Every year there are thousands of races in Britain, ranging from 5K charity jogs to ultra events and with options over trail, countryside, fell, track and road. Some runners cram in races every weekend, but if you want to maximise your performance and keep injury and boredom at bay, then variety and recovery should be the linchpin of your training and racing.
It’s also valuable to decide what, for you, are going to be the three or four most important races of the year. This not only helps you to focus your training, but also affects the way you approach the other races in your year.
We’ve picked some of the UK’s top races for this classic racing calendar. We’d recommend racing no more than twice in most months, and after your race allow a day of easy running for every mile you raced. (The race dates are correct at time of publishing, but you should check the Race Diary to see whether they've been confirmed yet for this year.)
If you’re not a member of a club, this is a very light racing month, with very few road options. But join a club and, whatever your standard, the wonderful world of cross-country opens up to you. Visit the UK Athletics site to find your nearest club.
Of course, you could kick off the New Year with the invigorating cross-country challenge of the Box Hill Knacker Cracker 10K - four serious hills in the stunning setting of the North Downs. Alternatively, chase a half-marathon PB before the spring season kicks in at the flatter-than-flat Brass Monkey Half-Marathon, which also scores highly among forumites for its scenery and atmosphere.
A speedy 10K on a road or park course will feel like a piece of cake after more rural running during the winter. Runners are spoilt for choice in February with charity Love Runs taking place all over the UK near Valentine’s Day, plus 10K forumite favourites like the beautiful Longleat 10K or the Ashford & District 10K.
Or give yourself a much bigger challenge, and go off-road over a longer distance with a race like the Meon Valley Plod 19.5. Your legs might not thank you for the unrelenting hill climbs, but the beautiful views, lashings of mud and extravagant refreshment stations are sure to put a smile back on your face.
Spring marathon runners will be hitting 20-milers in training this month (or heading to the likes of the Finchley 20, the Trimpell 20 or the San Domenico 20) but other runners still have plenty of distances to choose from.
The usual plethora of racing distances is on offer, but March belongs at heart to the half-marathon. If you’re going to go for one big race this month, make it one of the many top halfs.
Whether you’d rather PB at the Paddock Wood Half-Marathon or get warm and fuzzy in the friendly atmosphere of the Hastings Half-Marathon, there’s a half-marathon for every runner in March from Bath to Berkhamsted and Milton Keynes to Silverstone.
Yes, it’s the big one. The Flora London Marathon. But whether you missed out on the ballot or are a conscientious objector to the FLM madness sweeping through the running community in April, there’s a whole world of other races to tickle your fancy.
There are marathons spanning the UK in April, from the West Country’s Taunton Marathon to the beautiful Highlands setting of the Team Strides Lochaber Marathon, via the quintessentially English Stratford-upon-Avon and its annual sell-out, the Rotary Shakespeare Marathon.
Alternatively, get out on the trails for some fresh country air and your last chance to get properly muddy before the weather starts getting warmer and drier. Head north and get stuck in at the Hawkshead Trail 15K, or the beautiful waterside Coniston 14.
May is an inspiring time, brimming with opportunities for the rest of the running year, whether you’re a battle-hardened racer or pinning on your first ever race number. The summer track season kicks off around now, and marathon runners will be sweeping the cobwebs from their running shoes and easing back into training and racing, while others inspired by their feats might be taking up running for the very first time.
Gather friends and family and enter one of the hugely popular Race For Life 5Ks. You’ll find Race for Life events in every corner of the UK, while capital-based runners can also test their times in the Self Transcendence series in Battersea Park. 10K opportunities also abound, and those inspired by the Flora London Marathon can tread city streets in the Bupa London 10,000 and the Bupa Great Manchester Run.
See more and more new runners pour into our sport in June, as the big-race vibe continues with the runaway success of the Jane Tomlinson 'Run for All' 10K event in Leeds.
If you’d rather escape the big city, make for Britain’s country corners for some exhilarating long-distance challenges. Head to windswept Mull of Kintyre for its beautiful half-marathon course and famed ceilidh party spirit; or get down to Britain’s southern edges for the North Downs Run 30K or Salomon South Downs Marathon. Either way, plucky runners will find plenty of fun to be had over rural routes.
It’s hotting up, so be kind to yourself – build on short, sharp speedwork to make sweltering July the month to focus on shorter races. You could even squeeze in two for the satisfaction of seeing your time drop within just a few weeks.
Head to the north-west for the City of Manchester 10K; or take advantage of the big racing opportunities in London this month, with the Bupa Great Capital 10K and the British 10K.
For runners wilting in the heat, August seems to be a lull before the autumn racing storm. But there are plenty of opportunities nationwide for runners to chip away at 10K PBs, including the new Jane Tomlinson 'Run For All' 10K in York. and the London Pride Run 10K.
For something a little bit different, get in the holiday spirit and head to North Wales to Race the Train over 14.75 miles of ups, downs and all kinds of terrain. Or race beside the seaside over the Northumberland Coastal Run 14’s stunning coastal course.
It’s getting cooler this month, which makes it the perfect time to get planning your autumn assaults. Bridge the gap wisely to make a successful transition between short and sweltering summer racing and the muddy madness that winter racing in the UK can be.
Ditch summer road racing and head for the trails, with muddy fun promised at off-road events all over the country including both the Eridge Park 10 Trail Challenge and the welcome return of the slickly organised Saab Salomon Turbo X series. The first race at Poppyhill sees the return of the extreme ‘Turbo Zone’ that’ll make racers laugh, cry or both.
It’s the return of the half this month, and after tuning up your training during September it’s time to hit those 13.1-mile courses with a vengeance. The cooler weather means you’ll be able to run longer and harder.
Doyenne of mass-participation races, the Bupa Great North Run, is joined by Great Run stablemate the Great South Run. There are half-marathons on offer from the Great Eastern Run to Welsh capital Cardiff, while London sees the second staging of its big-hitting half-marathon the Royal Parks Half-Marathon.
Keen marathon runners raring for a second helping of 26.2 will find satisfying challenges in Britain’s wilder corners, from Loch Ness to Snowdonia via forum favourites Beachy Head and Abingdon.
November is the time when committed runners come into their own. It’s colder, wetter and you’ll need more layers of Lycra than ever before, but runners looking for racing fun in November will find it often comes complete with a wicked sense of humour and a sting in the tail.
From the Puma Hellrunner races at either end of the UK, to the ever-popular Sodbury Slog, and more stagings of Saab Salmon Turbo X events, cross-country challengers will find camaraderie, tough terrain and enough mud to keep washing machines whirring until well into the New Year.
You’d be forgiven for thinking December would be downhill all the way, from the very first mince pie to those inevitable New Year resolutions, but there’s racing to be had if you’re willing to look for it.
Shorter distances feature predominantly in this month’s racing diary, so keep your running ticking over and fend off the 5kg (2lbs) that the average Brit piles on over the festive season, by squeezing in some racing as the year draws to a close.
Santa races are rapidly becoming part of the running community’s festive traditions, so take one of the opportunities springing up all over the country to don a white beard and red furry suit. Forget your PB and get ready for a giggle.