Crossing the finish line of a marathon is one of the most prestigious fitness feats. However, it's not for everyone.
First, the training requires a lifestyle upheaveal. Building up to 25+ miles sucks up a good chunk of your free time. If you're new to long-distance running, the constant pounding can cause overuse injuries. And to be completely honest, it can be a little boring.
For those of you looking for a new challenge or something to train for, but want a race that's not quite as daunting or, conversely, more exhilirating and high octane, a race that's more of a team experience rather than a solo expedition, or maybe something that combines multiple sports to constantly give your mind and muscles new obstacles, click through our list. We've compiled 13 races that span all these categories and more to bring you short- and long-distance options that unnerve you, break your comfort zone, and test your endurance, strength, stamina, and heart to their fullest.
Wrangle a group of friends to traverse the sidewalks, backroads, bike paths, paved trails, and road shoulders of some of the coolest destinations in the U.S. (Napa Valley, the Adirondacks, and so many more). Like a true relay, one runner is on the ground at a time, while the rest of the team travels in hand-decorated vans, cheering you on at various points along the way. You'll tag-team the course, which typically lasts about last two full days. Yes, you'll be running in the dark (with headlamps and safety gear, of course). You'll also be running on adrenaline and very little sleep.
Distance: Ragnar Relay - 200ish miles divided among 12 runners (you can also create an Ultra team of 6 runners); so you can expect to run 11-24 miles. Unlike a half or full marathon, though, your distance will be broken up into 3 separate legs. Ragnar Trail - 200ish miles divided among 8 runners; so you can expect to run 14-16. Unlike a half or full marathon, though, your distance will be broken up into 3 separate legs.
Three days. Three races. Seventy-five obstacles. Thirteen-ish miles. That’s the Bermuda Triple Challenge in a nutshell. You can choose from any one, two, or all three of the races. The first is a CrossFit inspired obstacle course and foot race through the historic town of St. George, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The second, a 5K or 10K Boot Camp training test along Bermuda’s stunning pink sand beaches, coastal bluffs, and south shore. And the third, a 5K obstacle course in which you’ll run, swim (optional), and climb your way through the Royal Dockyard.
There's a Spartan Race for pretty much every fitness level. Beginners can conquer a Spartan Sprint, a 3 or so mile course interspersed with 20+ obstacles. More advanced athletes can tackle the Spartan Super, a course that spans at least 8 miles and boasts 24+ obstacles on a tougher terrain. For hardos, there's the Spartan Beast; the course includes 12 or more miles and 30+ obstacles. And for the really elite endurance athletes, there are races like the Ultra Beast, Hurricane Heat, Hurricane Heat 12 Hour, and Agoge endurance races. Some of the standard obstacles include the Atlas (rock) carry, barbed wire crawl, fire jump, and rope climb. The penalty for failing an obstacle? 30 burpees.
One of the earliest obstacle course races to take off in the U.S., Tough Mudder is a 10-12 mile mud (as you probably guessed) and obstacle course created to challenge your strength, stamina, and drive. It’s not about how fast you can cross the finish line. There are no clocks or winners. Tough Mudder has a greater emphasis on camraderie. You need to work as a team to conquer the challenges, and defeat something bigger (but not tougher) than you. Some of the gnarlier obstacles include a barbed wire low crawl (up a culvert pipe and into frigid water), a slanted 10' wall climb, and a stroll with friends—holding a sizeable piece of lumber up to a quarter mile, sometimes over walls.
We know what you're thinking: If I don't want to run a half or full marathon, why would I ever want to do a triathlon? Well, what's refreshing about tri's is the variety. You won't feel like a hamster perpetually running in a wheel because your training forces you to jump on a bike and in open water. Sprint and Olympic/International distances are more manageable, too—so long as you take the time to train properly.
Sprint Triathlon: .5mi swim, 12.4mi bike, 3.1mi run Olympic Triathlon: .93mi swim, 24.8mi bike, 6.2mi swim
The BattleFrog Open race is an 8K course (roughly 5 miles long) broken up by 22+ military-inspired obstacles. BattleFrog Elite ups the ante; you'll complete two laps of the 8K course to total about 10 miles and 44(!) obstacles. And if you're really feeling courageous (or crazy) you can complete as many laps as possible in BattleFrog Extreme. If you complete 10 laps on the 8K course, you'll be rewarded with a double silver star and bragging rights as the first to ever conquer the mother of all OCR challenges. Even if you can't reach 10, the BattleFrog Xtreme Trident and coin will be given to the male and female who complete the most laps in the fastest amount of time.
Journey across the 3-mile course and through 25+ epic obstacles—you'll encounter fire jumps, water slides, underground tunnels, and more—and be rewarded with a wild party with enough music to dance off your aches and beer to quench your thirst (though it should also take the edge off your pain). Rugged Maniac is also an American Cancer Society supporter (it's the race's official charity partner).
Warrior Dash prides itself as an obstacle course that "anyone can start and everyone can finish." They've revamped your traditional 5k run, throwing 12 world-class obstacles into the mix that have you wading through wooded lakes, trekking across muddy backroads, and climbing over and through cargo nets 12 feet in the air. The race culminates in a party with, yes, beer and lots of music. You can also sign up as a St. Jude Warrior and raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital—more specifically the St. Jude Red Frog Events Proton Therapy Center.
If you're still not convinced triathlons are for you, consider this: You can skip one of the main events. If you hate swimming, but still want to compete a multisport event, try a duathlon. While other triathletes typically swim, bike, then run; you'll run, bike, then run again. Likewise, if you hate cycling there's also something called an aquathlon where you'll run, swim, then run again.
Like most of the other obstacle course races on this list, the Civilian Military Combine spans 5 miles and includes 25+ obstacles. Here's where it stands out (in a big way): Among the military-grade challenges stands something called The PIT™—in which you're put through 5 minutes of WOD-style nonstop cross-training exercises. Civilian Military Combine makes you feel like a mini CrossFit competitor and gets your heart racing and endorphins pumping in the process. Aside from pushing your stamina, CMC also keeps you constantly guessing by incorporating new, never-before-seen obstacles in each event. What's more, the race is release controlled, so you'll never have to wait in line for an obstacle.
The HESCO BONEFROG was created by Navy SEALs so you can expect an incredible sense of teamwork and camaraderie to shine through in this course—and for it to kick your ass. Courses range from 9-12 miles and have at least 36 SEAL-style obstacles placed about every quarter mile. So, yes, you've got to have excellent endurance, stamina, and strength.
Choose from a 5K or 10K distance and conquer 20+ obstacles across some of the most challenging terrains the U.S has to offer. Hankering for a particularly difficult challenge? Run as many laps as you can until you drop on either course.
Color runs, mud races, and obstacle courses clash in Armageddon Ambush events. These grueling 5K courses challenge your all-around endurance through mental and physical tests like end-of-the-world-inspired obstacles (hence the name) set atop rugged terrain. Color ambushes greet you all along the course for a race that's full of adventure and fun. You'll celebrate your feat with a post-race party with live music, activities, and plenty of beer!