Why run the same ol' 5K when you can race in a bunny costume or, er, in your birthday suit? Whether you're looking to dress up, get slimed, tackle obstacles, or get in on some unlimited Twinkie action, our roundup of the most incredible themed races around has something for everyone.
When putting this list together, the fun factor was first and foremost, but we also considered the swag bags, after parties, locations, charitable affiliations, and, of course the hilarious memories you'll collect along with your finisher medal. So lace up those kicks (and maybe start working on your gag reflex), because we’re off!
EAT AND RUN
1. April Fool’s Day Twinkie Run
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Twinkies are a serious matter—you saw how people lost it when the factory shutdown was announced—and this event honors the legendary shortcake snack. Runners are treated to unlimited Twinkies at the starting line and then let loose to run a 5K through Ann Arbor’s Gallup Park. For those who need to refuel, the spongy cakes are available at the 1.5-mile mark, and again at the finish line as a…recovery snack. Be sure to pace yourself though; there are even more Twinkies post-race (those ones are homemade and more decadent than you’d ever believe). This run, now in its fifth year, is organized by Ann Arbor Active Against ALS.
2. Hot Chocolate 5K/15K
Distance: 5K and 15K
Nothing compares to the sweet warmth of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day, except for maybe the Hot Chocolate 15/5K Finisher’s Mug filled with chocolate fondue, dip-able snacks and, of course, hot chocolate. But first you’ve got to go the distance: 3.1 miles or 9.3 miles, through your city of choice (Chicago, Denver, Philadelphia, and San Francisco among 10 others). Now in its sixth year, the run draws more than 200,000 chocolate lovers nationwide, with a portion of proceeds benefiting the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
3. Krispy Kreme Challenge
Distance: 5 miles
Location: Raleigh, NC
Who doesn’t dream of a doughnut break during their run? But a dozen doughnuts?! Those who accept the Krispy Kreme Challenge will never look at the sweet treat the same way again. The run kicks off on the campus of North Carolina State University in Raleigh and directs sugar-hungry challengers 2.5 miles through historic downtown Raleigh to a Krispy Kreme shop where they devour one dozen original glazed doughnuts before trudging the 2.5 miles back to campus. Catch is, you’ve got to finish the run—and every last doughnut—in less than an hour to be recognized as a challenger. If you’re not into downing 2,280 calories all at once you can register as a casual runner, which merely requires you to balance the box all the way back to the finish line. This event is in its 10th year and benefits the North Carolina Children’s Hospital.
4. New York Hot Dog Challenge
Distance: 3 to 5 miles
Location: New York, NY
Some hot dog-eating competitions are for amateurs, and others are for champions—as in those of you who can down 10 hot dogs (buns and all) while hustling along a 3-to-5-mile course through busy Midtown Manhattan. Participants race from hot dog vendor to hot dog vendor, but they don’t know where the vendors will be set up until race day (event organize keep the course map secret to prevent practice runs). Participants are assigned a referee to ensure each dog is completely devoured before runners head to the next cart. Runners have to fork over the dough for each dog, so sponsorship is allowed. Oh, and puking disqualifies you.
5. NYC Pizza Run
Distance: 2.25 miles
Location: New York, NY
Who serves New York City’s best slice will probably always be up for debate, but what you can find out for sure is whether or not you’re able to scarf down three slices while running 2.25 miles through the gritty streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The NYC Pizza Run is an annual challenge held in Tompkins Square Park (four laps around the park, counterclockwise) in which you must finish a slice (crust and all) at the start of each lap before continuing onto the next. The first runner to finish is crowned the NYC Pizza Run Champion and the fun continues down the block at Common Ground, a local pub, where participants get a free drink to wash it all down. Now in its fifth year, a portion of the run’s proceeds benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International.
6. The Corndog Challenge
Location: Tulsa, OK
You’ve never experienced the Tulsa State Fair quite like this—covered in sweat and with a belly full of carnival treats. Ok, maybe that’s how most of us experience state fairs, but still. The Corn Dog Challenge is going to show you something you’ve never seen before as it leads you on a certified and timed 5K course through the fairgrounds during the beginning stages of fair set-up. Oh, and did we mention you’ll be required to fill your belly with lemonade, cotton candy, and a corndog along the way? With each mile you complete, you’ll be handed one of these snacks to devour before racing on. For those not looking to bite into a challenge quite like this, there’s always the Corndog Classic 5K, in which you’ll get the same behind-the-scenes views without the calories. Proceeds from the event, which is in its fourth year, benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Tulsa Area United Way.
7. The Wicked Wine Run
When you know there’s a glass (or three) of wine waiting for you at the finish line, you might just log a new PR. The Wicked Wine Run leads runners on a 5K through a lush vineyard—think trail running with grapes. In addition to the run, the wine connoisseur in you can take part in the 1K Tasting Walk, which features four wine-tasting stops along the route. Be sure to hang around for the post-run concert and relaxing sunset.
Get in Character
8. A Christmas Story Run
Distance: 5K and 10K
Location: Cleveland, OH
This holiday season, why not take a run down movie memory lane? Register for either a 5K or 10K that takes participants through A Christmas Story’s set locations in picturesque Cleveland, OH. If you're a fan of the movie, nothing says Christmas quite like runners in pink bunny suits, lampshade hats, and Santa beards jostling along to chants of, “You’ll shoot your eye out!,”"Oooh fuuudge!," and "Fra-gee-lay. That must be Italian!" The run kicks off at the site of the former Higbee’s Department Store and makes its way 3.1 miles to A Christmas Story House & Museum. The 10K course heads back toward Public Square, a plaza in downtown Cleveland, where the classic holiday flick will be playing on a Jumbotron. Race entry includes entrance to the house and museum, and automatically enters runners in a drawing to win their very own leg lamp! Race proceeds benefit A Christmas Story House Neighborhood Restoration Project.
9. Boston Urban Idiotorama
Distance: 3.5 miles
Location: Boston, MA
If you’re a team player with an imagination (who also happens to enjoy a beer or two) then this run is for you. All you’ve got to do is get four to six fast friends together (make sure they’re at least 21), find a shopping cart, stock up on canned goods, and register for the Boston Urban Idiotorama. The event copies the format of the Iditarod, the famous Alaskan sled dog race. In the Idiotorama costumed runners and their themed shopping carts criss-cross Boston, checking in at five local bars along the way. But why the cart? With each check-in runners encourage spectators to donate as much food as possible for the Boston Medical Center Food Pantry.
10. Caliente Bare Dare 5K
Location: Land O'Lakes, FL
“I swear, I could be making such better time if it weren’t for these darn clothes!” If this thought has ever crossed your mind while sweating through a 5K, then you may want to strip down for the Caliente Bare Dare. While nudity is not required, it really is suggested—not being in the nude means you’d totally stick out like a clothed thumb as you made your way through the trail course. The 5K takes place every year at Caliente, an upscale clothing-optional resort located in Land O'Lakes, FL. The event features a poolside afterparty, as well as a day pass to the resort. (If you wear nothing else, be sure to throw on sunscreen and sneakers.)
11. Cupid’s Undie Run
Distance: 1 mile
Cupid’s Undie Run has runners charging from the starting line quicker than the little cherub’s arrow, because well, this mile(ish) run takes place on a frigid February weekend with participants in their Valentine’s Day best—yes, negligees, cotton bloomers, and assorted underthings. Runners warm up with a two-hour pre-party before the sprint and defrost with a post-race dance-off. Organized in cities across the country, proceeds benefit The Children’s Tumor Foundation.
12. Mustache Dache
We mustache you a question: Are you up for a dash to the finish line? Alright, alright, we promise, this 5K isn’t nearly as corny as that joke. The Mustache Dache is actually pretty awesome. This charitable race benefits Movember, a foundation promoting prostate cancer awareness. You’ll swear you’ve never seen so many Steve Prefontaines in your life! Participants are encouraged to grow out their upper lip best for the mustache contest that follows the race. Even the ladies and kids will be rocking ‘staches for this one, courtesy of a face-painter who will be on hand to wisp on the whiskers. (Oh, and don’t be surprised if you see a life-size mustache racing past you on the course or busting out the Charleston at the afterparty.)
13. Rock ‘n’ Roll Series
Distance: 5K, 10K, half, full, and relay
You know how important a solid playlist can be. So just think how amped you’ll be when you’re running to live bands spread out along the course of your choice—5K, 10K, half-marathon, marathon, or relay. Local bands line routes in cities all over the world, performing a variety of genres, from alternative, classic, and punk rock to blues, jazz and soul. Where the tunes fade out, cheer teams and dance squads are on hand to perform and turn up the energy. You might be surprised how a sing-along can give you that second wind you need!
Distance: 5K, 10K, half-marathon, and marathon
Location: Anaheim, CA and Lake Buena Vista, FL
All your running dreams are sure to come true becase runDisney offers half-marathons, marathons, 10-milers, and adventure races, all featuring your favorite Disney themes! Light on your feet? There’s the Tinkerbell Half Marathon Weekend at Disneyland featuring a Tinkerbell half, 10K, and Neverland Family Fun Run 5K. Maybe you’re craving a new PR? If so, bite into the Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend at Disney World featuring a night-time half marathon winding through three parks and finishing with an afterparty at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. Just don’t forget, it’s all about wearing your Disney best!
15. Superhero Scramble
Distance: 4 miles, 8 miles, half-marathon, and marathon
Calling all superheroes! There is a menace wreaking athletic havoc in your town, in the form of obstacle races of varying distances and increasing difficulty! The Charger (a 4-miler ), the Intimidator (8 miles), the Villain (13 miles), and a Super Villain (26 miles) all must be conquered. So switch out of those civilian clothes and slide into the spandex, because your resilience, strength, endurance, and superhero abilities are about to be tested. For those on top of their evil-fighting game, you can enter the Scramble Gamble, in which you put your money where your fitness is for a payoff in prizes.
16. The Bad Prom Run
Some things are so bad that they’re actually pretty awesome, one being The Bad Prom Run. This 5K makes up for where your prom fell flat. Run (or dance) your way through four light-up-the-night prom themes along the course, while an epic soundtrack bumps in the background. Don’t worry about bringing a date though, just focus on dressing for the occasion, and be sure that your running shoes totally complement your look, because you never know whose eye you’ll catch during the afterparty. A portion of your prom ticket will go toward a local charity.
17. The Zombie Run
Didn’t you know? Zombies have more fun, at least during this 5K run. If you’re into running with the undead, sign up as a zombie. After you get all gore-i-fied (at the hands of a professional makeup artist) you’re let loose into a sea of fresh flesh to chase the runners who have registered as humans and steal their “life flags.” Those who sign up to run as humans must finish the run with at least one of the three flags received at the starting line. The course is designed like a zombie movie set: After the first kilometer you'll enter a military-controlled apocalypse zone and strive to survive while darting through chemical spill zones and past car crashes and away from zombies. Regardless of whether or not you survive you’ll still be allowed to finish the race. For an extra 10 bucks you can buy another flag—proceeds go to kids battling brain injuries and disorders at Kennedy Krieger Institute.
18. The Tribal Run
Distance: 120-mile relay
We hope your spirit animal happens to be a quick one, and into late-night adventures. Gather a group of runners and head out on a 120-mile relay race through the wild. The race begins Friday afternoon, and continues through the night, finishing Saturday sometime between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. (on average the run takes about 20 hours to complete). All tribes will run relay style, rotating through all three loops, which are lit solely with candles. (Your spirit animal is required to run with a headlamp.) It is an experience that mixes the best of running, camping, tribal dance performances, fierce costumes, and more. Awards are given for quickest time on each loop, best team costume, best team name, and best team campsite.
Take on a Challenge
19. Armageddon Ambush
It’s the end of the world as we know it! Only thing is, we didn’t know it would be so darn colorful. Armageddon Ambush is a strenuous 5K mud and obstacle course designed to challenge your desire to make it out alive (or at least to the beer-filled afterparty). You’ll be directed along a rugged course toward 15 to 20 end-of-the-world disaster obstacles while being ambushed with color bombs.
20. Dirty Girl 5k Mud Run
Hey, ladies … you ready to get dirty? This mud-drenched obstacle race will have you kicking butt and taking names. The Dirty Girl 5K Mud Run features obstacles like “PMS” (Pretty Muddy Stuff) a messy mud pit, Runaway Bride (a tricky balancing walk), and Dirty Dancing (a plunge down an epic slide).
21. Great Urban Race
Distance: 4 to 8 miles
If you’ve got a quick stride and an even quicker mind, the Great Urban Race should be a cinch for you. This scavenger hunt of a run turns your city into a puzzle that can only be solved by following 12 cryptic clues that will lead you to physical and mental challenges. Your team is free to choose your own route as you hustle from clue to clue on foot or by way of public transportation. Once you’ve solved all the clues, you’ll find yourself back at headquarters for a raging afterparty and awards ceremony. The top 25 qualifying teams receive an invitation to the National Championship Race.
22. Reebok Spartan Race
Distance: 3 miles, 8 miles, and 12 miles
“There is fire, mud, water, barbed wire, and occasionally Hell on Earth,” warn race promoters. Ah, nothing a Spartan can’t handle, right? Each one of the Spartan races—Spartan Sprint (3 miles, 15 obstacles), Super Spartan (8 miles, 20 obstacles), and Spartan Beast (12 miles, 25 obstacles)—were designed by eight athletes who understood the importance of quick decision-making in the face of adversity. But are you a Spartan? Can you drag boulders on chains, flip logs, and lug tires distances you never imagined at speeds you never thought impossible? Well, there’s only one way to find out.
23. ROC Race
It’s all fun and games until someone gets taken down by the Sweeper, a gigantic rotating obstacle. Ok, it’s still fun and games even after being taken down by the Sweeper; because that’s exactly what the ROC Race is–one big game show-inspired obstacle run featuring 12 larger-than-life obstacles. Being that the race is untimed, you’ll be able to better focus on making it over the enormous jump balls, through the tire mile and down the world’s largest inflatable water slide. Proceeds benefit the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
24. Tough Mudder
Distance: 10 to 12 miles
Tough Mudders are team players. In other words, you’re going to want to wrangle a few friends who know a thing or two about stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie because there’s no other way you’re going to make it through this hardcore 10 to 12-mile obstacle course featuring mud, ice-water, and live dangling electric wires. The course is actually purposefully designed to make Mudders rely on each other for physical and mental boosts. Clocking a good time is great, but pushing boundaries and overcoming all obstacles through teamwork, now that’s a challenge for a Tough Mudder.
25. Warrior Dash
Distance: 3 to 4 miles
Warriors aren’t just born, they are made on the battleground, which in this case on this fierce three-to-four-mile course featuring 12 extreme obstacles. Runners must leap through the flames of the Warrior Roast and over the vertical Vicious Valleys. Since unveiling the Warrior Dash in 2009, more than a million runners have claimed the title of warrior, raising $7.5 million (and counting) to benefit St. Jude Children’s Hospital. This year the battle becomes more intense as the top 25 male and top 25 female finishers of each regular season Warrior Dash compete in the Warrior Dash World Championship for a $100,000 prize. After conquering the Battleground, Warriors celebrate with turkey legs, beer steins, and live music at a post-race party.
26. The Electric Run
There ain’t no life like the nightlife, and there ain’t no night run quite like The Electric Run. Runners decked out in blinking, shining, glowing lights literally transform the 5K course into a nightclub that’s out of this world. The course features glowing neon columns and arches that change colors to the beat of the music, tunnels with dancing patterns and figures on the walls, ceilings, and floors, and fluorescent fountains flowing to the rhythm. The finish line spills runners out in front of a main stage where the lights and sounds are kicked up a notch for an electric dance party.
27. The Color Run
Now that happiness is what it’s all about (thank you, Pharrell) what better time to run the “Happiest 5K on the Planet”? The Color Run, with more than 170 events in 30-plus countries, practically paints a smile on participants’ faces. During this 5K, runners dressed in all white barrel through clouds of vibrant paint powder, all the while trying to catch their breath between bouts of pure giddiness. More than half of the participants are first-time 5K runners, which makes The Color Run the perfect catalyst for encouraging participants to keep up with the active, healthy lifestyle.
28. The Blacklight Run
This will be one of those few times in which you actually want to get caught under a blacklight. This 5K weaves through color-designated Blacklight Zones (green, pink, and orange) where runners are blasted with Blacklight Run UV Neon Glow Powder that instantly lights them up! Don’t expect the glow to fade out at the finish line though, because this is where it really pops! A "Celebration Glow Throw" of powder is tossed into a crowd dancing under blacklights every 15 minutes during the afterparty.
29. The Slime Run
Who didn’t want to get slimed as a kid? More importantly, who doesn’t want to get slimed as an adult? The Slime Run puts runners in slippery situations, in which they have to wiggle through slime-filled tunnels and slosh through slime-filled pits, among other obstacles spread out over a 5K course. Heads up for when you find yourself face down in a puddle of slime—it's edible. Yeah, we know you were always curious about that.