13 Wildest Obstacle Races Slideshow

13 Wildest Obstacle Races Slideshow

Glynnis Jones/Shutterstock

When: 52 events year-round
Where: U.S., Canada, Europe, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Japan
If you’ve only heard of one race on this list, it's probably the Tough Mudder. Though longer (10-12 miles) and arguably more difficult than most mud runs, it's still one of the most popular, with roughly 500,000 people participating in 2012. Technically it's not a race, but masochistic competitors tend to treat it like one, attacking with abandon obstacles that incorporate ice baths, electrical shocks, fire and (obviously) lots and lots of mud. And then there’s the after party, where you can grab a beer and even a Tough Mudder tattoo.

S K Photography/Shutterstock

When: 40+ events year-round
Where: U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe, Australia, New Zealand
Though it strikes a more bellicose tone than most of its competitors, the Spartan Race is a global industry leader in obstacle racing. Its race formats (the Spartan Sprint, Super and Beast) last between three and ten miles, and where the Tough Mudder downplays competitiveness, the Spartan Race encourages it by posting race results and rewarding good performance. Fun is less of an objective than it is a byproduct of the real goal: the satisfaction and sense of personal achievement of finishing a Spartan Race. There’s still beer at the finish line and plenty of fun to be had, but this is a race that should not be taken lightly.

Flickr/Beacon Radio

When: January 26
Where: Perton, U.K.
Since 1987, the Tough Guy has set the standard for lunacy in mud runs and obstacle races, and has earned its reputation as “the safest most dangerous event in the world.” Each year, racers romp through eight miles of muddy trails and a notoriously difficult obstacle course (part of which is fondly referred to as the Killing Fields)—and they do it all in the dead of winter. The result is 600+ annual cases of hypothermia and hundreds of fractures, sprains, abrasions and lacerations. One man in 2000 actually died of a hypothermia-induced heart attack, a grizzly reminder that the ‘death warrant’ signed by each racer is more than black humor.


When: 43 events year-round
Where: U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand
The Warrior Dash was the first big-market obstacle race. It preceded the Spartan Race and Tough Mudder, setting the standards from which they were built. The 5k obstacle course is impressive, and a variety of post-race events (including axe throwing, fireworks, live music and beer) keep newly-minted warriors entertained. And fun seems to be the point. While its peers strive for an atmosphere of fierce competition and widespread suffering, the Warrior Dash, while challenging, is all about just having a good time.

Civilian Military Combine

When: 4 events from May to October
Where: U.S. East Coast
This race is unique because it has two elements: a CrossFit-inspired strength event in “The PIT” and a 5- to 7-mile trail race through military obstacles. In the PIT, competitors have seven minutes to complete as many push presses, kettlebell swings and burpee box jumps as possible. Three minutes later, the race starts. Scores are determined by your performance in both events, relative to other participants. Make no mistake about it, the CMC is a bona fide fitness competition, designed by a group of strength and conditioning coaches from the CrossFit community, US Armed Forces, and USA Triathlon race directors.

Armageddon Ambush

When: 20+ events year-round
Where: Various locations around the U.S.
There is an undeniable social aspect to all of these races, whether it lies in the camaraderie of completing a Spartan Beast or hitting the wine bar together after a Diva Dash. But unlike other events—where the celebration follows the race—the Armageddon Ambush is a party unto itself. Live music, a paintball course, celebrity appearances, and lots of beer set the scene for a 5k obstacle run interspersed with neon “color ambushes” that turn participants every color imaginable. The goal is to have fun, and damn if it isn't.


When: 10 events year-round
Where: Various locations in the U.S.
The Shape Diva Dash is an all-women’s 5k obstacle run, and it’s quickly gaining traction across the country. The goal is to have fun and challenge yourself without some of the more uncomfortable (read: painful) features of other races, and it may be the only mud run with a wine garden at the after party. The Shape magazine-created Diva Dash is, admittedly, a fair sight less hardcore than the Tough Guy and its ilk; there's a lot less barbed wire and a lot more pink. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a challenge.


When: April 13-14, 2013
Where: Wrightsville, PA
While most obstacle races test only physical prowess, Cerebrun tests—and rewards—intelligence, too. Throughout the race, competitors are presented with puzzles and mental challenges. Those who answer correctly are allowed to move on directly, while everyone else is forced to take longer, more challenging routes to the finish line, adding as much as two miles (for a total of seven) to the race.


When: June 1-2, 8-9, 15, 2013
Where: San Diego, California
The Camp Pendleton “World Famous” Mud Run is organized by the U.S. Marine Corps and began in 1993, making it one of North America's oldest obstacle races. It's also more of a mud run than the other races here: While the 10k course includes a variety of military-style obstacles, the main emphasis is on that timeless combination of dirt and water. Still, last year each race attracted a full 6,500 participants and reportedly sold out within about seven hours, showing that plenty of people like this classic approach to an increasingly unconventional style of race.

Dave West Photography

When: June 15, 2013
Where: Blue Mountain Resort, Ontario
According to organizers, Met Con Blue is no ordinary mud run. “Another obstacle adventure race… Yea right, eh!!! This one is 100% Certified Canadian.” Competitors will encounter fifteen daunting obstacles (maple syrup pit, anybody?), and two thirds of this 5k mountain race are uphill. If you’re feeling bold you can go for the 10k Full Metal Jacket ("not for the weak, meek, claustrophobic, aquaphobic or hemophobic"), which includes an obstacle ominously called “Davy Jones' Locker.” This race has a ton of attitude, and it’s too bad it's only run once a year.

Cronin Hill Photography

When: June 15, 2013
Where: Pittsfield, VT
The Death Race Challenge, described by the New York Times as “Survivor meets Jackass,” is not an obstacle race or a mud run; it’s a survival event. The actual course changes every year, but the race typically lasts somewhere between 24 and 48 hours. The challenges are designed to break competitors, who will find themselves faced with numbing challenges like endlessly dead-lifting hefty stones or carrying around a 50-pound log for 24 hours. On average, the physical and psychological strain (not to mention the sheer pointlessness) breaks 85% of participants, and even finishers emerge bruised and battered.

photo courtesy Cronin Hill Photography

Fuego y Agua

When: February 16, 2013
Where: Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua
The first word that comes to mind when trying to explain the Fuego y Agua Survival Run is ‘surreal.’ Held on a mysterious tropical volcanic island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, the 70km (43.4-mile) course runs up and down the flanks, where competitors navigate terrain including cloud forests, rivers, white sand beaches, and a volcanic crater lagoon—not to mention an array of pass/fail obstacles. And while the actual challenges are kept secret until race day, the list of required gear ominously includes a knife, first aid survival kit, headlamp and six feet of strong rope. This limited-entry survival race is shrouded in mystery, but it has the potential to be a legendary event.

Run For Your Lives

When: 20+ events year-round
Where: Various locations around the U.S.
Billed as training for the zombie apocalypse, Run For Your Lives gives you everything you’d expect from a 5-10k obstacle race, but with a big twist—hordes of zombies. At the start of the race, each competitor is given a flag belt (think flag football) that represents his or her health. If the zombies—made to look startlingly realistic (if you could call zombies realistic) by professional makeup artists—grab all of your flags, you’re “dead.” Luckily, whether or not you survive the race, the Apocalypse Party is bound to raise your spirits at the end of the day. Run For Your Lives may seem like a niche event, but it has been wildly popular; nearly 12,000 people took part in the debut race in 2011. Until that much-anticipated day when the zombies finally to rise up from wherever, you can have a blast running for your life.