The World’s Weirdest Footraces
By STEPHEN REGENOLD
published March 30, 2008
Bart Yodel ran his first naked footrace at the Kaniksu Ranch, north of Spokane, Wash., in the summer of 1998. “I treated it like any other 5K race,” he said. “I was trying to win.”
And so at the start line Yodel stripped down and sprinted off. He ran to the head of the pack, passing a fleshy mass of runners, bounding by dozens of ladies and men wearing nothing beyond their Nikes.
He zipped on to take the third position in the pack, tracking two young competitors on the trail, striving to get ahead.
above: Antarctic Ice Marathon
But at the halfway point — which was a turnaround — Yodel, who works in promotions at Runner’s World magazine, spun to face what he can only describe as a wall of undulating human flesh. “Hundreds of naked people, all running at me!” Yodel exclaimed.
Though the Kaniksu Ranch Bare Buns Fun Run is not for everyone — Yodel said he lost all competitive steam at the shock of the turnaround — this footrace is an archetype of the kind of strange and obscure running event that is becoming popular around the globe.
“More crazy races pop up every year,” said Michael Benge, editor of Trail Runner magazine, based in Carbondale, Colo. “Many runners do these races as a vacation and a healthy way to tour an exotic country or region.”
Benge, a 52-year-old who runs up to 45 miles a week, is not necessarily referring to nudist events. Indeed the “crazy races” Benge attends more likely entail 100-mile-long courses through wilderness terrain.
above: ‘Bare Buns’ Run
Events like the six-day Marathon des Sables in Morocco, which tracks 151 miles across the Sahara Desert, kicked off the ultra-endurance trend more than two decades back. Today, dozens of wilderness ultra runs are organized in all corners of the globe.
Less extreme, but equally whacky, footrace events have gained notoriety, too. Take the Muddy Buddy Series as one example: This multi-city tour features race courses that are 6 to 7 miles long and cumulate at a giant finish-line mud pit.
The races below represent a geographic spread of oddball footraces, some difficult, some extreme or exotic, and some that are just plain strange. Says Yodel: “Every runner after a bunch of years of 5ks and marathons will look for the next frontier.”
1. Boom Days Pack Burro Race
In the tradition of 19th-Century gold miners, the Boom Days Pack Burro Race in Leadville, Colo., pairs each competitor with a burro or donkey. But riding your beast is forbidden. Instead, competitors run alongside their burro, pulling the jack or jenny on a rope through a mountainous, 22-mile-long course. This year’s Boom Days Pack Burro Race is on Sunday, August 3rd. Burro weigh-in starts at 9 a.m. www.packburroracing.com
2. Arrowhead 135 Winter Ultramarathon
As a self-supported 135-mile race through Minnesota’s remote North Woods, Arrowhead 135 racers haul pulk sleds filled with supplies, including all the food, water, and cold-weather gear they need for 60 hours alone in the woods. Held each year in early February, the Arrowhead 135 is among the coldest footraces on the planet; last year’s 7 a.m. start near the town of International Falls, Minn., featured ambient air that measured at 35 degrees below zero. www.arrowheadultra.com
3. The Marathon Des Sables
Going on its 23nd year, Morocco’s Marathon Des Sables covers 151 miles of the Sahara Desert over six days. Temps soar to 120 degrees some days, and up to 20 percent of the course is on sand dunes. In addition, competitors are required to carry everything they will need for the duration of the race on their backs, including food, clothes, a medical kit, and a sleeping bag. Water is rationed and handed out at checkpoints. www.saharamarathon.co.uk
4. Antarctic Ice Marathon
Run 26.2 miles on snow and ice, on the bottom of the planet. That’s the draw for the two dozen competitors who will run the Antarctic Ice Marathon, which takes place this year on December 12th in the foothills of Antarctica’s Ellsworth Mountains. This is the southernmost 26.2-mile footrace in the world, according to race organizers. www.icemarathon.com
5. Nepal Trek and Trail Run
Trek Nepal for six days, and then top the trip off with a half marathon in the shadows of the Himalaya. That’s the itinerary for this year’s Nepal Trek and Trail Run, a packaged running vacation November 7 – 22 that starts with sightseeing in Kathmandu, followed by trekking in the mountainous Annapurna region. Rhododendron forests, rice fields, waterfalls, and local villages are all part of the experience. www.nepaltrekandtrail.com
6. Bare to Breakers
Touted as “the most ultimate nude streak in the world,” the underground, pseudo-legal Bare to Breakers run coincides with San Francisco’s 12-kilometer Bay to Breakers race, held this year on May 18. But Bare to Breakers participants go in the buff, completely naked save for their shoes, running through the streets of San Francisco and showing their stuff to thousands of cheering fans. The race’s slogan: “Naked before God and San Francisco.” www.baretobreakers.com
7. Tough Guy
Britain’s Tough Guy race is “physically challenging, mentally demanding, and fear inducing,” according to race organizers. Indeed, along its 8-mile course, competitors go through mud, manure, water, fire, ice, and a litany of paramilitary obstacles, some of which feature electrically-charged whips. Set on a horse farm in England’s West Midlands, Tough Guy organizers pride themselves on creating one of the most mentally and physically difficult races in the world. Up to 5,000 suckers, er, runners sign up to do this masochistic race each year. www.toughguy.co.uk
Pheidippides, a hero of Ancient Greece, ran 150 miles in two days, from Athens to Sparta, and then on to the city of Marathon, to warn of invading Persian forces. Today, the Spartathlon, held this year September 26 – 27, follows Pheidippides’ path, running on tarmac, trails and mountain footpaths through the Greek countryside. Competitors go from sea level to passes as high as 3,937 feet. Unlike during Pheidippides’ ancient epic, the Spartathlon features aid stations every couple miles with food and water. www.spartathlon.gr
9. GORE-TEX TransRockies Run
Taking its lead from a sister race in the Alps, the GORE-TEX TransRockies Run debuted last fall as a six-day stage race where competitors ran a new mountain trail each day. This year the race kicks off on August 25 at Buena Vista, and stages of the race will go through the White River and San Isabel National Forests. The cumulative course is 125 miles long, with mountainous trails that ascend for 25,000 feet over the length of the run. www.transrockies.com
10. Muddy Buddy
Going neck-deep in mud is a requisite part of these races, which feature large and slimy mud pits guarding the finish line. Muddy Buddy races, held this year in eight U.S. cities, starting with Orlando on May 10, include obstacles and 6 or 7 mile courses. Teams of two trade off running and riding a bike, staying together and leapfrogging on and off the bike at each obstacle, and then swimming through the mud together at the end. www.muddybuddy.com
(Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eleven U.S. newspapers; see www.THEGEARJUNKIE.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog, and an archive of Regenold’s work.)