It’s spring, and it seems like wherever you turn, someone is crawling in mud, jumping hurdles, running in teams of 12, or lifting buckets of sand. The season propels a variety of mud races (think Tough Mudder ), obstacle course races (like Warrior Dash ), fun 5Ks ( The Color Run , anyone?), and triathalons. Don’t you want in on the fun?
Actually, these events are a lot of fun—not to mention a great way to mix up your workout routine. Training for a race gives you great motivation and a purpose to train or exercise consistently, plus, it’s social—instead of running on the elliptical by yourself, you can hit the track with your friends! Not to mention, pushing yourself to new limits has profound effects on your confidence, emotional stability, and physical stamina.
So you’re ready to get started, but haven’t done a race before? That’s OK. The best way to wrap your head around these races is to eliminate any sense of fear. You can say goodbye to the worries of getting dirty, suffering a bruise from running into a hurdle, finding sand in your pants, or, well, simply getting worn out just by planning ahead and training.
Here are a few tips for finding the right race for you and getting ready for it.
1. Pick the Right Race
The first and most important step is to find a race that’s manageable based on your strengths. If you’re new to running, check out a Muddy Buddy challenge—where you’ll compete as a team of two—or Go Dirty Girl , a 5K that’s all about just having fun with friends. If you like intervals and obstacles, try the SHAPE Diva Dash (which you’ll complete wearing tutus and boas) or the 5K Spartan Sprint , which boasts more than 15 obstacles.
Another way to pick the right race is to consider one that benefits a greater cause—like the Team in Training organization, which raises funds for leukemia and lymphoma research, or the Children's Tumor Foundation NF Endurance Team , which raises research dollars to end neurofibromatosis. Having a personal connection to the race you’re running is a great way to help you stay motivated and inspired!
2. Set a Schedule
Once you’ve picked a race and a date, you’ll want to outline a training program. Some races have suggested training programs on their websites, but if not, there are other ways to get started. Check out Runner’s World ’s resource Smart Coach or the Nike Training Club app , or even develop your own training schedule by increasing the amount of distance you run every week in intervals leading up to the race.
You can also consider a structured training program—there are plenty of running programs through Nike , Lululemon , or triathlete organizations. If you’re in NYC, I recommend As One , which focuses on movement, agility, and strength training in order to prep you for a strength obstacle course (check out the end of the article for a discount code!).
Once you’ve determined the plan, mark your calendar as though each workout is a commitment—and stick to it!
3. Stay Motivated
Of course, we all need a little push at times to stay motivated throughout the training process. I recommend tracking your progress to see how far you've come and to help understand what’s working and what’s not. Keep track of your workout plan and what you actually completed, which will help you assess if you allocated enough time each day or week for your workouts, if you're being reasonable with your goals given your body and schedule, or if you need to switch something up from the routine. You can also use an app to help— Runkeeper , The Daily Mile , My Fitness Pal , and Map My Run are a few of my favorites.
It can also be helpful to find a friend who can challenge you and motivate you. The buddy system works! If you know someone is waiting for you at 9 AM to run hill sprints, you will go. No one likes an angry friend.
4. Fuel Yourself
As you're getting started, also remember that nutrition is a big part of training—it’s important to fuel your body with the food it needs to sustain the training momentum. (To learn more, check out Livestrong's nutritional guides for training for a 5K or a 10K .)
Most importantly, stock up on healthy snacks that you can consume before and after your workout. Fooducate is a great app to determine good brands and food products for you, but Greek yogurt, nuts, celery sticks with peanut butter, string cheese, or protein bars are typically good choices.
It’s also beneficial to record how many calories you actually burned while training by wearing a heart rate monitor . You should refuel your body after a workout with the amount of calories you've burned—but most people think they burn many more calories than they actually do!
Most of all, have fun! Really, from your weekly workouts to the day of, when you’re getting mud or colored paint splashed in your face, make sure you’re enjoying every step of the way. It’s a challenge, but it’s meant to be a fun one.
Photo courtesy of Tony Taylor stock / Shutterstock.com
Anita Mirchandani, MS, RD, CDN, received a BA from NYU and an MS in Clinical Nutrition from NYU. After finishing her studies and completing a dietetic internship at New York-Presbyterian hospital in 2011, Anita is now a practicing Registered Dietitian. Recently, Anita co-founded FitMapped, a GPS for fitness concept to help users find fitness easily. When she isn't evaluating pitfalls of the latest diet fad, she is putting together the ultimate workout playlist.More from this Author