How to Choose a Fun Run, From Mudders to Triathlons

How to Choose a Fun Run, From Mudders to Triathlons

Summer is a great time to add a little fun to your fitness regime. Maybe you want to attempt your first 5K. Maybe you’re planning to finish an Ironman. Maybe you just want to get really muddy. Whatever your summer fitness goal is, you’ve probably found yourself overwhelmed with the insane amount of options out there for races. So how to choose a fun run that’s right for you?

Start by gauging your competitive streak. Do you want to beat your personal record, or is the thrill of crossing the finish line enough? “Races fall along a continuum of competitiveness, with a distance race being the most competitive,” says John Goldthorp, a certified personal trainer, running coach, and owner of FixYourRun.com in Philadelphia. “Mud runs build camaraderie, but many are not timed. Color runs are all about having fun with your friends and oh, P.S., you’re running 5K, too. All that said, you can enter any of these events and adopt a more competitive mind-set—it’s up to you!”

You’ll also want to think about how much time you can devote to training for your fun run. Beachbody programs give you a great base, but you probably still shouldn’t run a marathon in June if you haven’t run a single mile all year. How long should you train? “For someone who’s already active, I’d say three months for a 5K and 12 to 18 months for a marathon,” Goldthorp says. “Double those times if you’re just getting off the couch. Respect the distance for which you’re training… you could finish a marathon on less preparation, but your injury risk will be much higher. Have patience, do things right and reap the rewards later.”

While there’s no hard-and-fast rule for determining whether you’re ready, Goldthorp says a good guideline is to make sure you can run 75 percent of the course length without being completely wiped out. So, for example, you should be able to get through a 10-mile run before tackling a half-marathon.

To find out what’s available near you, check the race finders at Active.com, RuntheDay.com, and RunnersWorld.com. But first, here’s our rundown of fun run options so you can see which type of race appeals most to your competition style.

How to Choose a Fun Run

Mud Runs

Fun Factor: * * *
Competitive Factor: Varies
Crowd Vibe: Weekend warriors and fearless fitness buffs.
If you like the idea of slogging through waist-deep mud and leaping over a fire pit, then you may be cut out for these obstacle courses. Teamwork is key, so if you didn’t bring a friend, you’ll make some. The untimed Tough Mudder is the most newbie-friendly; the Warrior Dash is timed, but you can skip obstacles that intimidate you; the timed Spartan Race prides itself on being the most intense.

Barefoot Runs

Fun Factor: * *
Competitive Factor: * *
Crowd Vibe: Minimalists on the move.
The barefoot running craze is picking up momentum, so it’s not surprising that race promoters have hopped on board. Minimalists can bare their soles on well-groomed, wooded trails at events like the nationwide Naked Foot 5K, Maine’s annual Pineland Farms Trail Running Festival, and the annual Boston Barefoot Running Festival.

Themed 5Ks

Fun Factor: * * *
Competitive Factor: * *
Crowd Vibe: Halloween 365.
Sure, sports bras and moisture-wicking hoodies are practical—but they’re not nearly as fun as dressing up in fishnet leggings, red capes, mouse ears, or a few pints of stage blood. Themed races offer a nice distraction and a masquerade-party atmosphere—and even if you suck at running, you can still win at costuming. From the Awesome 80s Run and superhero 5Ks to the runDisney series and the various zombie survival races, there’s a theme to suit everyone. These are a great choice if you’re trying to get the whole family off the couch.

Marathons

Fun Factor: *
Competitive Factor: * * *
Crowd Vibe: Competitive runners and bucket-list hopefuls.
Before you can nab a spot at the Boston or New York City Marathons, you’ll need to qualify by completing a certified marathon in about four hours or less (depending on your age). Get a jump on next year’s goals by competing in a “feeder” race this summer; one fun option is the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series, which includes events in San Diego, Seattle, and Philly.

Ultramarathons

Fun Factor: *
Competitive Factor: * * *
Crowd Vibe: Masochists… err, enthusiasts.
If your first thought at the end of a marathon is, “I could do three more of those right now!” this could be the grueling goal you’re looking for. The oldest and most prestigious is the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run in northern California, but other opportunities to show off your superhuman stamina are listed at RunningInTheUSA.com.

Triathlons

Fun Factor: * *
Competitive Factor: * * *
Crowd Vibe: Uber athletes.
You know the drill: Swim, bike, run. If you’ve never tested your multi-sport mettle before, start with a mini triathlon—typically a 750m swim, 20K bike ride, and 5K run, but some go much shorter than that, so look around. The mother of all triathlons is the Ironman, which combines a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and full marathon. Crossing the finish line is a huge accomplishment, but starting is no easy feat either; you’ll have to qualify and pay a hefty registration fee.

Multiday Runs

Fun Factor: * *
Competitive Factor: Varies
Crowd Vibe: There’s no “I” in team!
Want camaraderie while you race? Sign up for a multiday event, which can feel more like camp than competition. The Ragnar Relays are overnight races in which 12-member teams run three legs each. The TransRockies Run is a series of trail races that range from 5Ks to 6-day, 120-mile odysseys. The most newbie-friendly is the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk, which isn’t a race so much as a bonding event for charity (but your feet won’t hurt any less).

The Great Bull Run

Fun Factor: * * *
Competitive Factor: *
Crowd Vibe: Adrenaline junkies. If you’re mainly just looking for bragging rights (there’s no shame in that!) then the Great Bull Run is the perfect blend of mild athleticism and Instagram-selfie gold. Your only competition is your survival instinct, as you try to avoid getting gored by angry cattle. Check TheGreatBullRun.com to see if they’ll be stampeding in a city near you.

The Color Run

Fun Factor: * * *
Competitive Factor: *
Crowd Vibe: Just-wanna-have-fun runners. This might as well be called “Intro to 5K”—anyone can enter, the race isn’t timed, and the sole goal is to get messy. Runners wear white, get pelted with dyed powder and squirt guns throughout the course, and cross the finish line looking like they lost a fight with a rainbow. It’s all in good fun, which could explain why Color Run has nearly three million Facebook fans and more than 80 events scheduled this year. Like the themed runs, the Color Run is a perfect way to involve your kids in your jogging habit.