a competitive spirit, there is always room for that.
Courses to consider:
- Awesome 80′s Run
- The Color Run
- Color Me Rad
- St. Patty’s Day races (basically a beer run)
- Undie Run (you know you want too)
- Bay to Breakers (okay, it’s a serious run too but it’s pretty wild)
- Krispy Kreme Challenge (a bad idea)
- Beer Run 5k at OC Fest of Ales (a great idea)
- Hood to Coast Relay (or Portland to Coast)
- Ragnar Relay Series
- The Relay (in Napa Valley)
4) Obstacle Courses: If it involves a rope climb, scaling a wall, jumping into a pit of freezing, muddy water, or crawling under electrically charged wires, then this isn’t about the finish line so much as enduring/surviving the challenges on the course… and bragging rights.
These events are hugely popular with all kinds of folks, especially those who aren’t interested in purely running. My CrossFit pals may raise their noses to marathons, but if you say Tough Mudder, they’re all over it. These events will challenge a lot more than your running muscles. There’s a huge variety within obstacle course events as well and all kinds of distances, and you can participate as a team. So, if you want to test your ability to survive a zombie apocalypse… you can. Just be prepared to pay a very pretty penny to participate. These events tend to be just as expensive as a marathon or ultra marathon.
Challenges to check out:
- Run For You Lives (Zombies)
- Rouge Runner (NEW series starting in VA)
- Tough Mudder Series
- Spartan Races
- Warrior Dash Series
- Columbia Muddy Buddy Series
- Merrell Down and Dirty Series
- Rugged Maniac
- Dirty Girl Series
- Survivor Mud Run
- The Dirty Dash
5) Multi-day: I admit that I don’t know a lot about stage races or fast packing. (But I’d love to learn so drop a knowledge bomb in the comments.) Suffice it to say these events are best reserved for when you’ve got some experience and time to dedicate to training and participating. Stage races are ultras of a different color. Unlike a traditional ultra that covers gobs of miles non-stop, stage races piece out the distance into multiple days of running. You know, to spread out the
pain fun. The Grand to Grand Ultra is a new 7 day foot race with 6 stages that’s generating a lot of interest right now. Fast packing isn’t really an organized event so much as it just means you run with all your gear for camping in the wilderness day after day, and it’s often done with a buddy. It’s like point-to-point trail running and camping! Expect to invest a lot of time and $ in either. Especially fast packing, as it involves super lightweight and high-tech equipment if you want to enjoy be good at it.
Quests to conquer:
- Grand to Grand Ultra
- 3 Days of Syllamo
- Quest Stage Races
- Gore-Tex Transrockies Run (Read this post from Vanessa Runs to learn more about this event and whether or not a stage race is for you.)
- Pembrokeshire Coast Challenge (In the UK)
6) Traditional Multi-Sport: In this category I place road/water events like triathlons or duathlons. Multi-sport events challenge your overall athleticism and keep you from doing the same old workouts as cross-training is built-in! I’ve heard this also keeps training injuries to a minimum. From sprint distances to the Ironman distance, you can be as competitive as you like. I know someone who tried out her first sprint triathlon with a regular commuter bike (i.e. it was a heavy frame and she sat in a casual upright position instead of the aerodynamic forward lean you usually see) because she wanted to see if she liked triathlons before she spent money on a tri-bike. Traditional multi-sport events have set distances for each stage of the event and set courses. Like a road race, if you’re too exhausted to comprehend where you are, just follow the person in front of you until you get to the finish line. Then try to pass them really quick.
Events to evaluate:
- Revolution3 Tri Series
- Vineman AquaBike
- Escape from Alcatraz
- The Chicago Triathlon
- Wildflower Triathlons Festival
- Nation’s Triathlon
- Musselman Tri
- SheROX Tri Series (for the warrior women)
7) Off-Road Multi-Sport: Instead of swimming/biking/running, an off-road multi-sport event, or adventure race, will have you paddling/mountain biking/trail running. While traditional multi-sport events have set courses and are usually completed solo, an adventure race may simply have a series of control points you try to reach within a time limit. Sometimes there is no set order and there are often options for individuals, two-person teams, or even four-person teams. Adventure races are often categorized by time rather than distance. So, you can partake in a 2 hour adventure race (like a sprint) or a 24+ hour expedition. You do need the right equipment (bicycle, wet suit, kayak, orienteering compass, depending on the event) and multi-terrain training would be involved (rappelling, paddling, bush-whacking). If orienteering is involved, then you also have to be able to keep your brain engaged (no auto-pilot running) and navigate while exhausted and on the move.
Expeditions to explore:
- The Blue Ridge Mountain Adventure Race
- Thunder Rolls Adventure Race
- Big Blue Adventure Races at Lake Tahoe
- Pangea Adventure Racing
- See USARA for more
Opinion Alert. EVERYONE HAS THEIR PREFERENCE. HERE IS MINE:
My picks. Obviously, I have a huge preference for running events (road, trail, or relay) over obstacle course events or those of the how-dirty/colorful-can-you-get variety. Take, for example, the Dirty Girl series. I know some women think it’s cute and fun to call themselves a “dirty” girl. That’s just not for me. No big.
The cost. Registration for trending, new obstacle course events is pretty steep, money-wise and risk-of-injury-wise. I’m the kind of gal who trains/pays for several events a year and don’t want to “waste” my money and health on the adult version of summer camp games. That being said, if the time and cost were right, I would try one out! I know lots of people who hate strictly running but LOVE muddy buddies.
The dream. I am FASCINATED by stage races and adventure races and want to get into that. Thinking about it gives me chills. I don’t know if I can convince my husband that this would be a good way to spend our vacation time? We have purchased mountain bikes and completed a beginner orienteering course (in 2nd place), and think we’d make a pretty fabulous duo on an adventure race.
The reality. I have to keep reminding myself to keep some time available so we can sign-up for and train for an adventure race. As luck would have it, things just keep coming up (landing a spot on Team AfterNUUN Delight for Hood to Coast effectively bumped our first adventure race attempt from Fall 2012 to Sometime 2013).
WHAT KIND OF ENDURANCE EVENTS DO YOU LIKE THE MOST AND WHY?
WOULD YOU TRY AN EVENT THAT WAS OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE?