Calling all closet superhumans: 10 crazy races around the world to test your mettle

March 21, 2016                 6m read time
Asia Nichols

Everybody wants to be a hero, but who has a super suit just lying around? All you need for these adventures are grit, courage and bunions of steel.

We’ve all heard of Tough Mudder and Spartan. But what about lobster crate races? Chasing an eight-pound wheel of Double Gloucester down a steep hill? Sprinting alongside a rhinoceros in Kenya? (When you throw a 2.3-ton horned beast into the mix, slogging through the mud seems like child's play). Here are 10 epic, unusual and just plain wacky races and obstacle courses that will put your prowess to the test.


Get Pumped Up

Stiletto Run in New York, 2009 Sean-Fran Strang

Stiletto Run in New York, 2009

Sean-Fran Strang


What entices grown men and women to slip on their sexiest pumps and cavort through the urban jungle? New York's very own 0.5K Stiletto Run. Held every June in Buffalo, this fancy frenzy attracts up to 400 runners, with proceeds supporting the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. Minimum shoe height is three inches, any style—we suggest some practice runs around the block ahead of time (never mind the gawking neighbors, you’re going to look ridiculous. Embrace it). As for the dress code, there isn’t one...which is our favorite kind of dress code. Past years have produced ensembles like peep-toes paired with knee-high socks and rainbow-colored tutus, so if you want to get all Carrie Bradshaw, à la the opening credits of “Sex and the City,” it’s totally kosher. For the less fashionable—or those who know the agony that is rolling an ankle—sign up to walk...or just watch sympathetically from the sidelines.

Mush, humans!

Urban Iditarod Eli Tucker

Urban Iditarod

Eli Tucker


Turns out you don’t need snow—or sleds, or dogs, for that matter—for a sled race. Participants of the Boston Urban Idiotorama (formerly the Boston Urban Iditarod Race) have been doing without since 2011. Here, sleds are replaced with shopping carts and dogs with, well, people. Decked out in absurd costumes and pulling equally inventive ‘sleds’ like hamster wheels, submarines, bird nests, beer pong tables, crime scenes and even a Barbie boxing ring, teams of four to six line up at Lansdowne Pub, peacocking their creativity in a glorious spectacle of wacky pomp and circumstance. When the whistle blows, it's a runaway carnival show with about 600 cart-pushers on a 3.5-mile course that breaks at bars for relay games, talent contests, and beer-mosas (presumably. This is a morning event, after all). This shenanigan-filled shindig benefits the Boston Medical Food pantry, with racers donating more than 6,000 pounds of canned foods in past years. Can't make it to Beantown? Find a race nearby in ChicagoNew York City or Phoenix.

Crate Expectations

Great Lobster Crate Race in Maine maine-lylobster

Great Lobster Crate Race in Maine



Hungry for some competition? The Maine Lobster Festival concocted the perfect challenge: The Great Lobster Crate Race, which happens annually in August. You don’t need a fancy hydration belt or crazy wig—just some mad basilisk lizard skills. This race involves sprinting or crawling across 50 wooden lobster crates strung between two docks in the Rockland Harbor. Those who fail are fed to Jaws. (Just kidding.) But a dunk in frigid Maine waters isn’t exactly pleasant, so check those slip-happy shoes at the starting point: This wobbly gauntlet does not play nice. Speed isn't everything—winning is based on the number of crates you cross before a taking a dip. Two light-footed locals, ages 7 and 9, hold the record for running back and forth and falling at 6,500 crates. Most full-sized competitors are lucky to make it to 500.

The Glaze Runner

The Krispy Kreme Challenge in Raleigh North Carolina Lauren Frohne

The Krispy Kreme Challenge in Raleigh North Carolina

Lauren Frohne


Twelve doughnuts, five miles, one hour—you do the math. Each year in February, roughly 7,000 runners test their gastrointestinal fortitude at the Krispy Kreme Challenge. The competition starts at the Memorial Bell Tower on North Carolina State University’s campus in Raleigh, and continues 2.5 miles through the city’s historic downtown to Krispy Kreme. Once there, contestants attempt to scarf down a dozen glazed doughnuts (that’s about 2,400 calories, for those who are counting) then continue running 2.5 miles back to the Memorial Bell Tower without barfing on their race bibs. In the last 10 years, the challenge has earned $1 million for the UNC Children's Hospital, making it the best excuse ever to binge on fried dough.

Sounds Cheesy

Cooper Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake in England Will De Freitas

Cooper Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake in England

Will De Freitas


Don't call it a rat race. Once a year on Spring Bank Holiday (the last Monday of May), a plain old hill on a remote farm near Gloucestershire, England, has a Cinderella moment. This humble hump of earth serves as racing grounds for the Cooper Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake—a.k.a, the lactose lover's version of rugby. First, a man in a top hat lugs an eight-pound wheel of Double Gloucester to the top of the hill. He then chucks it down the hill. What follows is a crazed swarm of bravehearted maniacs converging down a steep 200-yard slope, hurling and flailing and somersaulting toward the finish line like dairy-deprived zombies. At the bottom, a human wall of volunteers stands in Red Rover position, ready to catch runaway racers who lose their footing (so all of them, basically). You’ve never seen anything more glorious. Or more terrifying.

“Ahhh...just general full body soreness,” says a competitor rocking stunner shades, a shirt that looks like 1960 threw up on it and a heavy British accent, when asked about his condition during a post-race interview. “All around general pain.” The last official race was in 2009, but the 200-year-old tradition still brings out die-hards like stunner shades guy, or this hero who made America proud in 2013.

Slay The Dragon

Berghaus Dragon's Back Race Ian Corless

Berghaus Dragon's Back Race

Ian Corless


Hardcore athletes and high-intensity adventurers, meet your match—she’s a beast. Berghaus Dragon's Back Race in Wales is a five-day, 180-mile journey traversing a spiny stretch of mountain from Conwy Castle to the ruins of Carreg Cennen Castle. Held bi-annually, the fourth race kicks off in May 2017 and sends participants on a grueling 16,000 meters across wild, remote terrain. If you’re a trail runner who’s serious about slaying the dragon—in this case, rugged Welsh topography—be prepared to put a medieval hurting on your hamstrings, sleep in tents, wash in rivers and trek trackless routes with a mile of vertical gain. So far, only 65 people have finished—a 50 percent fail rate. Sounds like a challenge to us! (And by us, we mean you.)

Run with Wildlife

Safaricom Marathon in Africa  Tusk

Safaricom Marathon in Africa 



You know what they say about rhinos—if you can’t beat ’em, race alongside ’em.

Every June brings another chance to run wild at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya, where thousands of athletes and conservationists sprint through the savannah during the annual Safaricom Marathon. Hailed by “Runner’s World” as one of the world’s top ten “must do” marathons, this singular experience in the heart of a 62,000-acre game reserve will take your breath away—for reasons other than exercise. As you run or walk the 16 miles of designated course through gently sloping hills, expect to see wildlife such as elephants, lions, buffalo and black and white rhinoceros. Scared? Don't be. Rangers patrol the area, just in case the critters get a tad too close for comfort. Big bonus: the marathon raises funds for community development and critical anti-poaching efforts.

The Coolest Race

Greenland where the Polar Circle Marathon takes place Albatros Adventure Marathons

Greenland where the Polar Circle Marathon takes place

Albatros Adventure Marathons


If running in 90-degree temperatures sounds like your worst nightmare, may we suggest the polar opposite? Layer on the SmartWool and lace up those anti-slip shoes for the “coolest marathon on Earth” in Greenland. Set against a bewitching backdrop of jagged glacier tongues, frozen lakes and rugged tundra, the Polar Circle Marathon sends runners across a vast ice sheet in one of the most remote corners of the world. Experience the magnificent solitude of the arctic desert, where stark silence is pierced by fox cries, the soft crunch of snow beneath your feet and the guttural calls of Greenland’s largest land mammal—the musk ox (which, by the way, bears an uncanny resemblance to “Star Wars” banthas). The chilly adventure features a full 26.2 mile marathon on the first day, followed by a half marathon the next. Push yourself by running both as a part of the elite Polar Bear Challenge, then go home and brag about beating frostbite over a steamy cup of bone broth.

Treading Water

HydroWorx Underwater Marathon benefitting The Eagle Fund Paul Chaplin, The Patriot-News

HydroWorx Underwater Marathon benefitting The Eagle Fund

Paul Chaplin, The Patriot-News


Can you race underwater without holding your breath? HydroWorx Underwater Marathon dares you to try. Held in Pennsylvania, the September event spans 24 hours and features 18 underwater treadmills submerged in three indoor pools. Waist-deep in water, 25 participants adjust their speeds, then pound the treadmill in a race against the clock. Used in rehab and praised by Olympic medalist Mo Farah, this is one race you won’t finish sore: Water pressure removes metabolic waste (the stuff that makes you ache). Distances clocked during these events range from 5Ks to full marathons, all in support of the Eagle Fund for special ops soldiers wounded in service.

Next time your running routine starts to bore you, just grab a shopping cart, a dozen donuts or a plane ticket to Greenland—these odd races are far from your typical 5K and guaranteed to require every last ounce of your superhuman self.

Asia Nichols

Asia Nichols is a Bay Area-born writer who loves to explore foods and cultures around the world. Her works have appeared in Whole Life Times,, The New York Times and Adventures of a Lifetime anthology. She spends her nomadic life writing essays, short fiction, plays and film scripts.

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