No matter where you live there’s more than likely a fairly full calendar of local road races every year. From charity runs to yearly big events there’s always something around the corner when you choose this sport. While most of these races are fairly standard distances and affairs, there are some races that have lots of personality whether it’s because of the location, the weather, participant’s garb or other reason. Here are 15 of the most unique and interesting races that we could find. While we’re sure to have missed plenty of interesting runs we think this is a nice representative list of the kind of wackiness you can find in the world of distance running if you just look.
15. Kona Underpants Run, Kona, HI
The Kona Underpants Run exists to vent some of the pressure of the Hawaii Ironman World Championship. It’s held the Thursday before the big event every year, and started because three triathletes got a little fed up with visiting athletes parading around town in their Speedos all week, well before the event necessitated stripping down. The first Underpants Run was held in 1997, and now boasts more participants than the Ironman. Before the race each year, the race director’s lead participants in this pledge:
I STATE YOUR NAME SOLEMNLY SWEAR THAT I WILL RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO WEAR THE EVIL GARMENT KNOWN COMMONLY AS: TOGS, SCUNGIES, BUN HUGGERS, PLUM SMUGGLERS, BANANA HAMMOCKS, CRACK SPLITTERS, BUTT FLOSS, SPEEDOS, ETC., ETC., ETC. OUT SIDE OF SWIMMING OR RACING.
I FURTHER PROMISE TO UPHOLD THE SANCTITY OF THE LOCAL’S HOME OF WHICH I AM A GUEST BY FREQUENTING PUBLIC PLACES IN PROPER ATTIRE, OBEYING TRAFFIC LAWS, AND BEING COURTEOUS AT ALL TIMES. THIS I PLEDGE AS AN IRONMAN – VETERAN, 1ST TIMER, OR WANNABE.
14. Freeze Yer Gizzard, International Falls, MN
The event organizers of the Freeze Yer Gizzard call it a “celebration of winter running”, and I think that’s a mild way to describe it. The race is held in International Falls, MN, one of the coldest cities in America, and it’s held in mid January, generally on one of the coldest days of the year. The average low in International Falls in January is -8 degrees, but it can get much colder, with a record low of -55. Outdoor runners in this part of the world are very brave.
13. Crystal City Cave Run, Crystal Springs, MO
The Crystal City Cave Run is held in a particularly unique location – an abandoned sand mine. The race is run in the “Crystal City Underground”, an old sand mine located in Crystal Springs, Missouri. The mine has been converted into over 6 million square feet of warehouse space with 30-40 foot ceilings. The race takes you into the tunnel and past underground lakes and over sand dunes. The course website also promises that you’ll also run “under an air shaft (Wilfred the Bat’s hangout when he’s in the area), and probably through a couple ankle-deep puddles and quicksand-like areas.” So watch out for Wilfred!
12. Santa Speedo Run, Boston, MA
The Santa Speedo Run (now officially SSRun) is held every December in Boston and requires participants to dress in a Speedo like garment and not much else (although holiday flair is encouraged). The event was first held in 2000 when five friends decided to recruit friends to recruit a scene of nearly naked Santas they had recently watched run through a high end Boston shopping district. None of their friends showed up, but the five went through with it anyway:
At 2:20 pm, the five men, now down to their Speedos, hopped out of their friend’s car in front of the Four Seasons, slung a boombox playing The Muppets Christmas Carols over their arm, and began to run.
From there the event has grown every year, from five brave souls to over 500 that run it now every year to raise money for various Boston charities.
11. Night of the Running Dead, Salt Lake City, UT
Zombies are riding a wave of popularity, and there are now zombie walks held just about everywhere every October. But a zombie run is a bit rarer of an occasion, but there are a few. We chose Night of the Running Dead to represent this category because we love the format. Every runner decides pre race if they are a zombie or a human, and humans are then given a two minute head start upon which the zombies proceed to try to run them all down. Sounds like a great way to ring in Halloween.
10. Filthy 5k Mud Run, Fargo, ND
The Filthy 5k makes sure participants get down and dirty by running participants through a course of mud and water that includes areas where runners have to crawl. Many “extreme” races have popped up in recent years with obstacles and dirt, but the Filthy 5k focuses on the latter, and includes other fun side events like an awesome mustache contest with categories like “Most Creative”, “Creepiest”, and “Most Pathetic.”
9. Beer Belly Run, Green Bay, WI
The Beer Belly Run luckily doesn’t require an actual beer belly to enter, but it’s a particularly awesome two mile race because every half mile means a beer station. How can that be beat as incentive to keep running? It might sound like a race of debauchery, but it’s actually a family friendly event that raises money for a children’s cancer charity as well as other local Green Bay charities. It’s tough to think of many road races that fit a setting better than a race in Green Bay featuring beer.
8. Big Man Run, Worcester, MA
The Big Man Run started as a race that required a starting weight of at least 190 pounds and included stops for hot dogs and beer. The weight requirements have since been relaxed, but you still have to eat the hot dogs and drink the beer, and you aren’t eligible for awards if you’re under 190. How do they know, you ask? The mandatory weigh in for all runners prior to the race.
The fun doesn’t stop there, as the actual race has three aid stations where you have to stop and consumer your beer and hot dog, and the race awesomely requires you to tip $3 at each aid station – lest you face disqualification, a stipulation the website says they have enforced in the past. The website is one of the funniest on our list, filled with great stories from previous editions of the race. This one should be on every bigger male runner’s bucket list.
7. Runyon 5k, New York, NY
Road races ending in stadiums are not a new thing, but the Runyon 5k takes the concept to another level. The course winds its way entirely within Yankee Stadium, winding its way through concourses, up and down ramps and stairs, and of course features a long stretch around the actual playing field. An awesome race to experience for any baseball fan, and a concept that really is deserving to make it to every other stadium in the US.
6. Krispy Kreme Challenge, Raleigh, NC
The Krispy Kreme Challenge sounds like a drunken dare, and it actually started that way as a dare between North Carolina State undergrads. In the Krispy Kreme Challenge runners have one hour to run 2 miles, eat a box of a dozen glazed Krispy Kreme Donuts, before running back the two miles they came. No word on whether you’re disqualified if the donuts come back up.
5. Warrior Dash/Tough Mudder
The Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder are both national events with multiple locations and are a new breed of race that’s less about your finishing time, and more about providing a challenging experience that you can brag about later. The Warrior Dash is a 3-4 mile event with milder obstacles (walls, mud, fire pit, etc.) while the Tough Mudder is a little more serious business. Tough Mudder courses vary in length from seven-twelve miles and feature 17-20 obstacles that encompass everything from running up a hill while being sprayed by high pressure fire hoses to running through live electrical wires. An estimated 20% of racers don’t finish a typical Tough Mudder event.
4. Midnight Run, Laugardalur, Reykjavik, Iceland
The Midnight Run takes place in Iceland, and kicks off at 10:00 PM with 3k, 5k, and 10k options. Plenty of late night races exist, but what makes this one special is that it takes place in full daylight. The race is part of the week of solstice celebrations and takes place in a time in Iceland where there’s no darkness at all. Another nice perk is getting to relax in some of Laugardalslaug’s geothermal hot tubs and swimming pools following the race.
3. Impossible 5k, Woodstock, GA
The Impossible 5k in many respects isn’t all that different from the garden variety 5ks that you probably see locally in your area every weekend. However, it has two features that make it really stand out. Firstly, the race isn’t just a night race (which is always kind of thrilling by itself), it’s extremely late, starting at 1:50 AM. The reason for the late start provides the second differing feature – a finisher of the Impossible 5k technically finishes at an earlier time than their start. Because the race takes place when Daylight Savings Time kicks in, you can finish up in 25:00 and be done at 1:15 AM, making this the only race in the world where you can have a “negative” finishing time.
2. Ice Marathon, Antarctica
The Ice Marathon takes place in the most desolate and remote spot on earth – Antarctica. The Ice Marathon is the southernmost race in the world, and takes place just a few hundred miles from the South Pole. The race is cold, as you can imagine, with average windchill temps of –20C. Get out your wallet though, the all inclusive package for the Ice Marathon costs around $16k, but that does get you a round trip flight from Punta Arenas, Chile and five days of food and accommodations in Antarctica. Really not a terrible deal when all is said and done. And if a marathon isn’t enough for you, the race organizers also offer a 100k race on a different date, paired with a half marathon and one mile option for the fainter of heart.
1. Man vs Horse Marathon, Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales
The Man vs. Horse Marathon is one of the most interesting races in the world. The race started in 1980 as the result of a bar bet where one man posited that over a significant distance a human being would be the equal of any horse. A man named Gordon Green overheard the conversation and decided the question should be settled, and started an annual event that persists through present day. The course is 22 miles long and over rough terrain. Horses were victorious for the first 24 runnings of the race, but incredibly in 2004 a man named Huw Lobb won the race in 2:05:19. A human won again in 2007, this time beating the fastest horse by over 11 minutes. The race has grown so much that it now limits entry to just 50 horses and has seen the human competition grow to over 500 runners per year.
Check out the Man vs. Horse Marathon, easily our most unusual race in the world, in the video below:
And here’s footage of a man winning the 2004 edition of the race: