Your mileage may vary, so to speak, on whether simply running for several miles is actually fun. To alleviate some of the boredom from hours of pavement pounding, over the past few years race organizers upped the fun factor with costumes, themed events and challenging or messy obstacles. The most exciting events, however, are probably not in your hometown. We found the best fun runs and races around the globe that are worth making a trek.
As luck would have it, race season just kicked into high gear this past weekend with the Star Wars Half Marathon in Disney World and the Land of Oz Marathon in Kansas. That means you have a whole year to train up and plan your trip. You didn't just want to lie around for your whole vacation, did you?
Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon - Anaheim, California
November 12, 2017
Wouldn't you run a little faster if Captain America himself was cheering you on? In addition to the 13.1-mile Avengers Half, you could also run the Spider-Man 5K or the Thor 10K (not coincidentally, both those characters have movies coming out this year). The courses wind through the Disneyland park and you'll see all your favorite costumed heroes — the ones owned by Disney, at least — along with other entertainment along the route. If you complete both the Thor 10K on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday, you'll also earn the impressive Infinity Gauntlet medal. Each year's medal has a different Infinity Stone on the back ... and this is the third year for the challenge, so you’ll have to catch up if you want to beat out Thanos.
Star Wars Half Marathon - Orlando, Florida and Anaheim, California
April 23, 2017 and January 14, 2018
Disney hosts two Star Wars-themed half marathons during the year: the "Dark Side" race held in the spring in Disney World and the "Light Side" in Disneyland during the second weekend of January. The Dark Side race is all about the Empire, Stormtroopers and Darth Vader, while the Light Side is themed toward Luke Skywalker, Jedis and the Rebellion. Like Disney's Avengers races, they also offer challenge medals for completing both a 10K race and a half marathon in the same weekend, plus a sweet Millennium Falcon "Kessel Run" medal if you complete the Disneyland half and either a half or full Star Wars marathon in Disney World. If you really want to get far, far away from home, then head out to Singapore for their Star Wars 10K, part of their May the Fourth Be With You celebrations.
Ridiculous Obstacle Race - Brisbane, Australia
May 13, 2017
If you ever dreamed of competing on Double Dare as a kid, MXC in college or American Ninja Warrior as an adult, then the Ridiculous Obstacle Race is your chance. It's a 5K course with a dozen fun and colorful obstacles, like a huge MoonBounce, a treacherous series of 3-foot-tall balls to hop across; a slippery balance beam with a spinning cushioned arm to knock you off; and a giant slide that takes you straight across the finish line. Other obstacle courses and mud runs may be far more challenging, but the Ridiculous Obstacle Race is probably more fun. In 2017, all races are being held in Australia, with the final event of Down Under's summer held on May 13 in Brisbane. But you can check out similar U.S.-based obstacle races like The Great Inflatable Race and the Insane Inflatable 5K.
Dubrovnik Half Marathon - Dubrovnik, Croatia
April 30, 2017
The well-preserved medieval city of Dubrovnik — plus a few CGI upgrades — is the real-world basis for King's Landing on Game of Thrones. The 13.1-mile half marathon route guides you around the perimeter of the Old City, where a dedicated GOT binge-watcher can recognize many exteriors from the HBO series. Or if you want to downgrade the distance, Dubrovnik's "Run the Wall" lets you stride atop the city's fortifications for a mere 2.5 kilometers. No one will chant "Shame" if you opt for the shorter race.
Bay to Breakers - San Francisco, California
May 21, 2017
Big races always have a handful of costumed runners, but the most cosplay-friendly event has to be San Francisco's Bay to Breakers. The oldest annual footrace in the world, Bay to Breakers began as a citywide morale booster in 1912, six years after a massive earthquake destroyed 80 percent of the city and killed 3,000 residents. These days, wearing some kind of costume is de rigeur for the event, usually led by a pink gorilla named Ape Hashbury. The 12K race course begins in downtown San Fran by the bay then heads west across the city, ending at the Great Highway along the Pacific Ocean. Just don't forget that San Francisco is notoriously hilly and you can expect to confront some seriously challenging vertical climbs.
Spartan Race - Killington, Vermont
September 16, 2017
There are now many, many mud runs and obstacle course races to challenge your physical endurance and the cleaning ability of your washing machine. The Spartan Race, however, is the only event where you get to throw a spear. You can owe it all to the success of the movie 300 (and Frank Miller's graphic novel that preceded it). With Spartan Race events being held all over the world throughout the year, you don't necessarily need to travel far to participate in one. But Killington is the location of the original Spartan Race and the picturesque vistas are a favorite of Spartan Race enthusiasts. There, you have the option of the 3- to 5-mile Spartan Sprint, a half marathon-length Spartan Beast or a brutal marathon-plus distance (fastest time: seven hours) in the Ultra Beast.
Garmin Marathon in the Land of Oz - Olathe, Kansas
April 22, 2017
The Wizard of Oz is the original fantasy blockbuster. To celebrate it right, you'll need to head over the rainbow to Olathe, Kansas (just outside of Kansas City) to participate in this festival of Oz-themed runs. Finishers this year earned one of three cool medals: Toto in a basket for the 10K, a spinning tornado for the half marathon or the Wizard of Oz himself for the marathon. Although the Wizard in the movie turns out to be a huge fraud, at the 'Emerald City' finish line festival you're treated to two genuine cans of beer and/or a margarita. Just what you'll need after spending 26.2 miles on the yellow brick road.
Zombie Charge - Austin, Texas
October 21, 2017
A zombie run is a 5K mud race with one twist: you're either a runner or a zombie. As a runner, you wear a flag football belt with three flags denoting your 'health.' As you run between the obstacles, you have to dodge the zombies who are out to grab your health flags. If you complete the race with at least one flag left on your belt, you finish as a 'survivor.' Or if you crave the taste of metaphorical brains, you can sign up as a zombie. You'll be treated to professional-looking makeup to provide the illusion of rotting undead flesh. Then you'll be stationed around the course where you can chase runners at a dead sprint like 28 Days Later or shuffle menacingly like a Romero zombie.
Denver Gorilla Run - Denver, Colorado
You can get a glimpse of our inevitable Planet of the Apes future on full display at Denver's annual Gorilla Run. In this 5K fun run at Denver's thin-aired 5,000+ feet altitude, every competitor wears either a full gorilla suit or a banana suit. You choose whether you're simian or produce when you sign up — the race fee is $100 for gorillas, but only $60 for bananas. Your costume is handed out when you pick up your bib number and is yours to keep. (Because who would want a used gorilla suit that you ran 3 miles in?) The proceeds benefit the Mountain Gorilla Fund, which helps protect the 880 remaining mountain gorillas in the world.
Harry Potter Run - West Jordan, Utah
July 29, 2017
The only type of organized athletics we saw at Hogwarts involved sitting on a broomstick, but Harry, Ron and Hermione spent plenty of time running from giant spiders, basilisks, centaurs and Death Eaters. At the Harry Potter Run in West Jordan, Utah (near Salt Lake City), you can run a 5K in your preferred house colors, play Quidditch, and see live snakes and owls (in cages, not on the race course). Plus, you'll earn a Harry Potter medal — this year's sports the badger of House Hufflepuff. The organizing group, Geek'd Out Running Club, hosts a number of other live and virtual races each year, including a Gamer Dash 5K focused on video games and the "I Race to Misbehave" virtual 15-miler for Firefly fans.