Road races are fine, but there are plenty of opportunities to really spice up your experience. Some of the quirkiest footraces out there involve nature, odd distances, stairs, animals and a whole lot of looney runners. Here are the best of the best:
Bisbee 1000 Ironman Ice Competition; Bisbee, Ariz.
Previously serving as pure entertainment during the awards ceremony of the Bisbee 1000 (a giant stair climb), the ice competition has taken on its own personality and day of competition. Daring individuals grab a 10-pound block of ice with a pair of antique tongs, sprint up 155 stairs, run across a trail that connects back to the paved road and cruise down a steep winding hill to an overwhelmingly celebrated ﬁnish. People can participate as a solo ice runner or in packs of two—just don't drop the block of ice! Next race: Sept. 20. bisbee1000.org Photo: Tim Toms
North American Wife Carrying Championships; Bethel, Maine
This race may only be 278 yards long, but it requires hoisting a woman (preferably your wife, but any woman will do) and maneuvering through log hurdles, sand traps and a water hazard called the “widow-maker” before reaching the finish line. The quickest duo takes home the wife’s weight in beer, five times her weight in cash and an entry into the world championships in Finland where the race originated. Although couples can utilize any carrying method, the most effective (and most peculiar) is the Estonian carry (pictured). Next race: Oct. 11. sundayriver.com Photo: Nick Lambert
Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor Marathon; Northfield, Minn.
Running 150 laps to complete 26.2 miles on an indoor track may sound like the monotonous marathon from hell, but past race participants of the Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor Marathon have sworn that it’s one of the best marathons they’ve run. Here’s why: perfect weather, constant elevation and upbeat music throughout the entire race on St. Olaf College’s indoor track. Runners switch directions every 30 minutes, and the 600 different aid stations, four for every lap, also keep runners motivated. Turning 10 years old in January, this is the oldest indoor marathon in the nation. Next race: Jan. 11, 2015. zoomyahyah.com Photo: Chad Thomas
Empire State Building Run Up; New York City
King Kong made scaling the Empire State Building look easy—but this 86-floor climb is no walk in the park. First held in 1978, the Empire State Building Run Up requires 1,576 steps and 86 floors of leg-burning, lung-searing effort. Racers climb a quarter mile into the sky on their way to the observation deck, where they’re rewarded with magical nighttime views of Manhattan. A journey that takes less than a minute by elevator takes the fastest runner about 10 minutes (the record, set in 2003, is 9 minutes and 33 seconds) and significantly longer for most others. Next race: February 2015. nyrr.org Photo: Courtesy of NYRR
Cinque Mulini; San Vittorie Olano, Italy
In Italian, Cinque Mulini means “five mills,” indicating the number of watermills along this cross-country course, which runs up multiple staircases and winds through buildings. First run in 1933, this race has seen some prestigious runners, including Grete Waitz, Paul Tergat and Kenenisa Bekele. Next race: March 2015. 5mulini.org Photo: Photorun.net
Bay to Breakers 12K; San Francisco
The largest footrace in the world (and arguably one of the most iconic quirky races in the country), Bay to Breakers is a San Francisco staple and one of the finest displays of the rad culture that lives in that city. Bare runners are not uncommon during this 7.4-mile journey from the Embarcadero to the Great Highway, which traverses beautiful Golden Gate Park, hugs the Panhandle and drags crazy participants up iconic Hayes Street. With a longstanding history of more than 100 years, the race has established itself as not only a running event, but also a ginormous moving party of costumes and local support. Next race: May 17, 2015. baytobreakers.com Photo: Allan Rouge
Man v Horse Marathon; Llanwrtyd, Wales
Not quite a marathon, man and horse compete against each other in a 22-mile trail race. Horses were victorious for the first 24 runnings of the race until 2004 when runner Huw Lobb won the race in 2:05:19. With increasing popularity, the race now limits entry to 50 horses, and more than 500 contestants match their stamina with that of the horse. Next race: June 13, 2015. green-events.co.uk Photo: Courtesy of Man v Horse Marathon
Burro Days; Fairplay, Colo.
“Get your ass up the pass” is the slogan of this race, but it’s not talking about your gluteus maximus. Instead, it refers to the tradition of pack burro racing, a bizarre blend of mountain trail running and donkey trekking that has been taking place in Colorado since 1949. The logistics involve a human racing alongside a burro and competing against other human-animal pairs on courses ranging anywhere from 4 to 29 miles. Burro Days is the world championships, comprising one short 15-mile route and a longer 29-mile course over rough mountain terrain that reaches the 13,000-foot summit of Mosquito Pass. Unable to ride the burro at any point during the race, participants quickly learn that burro running is a pain in the, well, you know. Next race: July 25–26, 2015. burrodays.com Photo: Julie Bullock
The Great Bull Run Series
Modeled after the famous San Farmin Festival in Pamplona, Spain, this adrenaline-filled 5K race series pits human racers against live bulls. This may sound dangerous, but race organizers take extra precautions to make the event friendly to all. If it's still not your thing to rally with horned animals, partake in the Tomato Royale that happens on one day in each of the five cities. thegreatbullrun.com Photo: Wesley Reaves
Cupid's Undie Run Series
Held in 27 cities across the U.S. and three in Australia, Cupid’s Undie Run puts the "hilarity in charity," giving each cherub a legitimate reason to strip down and run through the streets in their skivvies. Benefiting the Children's Tumor Foundation, the Valentine's Day barely clothed scurry raised more than $1.3 million for the cause in 2013. cupidsundierun.com Photo: Kevin Carroll