The 20 Best Beginner-Friendly Races

April 17-19, 2015
Tuck Fest, named after the Tuckaseegee Trail that runs through Charlotte, takes place at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, the training grounds for Olympic kayakers, but the festival is open to everyone and includes more than just water events. There’s a bouldering competition, a family obstacle race, mountain biking, stand-up paddle boarding, trail running, live music, and more. Pay a flat fee of $35 and you can sign up for as many events as you want. For trail runners, choose between a half marathon, a quarter marathon, or a five-kilometer race. Or try the 5K twilight run, which takes place just before sunset.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Easy

(Tuck Fest)
tuck fest north carolina races zero to hero

Tuck Fest: Charlotte, North Carolina

April 17-19, 2015
Tuck Fest, named after the Tuckaseegee Trail that runs through Charlotte, takes place at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, the training grounds for Olympic kayakers, but the festival is open to everyone and includes more than just water events. There’s a bouldering competition, a family obstacle race, mountain biking, stand-up paddle boarding, trail running, live music, and more. Pay a flat fee of $35 and you can sign up for as many events as you want. For trail runners, choose between a half marathon, a quarter marathon, or a five-kilometer race. Or try the 5K twilight run, which takes place just before sunset.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Easy

The Great Ski Race: Tahoe City, California

March 1, 2015
You're a decent Nordic skier but maybe you’ve never entered a race before and you’re not quite ready for the Birkebeiner. Consider the Great Ski Race, a groomed 30-kilometer course that traverses from Lake Tahoe to Truckee. The climb over Starratt Pass (elevation: 7,770 feet) is tough, but the majority of the race is downhill and live music awaits you at the end. Elite Nordic skiers treat this as a race, but the rest of the pack is just in it for a scenic tour of the Sierra Nevada.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Tough

great ski race race report
(The Great Ski Race)


Mussels in the Kettles: Coupeville, Washington

March 7, 2015
The Whidbey Island Bicycle Club organizes this non-competitive mountain bike ride each spring on Whidbey Island, accessible via ferry from north of Seattle. Participants can choose between a nine-mile easy ride with 800 feet in elevation gain, a 10-mile slightly steeper moderate ride, or a technical 13-mile expert route that climbs 1,250 feet. The best part? All routes end at the Penn Cove Mussel Festival, a weekend-long food fest with mussel chowder tasting, cooking demos, farm tours, and more.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Easy

mussels in the kettles race report
(Mussels in the Kettles/Facebook)


Castlerock Extreme: Sugarbush, Vermont

March 7, 2015
Now the third stop on the Ski the East Freeride Tour, the Castlerock Extreme big-mountain competition has been going strong for 18 years. The friendly vibe makes it a great entryway into big-mountain skiing and snowboarding contests, but there's still steep, challenging terrain. Skiers and riders take to the feature-laden chute underneath Sugarbush’s Castlerock chairlift, throwing tricks, launching off rocks, and riding as fast and fluidly as they can. Judges determine the winners and hand out $1,000 in cash prizes.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Moderate

Castlerock Extreme
(Castlerock Extreme)


Cody's Challenge: Steamboat Springs, Colorado

April 4, 2015
Not all ski mountaineering races are created equal. Cody’s Challenge, held in Steamboat Springs in honor of Cody St. John, a former Steamboat ski patroller who passed away in 2007, is particularly inviting to newcomers. A long course covers 3,000 vertical feet of climbing (still less than most big randonee races) while a regular course offers a shortened version. All proceeds from the race benefit the Cody St. John Memorial Scholarship Fund, which supports continued medical education for ski patrollers.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Moderate

codys challenge race report
(Cody's Challenge)


Sea Otter Classic: Monterey, California

April 16-19, 2015
The Sea Otter Classic is a four-day cycling festival in Monterey that draws cyclists from around the world to compete in pro and amateur races. If you’re new to bike racing, skip the crits and sign up for the Gran Fondo instead, a European-inspired mass participation event that bills itself as a recreational ride, not a race. There’s a 24-mile mountain bike Gran Fondo and two road bike options (a 51-mile and a 92-mile ride). Take your time and rest at snack stations along the way while you enjoy a weekend of all-things bikes.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Moderate

sea otter classic race report
(Sean Cope/Sea Otter Classic)


Tuck Fest: Charlotte, North Carolina

April 17-19, 2015
Tuck Fest, named after the Tuckaseegee Trail that runs through Charlotte, takes place at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, the training grounds for Olympic kayakers, but the festival is open to everyone and includes more than just water events. There’s a bouldering competition, a family obstacle race, mountain biking, stand-up paddle boarding, trail running, live music, and more. Pay a flat fee of $35 and you can sign up for as many events as you want. For trail runners, choose between a half marathon, a quarter marathon, or a five-kilometer race. Or try the 5K twilight run, which takes place just before sunset.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Easy

3 State, 3 Mountain Challenge: Chattanooga, Tennessee

May 2, 2015
Sure, you could sign up for the full century ride, which includes three mountain passes and crosses through Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. But if this is your first organized road bike ride, go for the 25-mile route option, a scenic ride on rolling, paved roads that cross through just two states (you’ll skip Alabama). There’s also a 62-mile route, which includes just one mountain ascent. Organized by the Chattanooga Bicycle Club, the 3 State, 3 Mountain Challenge feels welcoming and not overly competitive.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Moderate

3 state 3 mountain challenge race report
(Chattanooga Bicycle Club)


GoFest: Whistler, British Columbia

May 15-18, 2015
Whistler’s Great Outdoors Festival involves three days of music, art, and sporting events ranging from glacier skiing to ultimate frisbee. Sign up for the Great Snow-Earth-Water Race, which returned to Whistler last year after a more than 20-year hiatus. You and a team of up to seven friends will tackle a relay that includes an uphill ski tour, downhill skiing or snowboarding, downhill mountain biking, running, canoeing, and cross-country mountain biking. Most of the segments are beginner-friendly and the vibe is relaxed and fun.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Easy

great outdoors festival race report
(Clint Trahan/GoFest)


Bay to Breakers: San Francisco, California

May 17, 2015
The Bay to Breakers 12-kilometer run across San Francisco has been a city tradition since 1912. This May, 1.8 million runners—many decked out in body paint, tutus, or nothing at all—will start near the Embarcadero and end at Ocean Beach. It’s a festive, non-competitive race for most, making it a good entry point for runners just breaking into longer distances. Watch out for the Hayes Street Hill, which comes two miles in and reaches an 11 percent grade.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Moderate

Cy Roscoe Strickland Photograph Cy Shoots Photos
(Bay to Breakers)


GoPro Mountain Games: Vail, Colorado

June 4-7, 2015
Vail’s GoPro Mountain Games offers a wide array of outdoor competitions for professional and amateur athletes across nine sports and 25 disciplines, from trail running to kayaking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and more. Needless to say, there are a lot of options for newcomers. If you’re a climber, try the Citizen Bouldering contest, which lets recreational climbers attempt the various puzzles on the bouldering wall and even has free climbing shoe demos. Or if you’re paddler, sign up for the four-mile Down River Sprint through Gore Creek’s class II and III rapids.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Easy-Tough

TMG Teva kayak sprint gopro mountain games
(Shane Macomber/GoPro Mountain Ga)


Boulder Sprint Triathlon: Boulder, Colorado

June 13, 2015
Starting this year, the Boulder Sprint Triathlon—the shortest distance triathlon—will be held on the same day as the town’s full-distance Ironman race. Which means you can get a taste of the Ironman vibe at a fraction of the distance. You’ll swim half a mile in the Boulder Reservoir, bike 16 relatively flat miles on paved roads, then run 3.1 miles along a flat path around the reservoir. Two warnings: There will be elite athletes competing at the front of the pack, and remember that Boulder sits at a lung-clinching elevation of 5,430 feet. Try to train at elevation if you can.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Moderate

boulder ironman
(Nils Nilsen/IRONMAN)


FIBArk: Salida, Colorado

June 18-21
FIBArk, which stands for First in Boating the Arkansas River, started as a whitewater festival for boaters back in 1949. In more recent years, they’ve added running, biking, and a plethora of other water disciplines to the event. It’s a fun weekend with live music, camping, and both elite and easy-going competitions. For newbies, try the beginner mountain bike race, a six-mile, one lap loop on downtown Salida’s most mellow singletrack.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Easy

fibark race report
(FIBArk)


Payette River Games: Cascade, Idaho

June 19-21, 2015
The Payette River Games brings all types of paddlers and outdoor enthusiasts to Idaho for a weekend of celebration and competition. You’ll find everything from beach volleyball games to dog fetch competitions to river surfing. For stand-up paddleboarders, there’s a recreational SUP race that’s a bit easier and shorter than the elite race. You’ll paddle two miles down a low-key stretch of river around a set of buoys, skipping the whitewater park entirely.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Easy

payette river games race report
(Jasper Gibson/Payette River Games)


La Jolla Rough Water Swim: La Jolla, California

September 13, 2015  
If you’re signing up for your first open-water competitive swim, pick a spot with warm water that’s relatively well protected. The La Jolla Rough Water Swim isn’t as rough as it sounds: There’s a one-mile-long amateur discipline that starts and ends in the shielded La Jolla Cove with water temperatures around 68 degrees. The race, held annually since 1916, draws in some 2,000 swimmers, many of whom are competing for their first time.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Moderate

la jolla rough water swim race report
(La Jolla Rough Water Swim)


Jay Peak Trail Running Festival: Jay Peak, Vermont

September 5-6, 2015
In addition to the dauntingly long 25-kilometer and 50-kilometer trail running races at this Labor Day weekend festival at Jay Peak ski area, there are three different 5-kilometer runs for every level of runner: a steep, black diamond one for experts, a rolling blue square route for intermediates, and a relatively flat green circle for first-timers. Or you can run all three 5Ks in the same day and be awarded a “trail runner with issues” t-shirt.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Easy

jay peak trail running festival race report
(Jay Peak Trail Running Festival)


Portland Boulder Rally: Portland, Oregon

October 2015
This indoor bouldering festival draws elite climbers from all over battling for a $10,000 prize purse. But novices are welcome, too—recreational categories are open to avid climbers who may be first-time competitors. The event is held at The Circuit, a massive indoor climbing gym in Portland. When you’re not climbing, you can enjoy the festival’s live music, food carts, beer garden, and outdoor gear booths—not to mention you can learn from watching the pros.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Easy

portland boulder rally race report
(Ian Koppe/Portland Boulder Rally)


Triple Crown of Bouldering Series: The Southeast

October 2015
The Triple Crown of Bouldering takes place at some of the southeast’s top bouldering sites, including Hounds Ears in Boone, North Carolina; Horse Pens 40 in Steele, Alabama; the Stone Fort in Chattanooga, Tennessee; and the Rumbling Bald in Lake Lure, North Carolina. You can sign up for one or all of the events. If you’re new to bouldering competitions, the men’s or women’s novice class is the best place to start. The event raises money for two climbing coalitions that help climbers get access to land in the southeast.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Easy

triple crown of bouldering seri race report
(Triple Crown of Bouldering)


Eastern Surfing Association: Nationwide

Dates vary
Kelly Slater got his start in surf contests put on by the Eastern Surfing Association, the largest amateur surf organization in the country. With 25 districts, from Maine to Florida to the Great Lakes, you can find a novice surf contest on a break near you throughout 2015. Participant ages range from kids to adults. “Our local contests are fun, family-friendly and perfect for beginners,” says Michelle Sommers, Eastern Surfing Association executive director.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Easy

ESA; mid winter championships;
(Joe McGovern/ESA)


Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series: Nationwide

Dates vary
Want to run a marathon or a half marathon? Try the Rock ’n‘ Roll Marathon Series, which has marathons (26.2 miles) and half marathons (13.1 miles) in over 26 North American cities every year. When you’re slogging into mile 20, you’ll be thankful for this: At each mile marker, a band performs, including some big names like Chris Isaak or the Goo Goo Dolls. Pick a fun city at a low elevation, like Seattle or Nashville.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Moderate

rock and roll marathon series race report
(Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series)


Warrior Dash: Nationwide

Dates vary
If you’re just getting into obstacle course racing, head to Warrior Dash. This series has a laid-back, lively atmosphere and a do-able distance. You’ll cover three to four miles and over a dozen major obstacles, from chain fences to mud pits to trenches. Warrior Dash holds events in over 30 locations around the world, from Mexico to Denmark to all over the U.S. Check out course descriptions online to determine exact length, hilliness, and number of obstacles for each location.

RACE DIFFICULTY: Easy

Warrior Dash IN-2014
(Gameface Media/Warrior Dash)

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