The 21 Most Incredible Themed Races

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Zombies, Twinkies, and a photo op with Mickey Mouse? Today’s most amazing themed races feature insane obstacles, over-the-top costumes, and an outrageous supply of tasty treats. The best part: These wild n’ crazy events get the body, mind, and spirit off to the races. Come along as we highlight the most exciting running races around the globe — there’s truly something for everyone (couch potatoes and winos included!). 

Photo: SpartanRace.com

Spartan Race  Best Race for 300 Fans If life is a battlefield, then this race is full-on war. Designed by seven “insane ultra-athletes” and a Royal Marine, the Spartan Race combines obstacles like fire, mud, barbed wire, and a few hellish curve balls to get competitors out of their comfort zone — fast. Choose the Spartan Sprint (3-plus miles, 15-plus obstacles), the Super Spartan (8-plus miles, 20-plus obstacles), the Spartan Beast (12-plus miles, 25-plus obstacles), or... the Death Race, a 24-hour challenge with the following url: www.youmaydie.com. ‘Nuff said. To test your mettle in any state, visit www.spartanrace.com.

Photo: Will Schneekloth/Korff Enterprises

“Celebrate America” Underwear Run — Best Race for Proud Patriots Don’t it feel good to be a free? At the 2012 “Celebrate America” Underwear Run, expect a decidedly star-spangled theme (still skivvies-only, of course). The Central Park run will cover 1.7 miles of pure fun, like every year, on the Friday before the Aquaphor New York City Triathlon. So let those pre-race jitters go — and get your Abe Lincoln and Lady Liberty on! Sign up for the upcoming July 6th race here.

Photo: MarathonduMedoc.com

Marathon du Medoc — Best Race for Winos Experienced runners looking to change things up (by getting liquored up), this one’s for you! Set in the Medoc wine region near Bordeaux, France, this world-famous event takes runners on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure through the region’s most breathtaking chateaux and vineyards. Stationed along the way: 23 drinking posts for marathoners to taste the best of the best (Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, and Chateau Latour to name a few!), plus plenty of food stops serving local delicacies like foie gras, oysters, and cheese and fruit. So step into full costume (drunk distance running wouldn’t be right without one), and bottoms up! This year’s race will be held on September 8th. Sign up here: www.marathondumedoc.com

Photo: ireallylikefood.com

Krispy Kreme Challenge — Best Race for Pastry Lovers Let’s start with the stats: 2.5 miles out, one dozen doughnuts in, another 2.5 miles back. Oh, and do it in under 60 minutes. At 2,400 calories consumed per competitor, the Krispy Kreme Challenge is a gloriously gluttonous affair. But don’t fret, it’s also a worthy charitable event (all proceeds go to the North Carolina Children’s Hospital). Not up for that type of cheat day? Participants can also sign up as “casual runners” to choose just how many doughnuts to chow down. Still, the damage is pretty darn impressive — with 7,500 runners last year, that meant half a ton of doughnuts, or 10,500 feet of deliciousness stacked sky-high. For more info the next Raleigh, NC event, visit www.krispykremechallenge.com.

Photo: HGL

Run For Your Lives — Best Race for Doomsday Preppers A zombie-infested obstacle race? Count us in. This frightful 5K combines flesh-starved, virus-spreading zombies along with a series of mud (and blood) covered obstacles. Before the impending Apocalypse (err, race) begins, each brave soul will get a belt equipped with three flags representing good health. Next, zombies will hunt you down, attempting to eat your brains, steal your flags, and slow you down. Make it to the finish with at least one flag intact? Congrats, you’ve lived to see another day! Celebrate with a medal to commemorate your survival (or zombie transformation), and stick around for the Apocalypse party, advertised as the best (and last!) night of your life. For cities and dates, visit www.runforyourlives.com.

Photo: Run Disney

Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend — Best Race for Kids at Heart Mickey, is that you? The Happiest Place on Earth just got a whole lot sportier — with a full range of Disney-themed races, including a marathon, half-marathon, and a very “Goofy” 5K family fun run. Tour the theme parks, collect high-fives from Disney characters, and pose for plenty of photo ops along the way. (Check out our founder  Derek taking on the half-marathon earlier this year!). Ready to give it a whirl? Mark that calendar for the weekend of January 12th, 2013, and sign up here!

Photo by Chris Haynes

Boston Urban Iditarod — Best Race for Competitive Shoppers Don’t be alarmed. This is hardly the famed Alaskan Iditarod. For the urban iteration, they’ve replaced the dogs with people, snow gear with costumes, and sleds with — you guessed it — shopping carts. Along the way, expect to hit at least five “check point” bars, where various challenges await (we hear pole dancing and a little game called “junk in the trunk” are just a few of them!). But it’s not just a chug-and-run — bonus points (and prizes!) go to the team with the best cart and costumes. To stay posted on the March 2nd, 2013 “run,” head to www.bostonurbaniditarod.com.

Photo: Brit Williams/RAM Racing

Hot Chocolate 15/5K — Best Race for Chocoholics Still downing chocolate milk post-workout? Get ready for an upgrade. “America’s Sweetest Race” indulges 5 and 15K finishers with Ghirardelli hot cocoa, chocolate fondue, and other chocolaty treats. Currently in eight cities across the U.S., this family-friendly race proudly supports the Ronald McDonald House Charity — the real cherry on top. For cities and dates, visit www.hotchocolate15k.com.

Photo: Naurunappula.com

Nude Run of Finland — Best Race for Nudists The word Nakukymppi might get lost in translation, but find yourself in Finland on the right day and time, and all will become abundantly clear. The (nearly) Nude Run is a 10K through the pristine forests of Finland, where participants can run, walk, or Nordic walk at their own leisurely pace. Competitors are limited to shoes, socks, and hats (make ‘em count people!), and women can also wear a little something up top (although most seem to go bare). Waiting at the finish line: coffee, eats, and a free pass to the sauna and swimming area at the camping site nearby. Start planning for next summer’s race here.

Photo: ZaggoraGirl.com

Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis — Best Race to Get Into the Holiday Spirit Run, run, Rudolph... 3.1 miles. In support of the Arthritis Foundation’s mission to prevent, control, and cure arthritis and related diseases, participants hit the pavement donning jingle bells, costumes, and plenty of holiday cheer. And with races across the country all winter long, it’s so easy to get your jingle on — for a good cause. For cities and dates visit www.arthritis.org/jingle-bell-run.

Photo: Ann Arbor Active Against ALS

Twinkie Run — Best Cheat Day Race Twinkies may not be the best race day fuel, but on April Fool’s Day anything goes! Held on April 1st in Ann Arbor’s Gallup Park, the annual 5K sweetens things up with tables upon tables of Twinkies before, during, and after the race. And they’re not all just store-bought; Expect some tasty homemade recipes, like last year’s award-winning spiked double chocolate cake Twinkies. The icing on top: All proceeds are donated to research aimed at curing or treating ALS. Ready to eat and run? Get all the details at www.a2a3.org.

Photo: Tough Mudder

Tough Mudder — Best Race for Badasses When running in circles starts to get old, leave it to the Tough Mudder to break out a serious can of whoop ass. This gritty 10 to 12 mile challenge packs over 20 military-style obstacles, all designed (by the British Special Forces!) to test competitors’ strength, stamina, and mental grit. The kicker: these 12-foot walls and mud-filled tunnels can’t be conquered solo — competitors must rely on their fellow mudders to give them a boost (and some encouragement too). Throw in a (much-needed!) beer and a live band at the finish line, and you’ve got yourself a day to remember! To date, Tough Mudder participants have raised more than $3 million for the Wounded Warrior Project. To find a Mudder near you, visit www.toughmudder.com.

Photo by Elyssa Greenberg

The New York Hot Dog Challenge — Best Race for Competitive Eaters When Greatist’s chief research officer took home the gold last winter, we knew this race would always hold a special place in our hearts (and David Tao’s stomach). The New York Rogue Runners’ Hot Dog Challenge might seem simple enough: a 2.5-mile run through New York’s Central Park, Midtown, and Times Square — but there’s a big, foot-long twist. At 10 (count ‘em, 10!) predetermined food carts, competitors must stop, purchase a hot dog, and down it before trucking along to the next stop. The prize: $225 — and the love and admiration of millions. To test your need for speed (and mystery meat), visit www.newyorkroguerunners.com for updates on next year’s challenge!

Photo: The Color Run

The Color Run — Best Race for Creative Types Good, clean fun? We’ll pass on that one. At The Color Run, participants start out in all-white, head-to-toe, and finish decked out in a spattering of bright, dazzling color. How it works: At each kilometer of the race, runners are blitzed by volunteers, sponsors, and staffers with a new color (1K is yellow, 2K is blue, 3K is green, 4K is pink, and 5K is... a “color extravaganza!”). And how’s this for a goodie bag: Every runner gets a bag of color to put his or her own artistic skills to the test! For cities and dates, visit www.thecolorrun.com. Greatist will be hitting the New York City run on August 25th — so stay tuned and let us know if you’ll be joining in on the fun, too!

Photo: Ryder Photography

The Chocolate Race — Best Race for a Sweet Tooth Chocolate, chocolate everywhere... and all we’ve gotta do is run! Whether or not a 5K, 10K, or 10-miler sounds like fun, the race day confections at this St. Catharines, Ontario run can’t be beat. From soft-serve chocolate ice cream and salty dark chocolate caramels to chocolate croissants and chocolate milk, there’s truly something for every chocoholic at this (very) moveable feast. The next one: April 28, 2013; www.thechocolaterace.com.

Photo: Dallas YMCA Turkey Trot

The Turkey Trot — Best Race for Family Bonding Ready to gobble your way into oblivion? Consider this the #greatist way to pre-game that Thanksgiving meal. With community and charity at its core, the YMCA Turkey Trot is the perfect way to get the fam together for a feel-good walk or run on Thanksgiving morning. Dress as a turkey, a pilgrim, or in your favorite pjs — the Trot brings the fun back into running in cities all across the country. For a Trot near you, visit www.ymcadallas.org.

Photo: University of Washington Undie Run

Undie Run — Best Race for Charitable Exhibitionists “Bare because we care?” Fair enough! Each year the Undie Run challenges college students across the country to strip down to their skivvies and make a run for it. The clothes they shed at the starting line are then donated to charity. (To date, they’ve collected over 50,000 pounds of clothing!) In 2013, expect the usual co-ed craziness, plus some yet-to-be-revealed celebs returning to their alma maters in ultra-revealing fashion. To see which campuses get the green light — and to join in on the fun — head to www.undierun.com.

Photo: NYRR.org

New Year Midnight Run — Best Race to Ring in the New Year New Year’s Eve in NYC can go a little something like this: Pay $125 for one to two watery drinks in Dixie cups; miss the ball drop waiting in line for an overflowing toilet; fight to the death with hoards of belligerent strangers for a cab back home. The other option: The Emerald Nuts Midnight Run. The 4-mile race through Central Park features festive costumes, live entertainment, and a (nonalcoholic) champagne station halfway through the run. Oh, and when the clock strikes midnight and it’s fireworks time, don’t forget to look up! Stay tuned to www.nyrr.org for race details closer to the event.

Photo: Red Frog Events, LLC

Warrior Dash — Best Race for Thrill-Seekers Warriors, are you ready? This filthy 5K involves 12 “obstacles from hell,” including leaping over fire, scaling 12-foot rope walls, and sprinting, wading, and crawling through muddy obstacles of all shapes and sizes. But with beer, laughs, and the sweet Warrior helmet swag, the dash more than belongs on any daredevil’s bucket list. Start training now! To find a race near you, visit www.warriordash.com.

Photo: NYRR.org

The Empire State Building Run-Up — Best Race for the Vertically-Inclined A 1,576-stair sprint to the top of the tallest building on the East Coast — how’s that for a runner’s high? This grueling run-up starts from the ground floor of New York’s Empire State Building and finishes at the 88-flights up observation deck. But not everyone can get in on the action: Runners must enter a random lottery to win one of the race’s few hundred spots. (See how our contributing writer Emily Milam did here!) Think you can conquer the climb in record time (that’s 9 minutes and 33 seconds on the men’s side!), visit www.nyrr.org for more details!

Photo: Bay to Breakers 12K

Bay to Breakers — Best Race for Eccentrics Among the largest footraces in the world, San Francisco’s beloved Bay to Breakers 12K attracts more than 50,000 participants (and twice as many spectators) each year. But the stunning San Francisco sights aren’t the only draw; it’s the zany costumes, eccentric characters, and fun-loving vibe that makes this race a must for runners from every corner of the globe. Clear the calendar for the third Sunday in May, and visit www.zazzlebaytobreakers.com for race details.

Now we want to hear from you: Which of these crazy runs have you done? And which are you dying to sign up for soon? Tell us in the comments below! 

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Jordan Shakeshaft
Whether it’s soccer, basketball, or figure skating, I’ve always turned to sports to satisfy my need for fun, fitness, and a healthy dose of...

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