Are you into physical challenges like triathlons, but tired of the monotony behind all the serious training? Maybe you’re looking to participate in a competitive race that adds elements of adventure and fun? Or, perhaps you’re just a spectator looking to cheer on your friends, or even complete strangers, in a race that isn’t just a marathon or 10K?
Then check out the following events, reserved for people who want to add a little spice to their sporting lives. Some may require the bare minimum of athletic prowess, but at the same time challenge your mental and creative skills. Others test your strength and endurance in a variety of different athletic events. Whatever the case, these events go above and beyond your run-of-the-mill distance race or soap-box derby. Whether you’re joining the challenge, or just want to cheer on the participants, check out these can’t-miss crazy races.
Darwin Lions Beer Can Regatta
Where: Darwin, Australia
When: August 2010
If you’re a beer drinker and happen to have a lot of empty cans piling up in your recycling bin, perhaps you’re a candidate for entry into this unique race held in the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory. This regatta combines engineering prowess with sailing ability. Having the stomach to drink a lot of beer and collect a ton of cans doesn’t hurt either.
There’s a lot of local debate as to when this race started. Some say it was a result of the aftermath of the devastation from Cyclone Tracy in December 1974, when Darwin had a superfluous amount of building materials lying around. Others say the first race happened in June of 1974 and was a result of an ingenious idea to use beer cans destined for the landfill, mainly because Darwin didn’t have a recycling program in the 1970s. Ask a local for the inside scoop regarding a “Darwin Stubby,” the beer bottle of choice at the regatta that measures 75 fluid ounces.
NileGuide Insanity Level: 1 - You’d better develop a healthy beer-gut trying to collect all of those cans, or your ship won’t be seaworthy.
Where: Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Long Beach, Philadelphia, Hong Kong, Sydney
When: July through November 2010
It’s possible that the co-creator of Red Bull was simply trying to find context for a catchy tag-line like “Red Bull Gives You Wings” when he created Flugtag in 1991. This competition pits teams and their homemade “flying” vehicles against each other, launched by human power off a 30 foot high ramp, to try and soar as far as they can over a body of water. Of course, this event is more about creativity and entertainment than actual flight.
The craft must use buoyant materials that are environmentally friendly, as every craft will eventually plunge into the drink. Competitors are judged on creativity and showmanship, and even distance. While none of the craft are flight-worthy, a notable launch in 2007 in Nashville, TN reached a distance of almost 155 feet.
NileGuide Insanity Level: 1.5 – You’re diving off a 30-foot ramp into water while sitting in a vehicle that probably won’t make it farther than 40 feet – be sure to wear a helmet and a life vest.
Bog Snorkeling Championships
Where: Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales
When: August 2010
Does Michael Phelps have anything on swimmers who slog through 110 meters of muddy trench cut through a fresh peat bog? We aren’t sure, but we’d sure like to see him try and compete. Although it’s technically snorkeling and not swimming, because of the ban on traditional swimming strokes, these competitors arrive in Wales with goggles, snorkels, and wetsuits to compete in one of the strangest aquatic events in the world.
Since it’s inception in 1976 in Llanwrtyd Wells, bog snorkeling has taken off in popularity – several of the competitions have been sponsored by Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and Ireland and Australia now hold their own championships. While there are serious competitors in bog snorkeling, there is an outlet for those who just want to swim one length of the course, about 55 meters, usually donning a costume or wig.
NileGuide Insanity Level: 3 – While it must be cold in the bogs of Wales, even in August, we think a good old-fashioned wetsuit will protect you from both the chill and the mud.
Where: New York City and various locations
When: January through April 2011
You live in a major urban area. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is in Alaska. You have neither the cash to take an Alaska Airlines flight to Anchorage nor the experience in handling a dogsled in the Alaskan bush. Is there a cure for your desire to be outdoors? Yes, in fact, there is: the Idiotarod.
Step one: find your local Idiotarod event online. Cities like Toronto, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix, Chicago, Austin, and Washington, D.C. have hosted in the past. Step two: secure a shopping cart (and please, do it legally). Step Three: get three or four of your idiot friends, come up with a costume or theme, and on race day, tie yourself to your cart and pull! Participants are encouraged to sabotage other teams, and even the race organizers will throw in the proverbial wrench by leading teams astray. Keep your wits about you and remember that first prize is often offered to those who come in fourth place.
NileGuide Insanity Level: 6.5 – Participants start by making a mad dash to the first checkpoint and are often pelted with eggs, flour, or even fish heads by saboteurs along the way – it only gets crazier from there.
Kinetic Sculpture Race
Where: Humboldt County, California
When: Last weekend of May 2011
If ever there was an adventure race more suited to artists, then the folks of Humboldt County in Northern California would like to hear about it. This epic conceptual event combines the endurance of a triathlon with the creativity of Burning Man: competitors race against each other in actual movable pieces of art.
What started in 1969 as a friendly bet between neighbors during an art competition in Ferndale, CA has now morphed into a 3-day, 42-mile slog through mud, gravel, sand and water. The event has since spawned a number of different races around the country, including a smaller East Coast championship in Baltimore, sponsored by the American Visionary Art Museum.
NileGuide Insanity Level: 7.5 – We’re not sure what’s more difficult: trying to conceptualize and create a unique, sturdy piece of mobile art, or surviving three days while motoring it over rugged terrain in Northern California.
Bay to Breakers
Where: San Francisco
When: 3rd weekend in May
What started out as a race to lift the spirits of local San Franciscans after the devastating 1906 earthquake has become the longest consecutively run footrace in the world. The 7.4-mile (12-kilometer) race starts at the Embarcadero by the San Francisco Bay and runs across the width of the peninsula, ending along the Great Highway at Ocean Beach near the “breakers.” At its peak in 1986, Bay to Breakers saw 110,000 registered participants, making it the largest footrace ever.
While the numbers of registered racers has dropped, Bay to Breakers still enjoys a strong following, embodying the lively spirit of San Francisco. Many of the runners take to the course in elaborate costumes, while some choose to run wearing nothing at all. A strong following of thousands of unregistered “runners” also walk along the course, often pushing along elaborately themed floats – and hidden stashes of alcohol – creating a party atmosphere that some say livens the day, while others say ruins the mood. Still, Bay to Breakers is often at the top of many must-attend sporting events.
NileGuide Insanity Level: 6.5 – The race itself is a moderate challenge for a fairly fit individual, but the true test is whether or not you can handle the after-party.
Where: 18 locations across the United States
When: March through November 2010
Partner up with your favorite buddy and try out this muddy new adventure that has grown in popularity since 2008. The Columbia Muddy Buddy Ride and Run allows you to tackle a 7-mile race where you and your partner switch off mountain biking and running through varied terrain, and tackling five obstacles along the way.
While you’re sure to get a little dirty along the trail, it’s the infamous Mud Pit at the end of the race – a 50-foot headlong swim through a pool of mud – that truly defines this event. The race has a healthy mix of competitive teams as well as those just looking to have a good time (read: costumes are encouraged!). Muddy Buddy is a kid-friendly event, and the organizers offer a Mini Muddy Buddy for kids ages 4-13, just in case those little ones get jealous of the adults having all the fun.
NileGuide Insanity Level: 6 – If you’re comfortable on a mountain bike or running on the trail, this race should be a piece of cake – it’s diving into a cold mud pit at a quarter past 9 in the morning that makes participants pause.
Oyster Racing Series
Where: 6 locations through the United States
When: August through October 2010
They call it the Ultimate Urban Adventure Race, and for good reason. This event combines a heavy dose of athleticism in the form of biking, running, and swimming, with orienteering, strategy, and a good deal of team preparation. Participants can group into teams of 3, or create larger teams of up to 6 people in order to take the 7- or 8-stage race.
Images: Merrell Oyster Racing Series, Merrell Oyster Racing Series
What makes this race truly challenging are the mini-events at each checkpoint that you have to complete in order to get your next clue and find your next checkpoint. (Got all that?). For example, in Denver you may be tasked with running from the transition area to Coors Field baseball stadium – a run of over 2 miles – and do squats in each seat; essentially, standing and sitting over six-hundred times. After which, you’ll have to run back to the transition area – another 2 miles – and pick up your next clue, which might be at the bottom of the shark tank at the Denver Aquarium!
NileGuide Insanity Level: 8 – It’s the combination of intense activity and strategy that make this one of the most challenging races out there.
Where: 6 locations throughout the United States
When: August to November 2010, with more races to come in 2011
Channel your fighting spirit for this new race on the adventure scene, because it’s sort of like Muddy Buddy on steroids. While obstacles in other races can be rather benign – climbing walls, and tackling balance beams or perhaps a tire obstacle – the Warrior Dash adds elements that look as if they were taken from a page in Viking history. If leaping over a flaming obstacle sounds like it’s up your alley, then the Warrior Dash may be right for you.
Not only that, the swag you receive after completing the race trumps anything out there. No shiny little medals for these participants – finishers receive a fuzzy horned helmet and all the free beer they can drink. Winners receive a legit steel helmet and are hailed throughout the land as true masters of warrior adventure.
NileGuide Insanity Level: 8 – Fire, barbed wire running over mud pits, extreme obstacles, and a lot of running. Steel yourself, people.
Where: Plymouth, England to Banju, The Gambia
When: December 2010 through January 2011
Nope, this isn’t the famous Dakar Rally where teams of drivers race from Paris to Dakar, Senegal in rally cars. This challenge is slightly different insofar that it isn’t a race as much as it’s an endurance test on you— and on your vehicle. Unofficially called the Banger Challenge, participants try and drive from England to The Gambia in a car that is worth less than £100 (or about $150.)
Racers are encouraged to have a lack of mechanical knowledge; after all, what’s the fun in fixing a vehicle yourself when you can rely on the local economy to do it for you? Don’t expect any back-up either, except in some cases – in Mauritania race organizers offered armed escorts because of civil strife. At the end of the challenge, the cars are usually donated to a local charity that benefits the citizens in The Gambia and Senegal, because who’s going to want to drive those clunkers back to Europe?
NileGuide Insanity Level: 7.5 – You’re relying more on your mental skills than your physical endurance for this one. Still, the Dakar Challenge isn’t exactly a walk in the park. It’s more like a romp through the Sahara Desert.
Where: Perton, Staffordshire, England
When: January 2011
If a race is the brainchild of a former officer in the British Army, then you can imagine that it’s going to be quite a challenge. Tough Guy bills itself as “the toughest race in the world” and we believe them; especially when almost a third of participants fail to complete this grueling cross-country run in the dead of the English winter.
Images: A-Punkt/Wikimedia Commons
It’s the obstacles, however, that really challenge the runners of Tough Guy. One in particular, called “The Tiger,” makes racers climb to the top of a 40-foot A-frame, cross through a series of electrified cables, and then down another A-frame. The best way to get a sense of what Tough Guy is all about is just to watch the video below (warning: includes a clip of a dislocated kneecap amongst other things — NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH.)
NileGuide Insanity Level: 9.5 – When you have to sign a “death warrant” before the race, you know you’re in for a heck of a time.
Where: Leadville, CO
When: August 2010
Ok, so maybe all the races above haven’t piqued your interest yet. Perhaps you’re yawning to yourself and thinking, “where’s the real challenge?” For that, you’ll have to head to the highest incorporated town in the United States. After the economic downturn in the late 1970s, Leadville was strapped for cash – that is, until marathoner Kenneth Chlouber decided the town would be a perfect spot for the most grueling race in the world. And so, the Leadville Trail 100 Ultramarathon was born.
Images: Stuck in the Rockies and Arlyn Asch/Flickr
The Leadville 100 crosses over some of the highest terrain in the continental United States, with runners ascending and descending over 15,000 feet over the course of 100 miles. Less than half of the participants actually finish within the 30-hour time limit. Since its first running in 1983, several other races have branched off from it, including the Leadville 100 MTB – a mountain bike race that has attracted some of the top bikers in the world, including Lance Armstrong.
NileGuide Insanity Level: 10 – If you can come anywhere near record-holder Matt Carpenter’s time of 15 hours and 42 minutes, then you aren’t human; you’re superhuman.
To find more crazy races, check out NileGuide’s Events Map!