I am going to take for granted that you have been doing a little training on your own and have maybe attempted a fun run, don’t worry if not, this article will still help you decide what you need to focus on before picking a race to do.
I am going to highlight the most popular event distances at the moment and what stage of your running life you may need to be in order to attack the events.
5k - A great distance to get yourself into running, short enough to know you can push yourself while knowing for sure you can complete it. There are plenty of runs you can do. A Park Run is a free run around a local park, you don’t get a memento for completing but would be a good stepping stone. If you wanted a T-Shirt/Medal as well as a accurate chip time then there are events by RunThrough that would be suitable.
10k - If you have been doing a few runs to keep yourself fit then you shouldn’t have any trouble with the 10k distance. You may not be able to push yourself to your limit the first time you run one but the time it takes you to complete this distance will be a good benchmark for your training and future event planning.
Half Marathon - Completing a half marathon is a great achievement in itself never mind the time you run. If it’s going to take you longer than 4 hours then you should be thinking about improving your time over the 10k before you attempt one, for anyone else I’d recommend doing a couple of 10k races before you do this anyway. 13.1 miles is more than double a 10k and we recommend you follow a training schedule on the lead up to it.
Marathon - If you have not run a marathon before we certainly recommend you run a half marathon before it. If you have signed up to a marathon without doing any of the above distances then you have some training to do just so you run the whole way. You can walk 26.2 miles, most people could but I’d like to ensure you run it because the physical, psychological benefits you get along the way in the training process will change your life.
Now we move onto terrain, it is worth looking into what kind of course you will be running on by chatting to the race organisers or looking on their website for more info. There are many positives/negatives to the different terrains you come across so it all comes down to personal preference. Some people like running on roads, some in the mud, some up hills and some through the woods. I personally enjoy the trails, running over obstacles and through woodland makes me really happy and I don’t mind so much how quick I run.
Road - It is worth clarifying with race organisers if the event will be a pavement or an actual road race. Road races are few and far between especially in London, pavement runs have a couple of negatives in that you may sometimes have to stop at certain points in the race, in a full road closure race you’d expect a clear run without any unexpected obstacles.
Park - Some parks have concrete paths which replicate what you’d have on the road and they are traffic free too. It’s worth clarifying with race organisers if there are any grass sections on the course so you can prepare your footwear accordingly.
Multi-Terrain - Generally means you will run on all or a mixture of pavements, parkland paths, roads or grass. All elements have different positives and negatives.
Trail - Trail paths are usually found in woodland areas or amongst hills/mountains. Depending on how your body takes to the terrain which is normally consists of a mixture of pebbles, stones and random logs in awkward places.
Cross Country (XC) - You will be running on grass most likely, in the UK that normally means muddy grass and muddy paths. Don’t wear your new white shoes.
Flat - Generally means the gradient of the course is flat with very few or some undulations (up and down hills)
Hilly - A hilly race, lots of climbing up but also plenty of downhill normally.
Undulating - Minor uphill and downhill mixed in with lots of flat elements. Some people prefer this kind of event to a flat race because of the speed you can pick up on the downhill parts. Most races are undulating unless by the coast.
Fell/Mountain - As you can probably guess, up a giant hill. Down a giant hill. Not for the faint hearted.
One thing to look out for that is running specific and not down to personal choice is whether an event has chip timing or not. Chip timing means you wear a timing device, normally attached to your shoe, ankle or number and it starts timing you when you cross the start line not when the gun goes.
Anything else like location or prizes (t-shirts/medals) comes down to your own personal preference.