Obstacle races are among the hottest trends in fitness right now. Need proof? Check your Facebook feed for photos of your mud-covered friends wearing orange Tough Mudder headbands. While they're a great change of pace from the normal run-a-10K-get-a-T-shirt routine, they leave some athletes with an insatiable craving for more punishment. Here's a list of eight races designed to push you in ways that a fun run never could.
Fitness level: Elite Length: Varies Most twisted element: It's 24 uninterrupted hours.
In case you're not familiar, the Tough Mudder is a 10- to 12-mile challenge—they discourage the use of the word "race"—populated with military-style obstacles, most of which involve being drenched in freezing cold water. The World's Toughest Mudder takes the same premise and turns it up to 11. They're keeping most of the obstacles secret until the day of the event, but they promise to be much tougher than the civilian race. And rather than doing a single loop of the course, you're required to keep trudging along for a full 24 hours. This year's race is being held December 17-18th in Englishtown, NJ, so freezing temperatures are a given. You have to qualify by finishing near the top of a normal Tough Mudder event, and they're still expecting only about 10 percent to finish World's Toughest Mudder. Hello, trench foot.
Fitness Level: Advanced Length: 8 miles Most twisted element: Participants run the race with a giant cross on their backs.
Held in the UK, the Tough Guy race is a brutal affair that offers up more pain than most other obstacle challenges. The winter race takes place in freezing temperatures and includes things like razor wire crawl-unders and death-defying swings on slippery ropes. But, if you're not satisfied with that level of danger, you can actually upgrade to something called the Jesus Warrior. Seriously. The eight-mile course you'll run is the same, but you'll do it while carrying a giant, hand-carved wooden cross. But hey, they do give you a five-minute head start!
Fitness Level: Elite Length: Varies (48 hours+) Most twisted element: Competitors have to eat a bag of raw onions.
Created by seasoned adventure racers, this Vermont race is both eclectic and extremely brutal. The race only accepts 200 challengers and the 2011 edition ran roughly 45 hours before it was finished. Thirty-five people made it to the end. It's technically an obstacle race, but it also involves some more traditional adventure race aspects like navigation. Then, of course, there are the less traditional challenges like eating a bag of raw onions, chopping wood or running up a mountain to find a list of presidents' names that need to be memorized for reciting later. Oh, and the URL to their site is YouMayDie.com. Fitting.
Fitness Level: Elite Length: 100K Most twisted element: Subzero temperatures.
A 100K run is taxing on any body, but if that's not enough of a challenge, you can always do it in Antarctica. The race takes place near the Ellsworth Mountains, which is closer to the South Pole than most people will ever get. Temperatures get to roughly -20 C and there's a constant wind that fluctuates between 10 to 25 knots. The terrain is quite literally a glacier, so it makes the pot holes in your local road running route seem tame. Plus, the whole thing takes place at an altitude of about 2,300 feet. If you don't feel like you can make the 100K, there's a traditional 26.2-mile marathon as well as the Antarctic Mile, which is new for this year's event.