For a long time, length defined competitive races. Marathons, half marathons, 10Ks, 4-milers, 5Ks; the only purpose of these events was to run the distance and to run it fast.
More recently, however, running events have evolved to include a whole lot more than just running.
From mud and obstacles to colorful dye, bouncy houses and even Zombies, racing has become somewhat more, shall we say, adventurous.
When you hear the term "adventure race" perhaps images of running through woods over rough terrain and challenging obstacles is what first comes to mind. Adventure racing certainly does include those aspects, but we think it involves a whole lot more, too.
We've embraced it as a term that encompasses a wide range of competitive events. Everything from mud runs and obstacle courses to holiday-themed 5K courses and even runs that, while technically labeled as "races," exist solely for the purpose of having fun.
Running USA labels the category as “non-traditional running events.” In 2014, it issued an annual report (the first for this category) that estimated that adventure racing participation increased from a low six figures in 2009 to nearly 4 million people by 2013. By comparison, a mere 2.5 million runners finished a marathon or half marathon in 2013.
Demand for this new all-encompassing category of events is growing, and it is growing fast. From the recreational exerciser aiming to finish a first 5K to the competitive runner seeking new challenges, everyone wants in. Race organizers are working hard to meet their expectations.
Running USA has documented 35 non-traditional running events including everything from the Tough Mudder to a festive 5K Ugly Sweater Run. Its list was broad-based and included many of the well-known events that you would expect to appear in such a listing (think Spartan Race, the Color Run, Warrior Dash). Yet, our own research revealed that non-traditional running events — adventure races — have expanded far beyond that in the U.S. Like, really far.
Of all the different adventure races out there (and there are a lot), which are most worth the entry fee? We sought to rank the best of the best in order to find out.
In creating our adventure race rankings, we began with a list of some 60 alternative-style races that take place in the U.S. each year. We added to the 35 races that Running USA officially categorizes as “nontraditional running events,” almost as many again scoured from sources like ObstacleRacers.com, The U.S. Adventure Racing Association and MudRunGuide.com.
Then, we created a scoring system that weighed a handful of different aspects of races, such as whether or not participants receive finisher medals, the inclusion of a post-race party, the number of events held across the country, the cost of entry, and whether or not the events work with charity partners.
Can you guess which adventure race came out on top? You’ll have to read on to find out. The 45 races that made our list represent a wide range of events. Whether you already have a favorite, or you are wondering which to sign up for first, we’re sure you’ll find a race that matches your running personality.
It all just depends on what (mud, color dye, zombies?) you consider fun.
#45 Atlas Race
$31,100—that’s the total amount of prize money awarded to the toughest, strongest and fastest competitors at each Atlas Race event. If that isn’t enough incentive to try your luck in one of these courses featuring 20+ obstacles, maybe it would help to know that a portion of the proceeds go to local and national charities. Try your luck on the military-style obstacle course and be prepared for a few surprise hurdles—as they say, “train accordingly.” atlasrace.com
#44 Great Glow Run
This race’s slogan cleverly reads “glow hard or go home.” Held in several different locations across North Carolina, this race scored extra points because one hundred percent of its proceeds benefit Easter Seals UCP, an organization that supports the troops through services across the state. greatglowrun.com
Did we miss your favorite adventure race? Let us know in the comments section below or tweet us @TheActiveTimes.