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Crazy Fun, or Just Crazy? Five Radical Competitions

My friend Sarah is a marathon runner. I am not. I’m actually kind of athletic, but not that kind of athletic—I need to keep my exercise fun, or I just get bored and go out for frozen yogurt instead. I so admire Sarah for what she does (and does well), because running for twenty-six miles straight sounds like torture to me. Still, I need the kind of race that works my mind and my body.

Idiots Are Man’s Best Dog
The Iditarod is the world-famous dog-sledding race across Alaska. The Idiotarod is pretty much the same, except it substitutes people for dogs, shopping carts for sleds, and a major metropolitan area for the Alaskan wilderness.

The Idiotarod started in San Francisco in 1994 as the Urban Iditarod and has since spread to most major cities in the United States and Canada, including Seattle, Toronto, Chicago, and Los Angeles, to name a few. This year’s race took place on January 30, 2010, in the greater New York City area; participants raced their done-up shopping carts from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to Astoria, Queens.

The rules (insofar as there are any), according to CartsofBrooklyn.com, are:

  • Teams consist of five “idiots” and one shopping cart. Teams usually decorate themselves and their carts according to themes, as long as all original pieces of the cart are present during the race.
  • The goal of the race is to hit each checkpoint and get to the finish line, but each team may devise its own route.
  • All five team members must be touching the cart at all times along the route.
  • Four idiots must be ahead of the back wheels of the cart, in “sled dog” position, and one idiot must be behind the cart, in “musher” position, while the cart is in motion. Idiots within a team may switch positions at any time during the race and may attach platforms so that they may “ride” the cart.
  • The idiots must pull the cart on foot for the entire race. The cart may not be motorized, towed by a vehicle or bicycle, or put inside a motor vehicle.
  • No substitutions are allowed; the same five idiots must pull the cart during the whole race.
  • First prize often goes to the team in fourth place.
  • It’s perfectly okay for spectators to pelt teams with eggs, flour, or even fish heads.
  • It is not okay to wear spandex. Any team caught in the stretchy stuff is immediately disqualified.

Ladies and idiots, start your shopping carts!

Toughguy Eats Ironman for Breakfast
I doubt boredom is an issue for Toughguy competitors—though the actual event varies from year to year, according to RealClearSports.com’s description, “it’s the obstacle course from Hell.” Challenges in the past have included the Fiery Holes, series of ditches filled with mud and burning bales of hay; the Viet Cong Tunnels, underground cement pipes; the Tiger, a climb up and down two thirty-foot nets that have electrified cables between them; and the Stalag Escape, a crawl through mud and underneath barbed wire, with live ammo being shot over competitors’ heads.

And all of this goes down in the dead of winter in South Staffordshire, England.

Toughguy is the brainchild of a former British army officer (ironically nicknamed Mr. Mouse), who calls it “the toughest race in the world” and asks participants to sign “death warrants” before competing. “We have searched the world amongst military and security forces to find any unit with a more demanding ONE DAY survival training ordeal,” says the Toughguy website. “The US Navy S.E.A.L.S. ‘Grinder’ Assault Course is our nearest rival.”

The Iron Dog
The Iditarod is for sissies. At least, that’s the attitude of former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her husband, Todd, who’s a four-time winner of the Iron Dog, a 1,971-mile snowmobile race from Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks, Alaska.

Two people and two snowmobiles per team ride through extreme temperatures that can get as low as negative fifty degrees Fahrenheit (and that’s without factoring in wind chill). According to RealClearSports.com, some participants even cover their faces with duct tape to avoid frostbite.

And yet people have been coming back every year to compete (since 1984) for the purse, which was $25,000 in 2008, the year with the most participants.


Kinetic Energy
Toughguy and Iron Dog certainly shake up the traditional race, but there’s got to be a more fun (and less life-threatening) way to head to the finish line.

Enter the Kinetic Sculpture Race, which takes place the last weekend of May in Humboldt County, California. It’s part triathlon, part Burning Man: participants race against each other in mobile works of art.

The Kinetic Sculpture Race began in 1969 in Ferndale, California, as a neighborly bet during an art competition, according to NileGuide.com. Today, however, it’s a challenge to first create a unique and interesting, yet functional and moveable, artwork and then maneuver it for three days over forty-two miles of rugged Northern California terrain.

The event has spawned a number of different kinetic-sculpture races around the country, including a smaller East Coast championship sponsored by the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

Break a Sweat at Bay to Breakers
I think I could run a footrace if there were nudity involved. I guess I should head to San Francisco, California, then, for the Bay to Breakers race, held the third weekend of May every year.

Bay to Breakers began as a way to lift San Franciscans’ spirits after the 1906 earthquake that devastated the city, and has since become the longest consecutively run footrace in the world, according to NileGuide.com.

The 7.4-mile race starts at the Embarcadero by the San Francisco Bay and ends along Great Highway, near the “breakers” at Ocean Beach. In 1986, the peak participation at the event was 110,000 people, making Bay to Breakers the most populated footrace ever.

Bay to Breakers still enjoys a strong following; runners hit the course in elaborate costumes, or no costume at all. There are also themed floats and, yeah, some booze. (Okay, there’s plenty of booze.) It’s really one big party where people just happen to be running. The best part is, that means you burn a bunch of calories to replenish at the afterparty.

Exercise for Body, Mind, and Spirit
I want a race that challenges me physically, but also one that gets my creative juices flowing. The Idiotarod, the Kinetic Sculpture Race, and Bay to Breakers are the kind of competitions that would motivate me to train for them, but I’m not so sure about Toughguy or Iron Dog. I mean, I want to test my physical limits and all, but I’m just too young to die.


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