Adventure racing has become increasingly popular and well-known in recent years. But what is it exactly? A clear definition of an adventure race doesn’t seem to exist. Here’s what we do know:
- Typically adventure races are multi-leg and multi-sport.
- It is also common for these races to be completed in teams, either competing together or relay-style, but sometimes solo competition is invited or encouraged.
- They can last for several hours or several days, covering only a few miles or more than 100. (Note: A purist would argue that events like the Tough Mudder are not true adventure races, while others think that type of race is the future of adventure racing.)
That being said, a typical adventure race includes endurance challenges in running, orienteering, paddling, cycling, mountain biking, or other outdoor adventures. Then there are others that don’t fit the mold. Whether competitive or just for fun, these races require skill, fitness, and a great sense of humor. For our purposes, we’ll define an adventure race as any event that involves racing and having an adventure in the process.
Ready to have some fun? Check out one of these unusual adventure races!
Adventure Races in the U.S.
1. The Krispy Kreme Challenge; Raleigh, NC
This annual fundraiser for the University of North Carolina Children’s Hospital involves running and eating doughnuts. Lots of doughnuts. Competitors have one hour to run 2.5 miles from NC State Memorial Bell Tower to Krispy Kreme, consume a dozen doughnuts, and run 2.5 miles back.
While the event is considered a right of passage for college students, it is a family-friendly event that allows children as young as 8 to register, while younger children can also run with their parents or be pushed in a jogging stroller. Participants can register as “casual” runners, receiving a box of donuts but with no required number to eat, or enter in the “no doughnut” category. Only those completing the full challenge will be considered for awards. Racers can also enter in teams.
The Krispy Kreme Challenge has raised over $1.5 million and has become the hospital’s largest unrestricted donor.
Not a fan of doughnuts? Consider a similar race with Ben and Jerry’s ice cream at the Brain Freezer 5K in Burlington, Vermont. New York City offers several culinary options, such as pizza, hot dogs, or cupcakes. Check this list to find a race near you that tests both your physical fitness and your gastrointestinal fortitude.
2. The Great Bull Run and Tomato Royale; Houston, TX
If running with the bulls is on your bucket list, but Pamplona, Spain is a little out of reach, you’re in luck! The Great Bull Run and Tomato Royale is held annually in Houston, Texas (as well as other U.S. cities), giving average Americans a chance to be chased through the streets by bulls.
While not strictly a race in the sense that there are are no winners and losers, it is a guaranteed adrenaline kick. While the Pamplona festival has seen 15 fatalities in its more than 100 years of celebration, the Texas version has added many more safety precautions so anyone can feel comfortable joining the fun. The precautions extend to the bulls, as well, so they are not harmed in any way because of this event.
Just as the San Fermin festival in Pamplona ends with La Tomatina, the Great Bull Run wraps up with Tomato Royale: a massive tomato food fight. The day also includes live entertainment and food. Tickets can be purchased for the Great Bull Run or Tomato Royale individually or a combination ticket for both. Those feeling slightly less adventurous can purchase a spectator ticket.
3. Zombie Mud Run; Reading, PA
If a 5K muddy obstacle course is not enough of a challenge, try completing it while being chased by zombies. The Zombie Mud Run is held in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but similar events are held annually across the country, often in the fall to correspond with Halloween.
Participants can sign up as a human or a zombie. Humans race wearing a flag football belt with three flags to represent their vital organs: brain, heart, entrails. Zombies stationed along the course will attempt to “eat the organs” of the humans by taking one of their flags. To survive, racers must reach the finish line with at least one of their flags.
A junior version is available for children age 12 and under. There is also a one-mile version held at night in the dark course of a haunted hayride. Costumes are encouraged. Sound like fun? Gather up your courage and join the Human Salvation Party!
4. The CHIditarod; Chicago, IL
The CHIditarod – not to be confused with the famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska—is sometimes called Chicago’s Urban Shopping Cart Race. Teams of five navigate downtown Chicago as a “dawg-team” with four “dawgs” pulling the cart and one “musher” pushing and steering. Costumes and cart decorations are highly encouraged.
The race route is not predetermined, but teams must check in at a series of checkpoints throughout the day. Teams remain at each checkpoint location for a minimum of 25 minutes where there are challenges to complete.
The CHIditarod is above all a charity event, and part of the entry fee for each team is a donation of 69 pounds of non-perishable food for local food banks. The event is completely volunteer driven and the CHIditarod Foundation is a registered non-profit organization.
Similar events are held in cities throughout the country, so search for an Idiotarod near you!
5. Father’s Day Adventure Race; Orlando, FL
The following events are not unusual for an adventure race: biking, paddling, orienteering, and trekking. What is special about the Father’s Day Adventure Race is that it is designed for families to race together as teams. The event is held at Little Big Econ State Forest, about 25 miles from Orlando in central Florida.
There are four categories to choose from: Family 1-2 hour, Challenge 3 hour, Sport 3 hour, and Elite 6 hour. The Family course includes fun team-building challenges along the way and allows use of GPS for those who are not comfortable navigating.
This race is a great way for families to spend Father’s Day together and bond over shared outdoor activities. It is a great way to introduce kids to adventure racing and foster an early love for the outdoors.
6. Underwater Bike Race; Beaufort, NC
A 4th of July tradition in Beaufort, NC is the annual Underwater Bike Race. This fun event raises money for the Children’s Mile of Hope which supports cancer research.
The event begins with contests and prizes for the best dressed rider and the best decorated bike. Participants then take a boat ride out to the site of the sunken ship Indra, a freighter that was sunk as an artificial reef in 1992. The Indra is about 300 feet long and sits in about 60 feet of water.
Outfitted with scuba gear, riders dive with their bikes to the starboard side of the Indra and race from one end to the other. They may swim, pedal, push or drag their bikes to the finish line. The festivities continue after the race with a party and a covered dish potluck at the Discovery Diving center.
7. The Indy Ultimate; Indianapolis, IN
Go behind-the-scenes and get into the action in some of the best-known locations in Indianapolis. The Indy Ultimate takes racers on a 5-mile course through the city, with checkpoints at various landmarks along the way. At each landmark, an “activation” challenge awaits, giving participants insider access. Previous challenges have included kicking a field goal or soccer goal at the stadium, taking a paddleboat down the canal, and drag racing. Racers also get an actor experience in the theatre, explore the City Market Catacombs, and so much more.
The Indy Ultimate is a family-friendly event. The minimum age to participate is 10 years old.
This is a unique way to experience a city, both for locals and tourists. Visit the event’s Facebook page for more information or to watch a video from the 2018 race.
8. North American Wife Carrying Championship; Sunday River, Maine
Originating in Finland, where the world championships are still held, wife carrying races are now held all over the world. The North American Wife Carrying Championships in Maine determine who will represent the United States and Canada at these world championships. State and regional qualifying events are held across the country, including Florida, Montana, Wisconsin and Wyoming. See a full list here.
Racers compete in teams of two over an obstacle course in a sand track about 250 yards long. The pairs are not required to be legally married and there is no minimum weight for the female being carried. There are no rules about exactly how the “wife” is to be carried, but dropping her adds penalty time to the team’s overall time.
9. The Man vs. Horse Marathon; Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales
This event is exactly what it sounds like. In the Man vs. Horse Marathon, people race against horses at the same time on the same race course. Though not a true 26.2 mile marathon, the path is close enough at 24 miles. The path climbs nearly 5,000 feet as it winds down paths and over streams through the small town of Llanwrtyd Wells.
Each year that a human doesn’t win, the prize money rolls over to the next year. Only twice since the race started in 1980 have humans finished ahead of the horses—in 2004 and 2007. The first time, the prize money had accumulated to over $30,000. Rare as it is, each year hundreds of people compete, trying to be the one to defeat dozens of horses in a foot race.
10. Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling; Gloucester, England
Would you risk life and limb for cheese? Each year, dozens of people do just that at the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling event. Though this tradition dates back to the 1800s, the official event was canceled in 2010 due to safety concerns. That has not stopped loyal competitors from continuing the tradition. The event is expected to be held again in May 2019.
It begins when an 8 to 9 pound wheel of cheese is released from the top of the hill. Competitors then attempt to race the cheese to the bottom of the steep hill. Since the cheese will reach speeds of up to 70 mph as it descends, it is impossible for anyone to reach the bottom ahead of the cheese.The first person to reach the finish line at the bottom wins the cheese, and of course the honor of victory.
There are many injuries involved with this race each year, and since the race is no longer an official event, ambulances are no longer stationed at the ready. There is no official website, no registration and no clear organization. Just show up on the day of the event and prepare to race the cheese.
If you would rather buy your cheese and keep your bones intact, there is plenty of space for spectators for this crazy race.
Adventure comes in all shapes and sizes! Whether it’s a more traditional multi-leg adventure race or a less conventional one, add some excitement to this year by finding the right adventure race for you. And if training happens to require eating doughnuts, so be it!
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