Why we love it: Each seven- to 12-mile course is designed by British Special Forces to test your endurance, strength and stamina. Seventeen military-style obstacles—which include fire, barbed wire and rope bridges—are all that stand in your way of earning a commemorative Tough Mudder tattoo; willing finishers are inked for free on site.
Where and When: Tough Mudder events take places throughout the year in twelve regions of the US, with plans to expand in 2012. See the website for more details.
Why we love it: This naughty cousin of the Nautica New York City Triathlon kicks off the weekend’s festivities with an underwear-only 1.7 mile fun-run through Central Park. Official Nautica underwear models await runners at the finish to dish out free hugs and boxers. The runner with the best Jamaica-themed costume wins a trip for two to Jamaica. You don’t have to be registered for the tri to enter and there’s only one rule: No thongs. Where and when: Central Park, New York City; Aug. 5 Registration: After July 4; free; nyctri.com
Why we love it: Not only do 90 percent of entrants run in costumes, but food and wine stands dot this undulating course, which winds through the vineyards of iconic French wine estates. Weekend fun also includes orchestra performances, a post-race ball, a recovery walk and a mountain bike ride through the Moulis wine region. Every participant takes home a complimentary bottle of wine in her finisher’s bag. Where and when: Pauillac, France; beginning of September Registration: Early February; 75€ (about $105); marathondumedoc.com
Why we love it: A temperate climate and scenic views make San Francisco the ideal location for Bay to Breakers, one of the largest footraces in the world. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 12k footrace—which takes costume-clad participants from San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean in remembrance of the notorious 1906 earthquake that devastated the city.
Why we love it: What started as a dare between two college friends has turned into one of the tastiest athletic events in the U.S. Each participant runs two miles to the nearest Krispy Kreme store, downs a dozen doughnuts in under an hour, then runs the two miles back. Proceeds benefit the North Carolina Children’s Hospital.
When and where: Raleigh, North Carolina; first weekend in February
Why we love it: Completing a marathon is a common runner’s goal. Completing a marathon in snow and ice at 3,000 feet takes, well, one cool chick. Those up for the challenge face winds of 10-20 knots and an average wind chill of -4 degrees Fahrenheit. If the marathon does satiate your appetite for adventure, you also have the opportunity to climb Vinson Massif, the tallest mountain in Antarctica. When and where: Union Glacier, Antarctica;November 27 - December 3 Registration: Currently open; 9,900€ (about $13,850), which includes round-trip airfare from Punta Arenas, Chile to the Union Glacier camp, five days accommodation and food, and race entry fees; icemarathon.com
Why we love it: New York City’s Central Park plays host to the ultimate New Year’s Eve bash with a 4-mile run at midnight. Fireworks and a laser show light the way for runners throughout the park. Keep your cardio workout going with a post-race dance party.
When and where: Central Park, New York City; December 31
Registration: Early Winter; $35 before December 16; nyrr.org
Why we love it: First run in 1905,Dipsea is one of the oldest and most exclusive races in America. But 7.4-miles of stairs and steep trails also make it one of the most grueling. To secure a spot on the coveted participant list, contenders must complete a rigorous application process or submit a “bribe” to the Dipsea Foundation for trail maintenance—all in the name of fun and tradition. When and where: San Francisco; second Sunday in June Registration: Mid-March, $60; dipsea.org
Why we love it: Known as the “Mother of All Relays,” this 15,000-person, 197-mile race from the top of Mt. Hood in Oregon to the Pacific Ocean is billed as the largest relay in the world. Teams of between eight and 12 participants run through the night to complete the course within 31.5 hours.
Why we love it: With race legs called “This Sucks,” and “Where’s the F’n Bridge,” it’s evident these five-person relay races have personality. Be prepared for 60-mile courses filled with swamps, hills and the occasional poison ivy patch. Awards include alligator skulls and cow thigh bones.
When and where: Green Swamp, Florida (winter); Gnaw Bone, Indiana (spring); Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin (summer); Hell, Michigan (fall)
Registration: Dependent on season; $54 to $450 per team depending on the race; danceswithdirt.com
Why we love it: Even the slowest runners have a chance at winning this race. As homage to Colorado’s 19th-century miners, participants purchase and train a burro (donkey) to run four to eight miles with prospector’s pick, shovel and gold pan in tow. Guiding a stubborn burro is more than a little trying, but this family event is not about winning—just crossing the finish line makes you a champ. Oh, and riding your burro is not an option.
When and where: Georgetown, Idaho Springs, Fairplay, Leadville, Buena Vista and Morrison,Colorado; May-September
Why we love it: Your calves will definitely burn as you climb 2,109 steps up the iconic Willis Tower in Chicago. Once you reach the top, enjoy a scenic view 1,353 feet down onto the Windy City. Proceeds benefit the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Where and When: Chicago; early November Registration: Mid-October; $50 for individuals with a minimum donation of $100; ric.convio.net