Your First Race

4 tips to help you select the right event

Your First Race - 4 tips to help you select the right event
Margaret at one of her first races! (2010)

In an industry full of options, picking your first obstacle course race or mud run can be a daunting challenge. Do you pick the hardcore race, the fun untimed run, the themed race/run? Which distance should you choose? The answer for each person may differ and will depend on your fitness level and your expectations. However, there are a few things that can help you weigh your options when choosing your first event.

To Race or Run

Your First Race - 4 tips to help you select the right eventA couple weeks ago, we went over a few of the key differences between a race and a run. The first decision you need to make is whether you are looking to put yourself up against a clock or if you want a less competitive environment. Both options will give you the experience of obstacles and a chance for you to personally push yourself. Many love the adventure of it all sans the clock while others like that added incentive.


Your First Race - 4 tips to help you select the right eventEvents are popping up all over the country and world in the burgeoning sport. Depending on your location, there may be dozens of races around you or there may be just one or two a couple hours away. Decide how far you are willing to travel to an event. And, if you have to travel far, look for others in your area with which you can travel and, possibly, race. Travel buddies can make the whole weekend that much more fun!


The majority of races and runs are a 5K distance (3.1 miles), but as the sport continues to grow, more and more options are entering into the market. Today, there’s everything from a 5K up to 70K and also 24-hour races. Even if you are an accomplished runner, starting out at a race or run that is a 5K is smart. Obstacle course races and mud runs tax your body in ways that pure running, especially road running, never will. Each race is a full-body workout. Even accomplished runners will find that they are sore in new places the day after an event. So, stick with a 5K for your first race so you can figure out what the sport is about, and then look into the longer races.

Start Time

Mud runs and obstacle course races are unlike many traditional races that have one set mass start. OCR’s and mud runs often have staggered starts throughout the day. If it is a race, there tends to be a competitive heat in the morning—this is the most serious of racers who are often competing for prizes and sometimes money. It is recommended to not start in this heat for your first event, unless you plan to be competitive. Otherwise, leave those heats for your second or third race, and stick to one of the open heats.

A good rule of thumb is the earlier in the day that you start, the less backup you will find at obstacles. Many events now have 10,000 or more people competing in a day, so backups can happen. If you don’t want to get stuck behind people, choose an earlier heat. You may also want to choose an earlier heat if you think it will take you a long time to finish the run/race. If you do not care about waiting and are there more for the social aspect, an afternoon heat could be your best bet. No matter what time of day you go, you will have a blast and meet new people along the way!

With these four tips in mind, you will find yourself having a much better experience on race day knowing that you picked the right event for you. One of my favorite races/runs to recommend to new people is the Warrior Dash. It is a hybrid of a race and a fun run, as they have overall awards and age group awards at the end of the day AND encourage people to run in costume and more. They have a great social atmosphere, and their choices are geared towards beginner racers. Once you get a taste for the sport, you can then take on the Reebok Spartan Race, Superhero Scramble, Tough Mudder and other longer more challenging events!

That’s the dirt for this week. Next week, we talk about injuries and how to avoid them in training and racing.

Margaret Schlachter

Margaret Schlachter, the first professional female obstacle course racer, is a top ranked athlete in the Reebok Spartan Race series. She is also an endurance athlete specializing in ultra trail running races, a Spartan SGX Coach, and a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She founded, a leading source for all things obstacle course racing and endurance sports. For more information on Margaret, her upcoming book and online coaching services.

Margaret's book "Obstacle Race Training: How to Beat any Course, Compete Like a Champion and Change Your Life" is available for PRE-SALE! Click HERE to reserve your copy.

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