From military obstacle course-inspired races to grueling endurance runs that can reduce even the most hardened special-ops veterans to tears, a mud-soaked tsunami of adventure races is sweeping the country.
This five-event, military-only race organized by MWR plunges contestants into in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. Four-person teams can be active-duty and/or retirees, and each team must have at least one woman.
• Where: Fayetteville, W.Va., Oct. 4-6.
• How long: 8K mountain run; 12-mile mountain bike race; 14-mile hike; 13-mile whitewater raft race; and 7-mile kayak race. Last year's winners had a combined time of 7 hours, 18 minutes.
• $500 per team
Dubbed the "best race to land you in the E.R." by Outside magazine. You choose your own punishment with three difficulty levels.
• How long: Spartan Sprint: 3-plus miles, 15-plus obstacles; Super Spartan: 8-plus miles, 20 obstacles; Spartan Beast: 12-plus miles, 25-plus obstacles.
• Where: About three dozen U.S. races left this year; another 20, including Fort Carson, Colo., planned for 2013.
• $60-$205; $10 military discount
If you're looking for a first taste of adventure racing — and mud in your teeth — try the Warrior Dash, which "is more about mental toughness than being in great shape," organizers say.
• How long: 3-plus miles; takes about 1 hour.
• Where: Dozens of races planned across the U.S. and Canada, plus more in the U.K. and Australia.
The Mudder's fire, ice and even electrically charged obstacles are designed by British special-ops veterans to be navigated by teams. Although you can opt to go this one alone, it's not advised.
• How long: 10-12 miles; about 4 hours.
• Where: More than two dozen across the U.S., Europe and Australia.
• $90-$200; $15 military discount
Run for Your Lives
Running is good for your brain — and never more so than when you're getting chased by an undead horde. For those bored with the same old muddy-run obstacle courses, try this one with zombies giving chase. "Apocalypse Party" at the finish line includes about 12 live bands and other entertainment.
• How long: 5K, 12 obstacles.
• Where: 11 races left this year across the U.S. and Canada.
• $77-$87; $32 for spectators
Sure, everyone knows about that sissy race where the dogs do all the work, but this race is proudly "human powered" only. You can walk or bike, but you've got to get to the finish line on your own — 1,000 miles away. To get there, you have to navigate across the Alaskan wilderness. In the winter.
• Where: Anchorage to Nome
• How long: 1,000 miles; current records are 17 days by bike, 20 days by foot
The Death Race
Part of the Spartan series, this race's URL says it all: youmaydie.com. So far, no one has, but only about 15 percent of starters in this 48-hour pain-athon finish, often not without some bleeding. The course changes every year, but previous obstacles have ranged from carrying 20-pound stumps for hours to memorizing the names of the first 10 U.S. presidents, then hiking to the top of a mountain and reciting them back in order.
• Where: Pittsfield, Vt., June 15.
• How long: 40 miles with about 20 mental and physical obstacles.
• $900 (discounts available)
If you want to finish this race within the allotted time, you'll have to average about two marathons a day for 50 days straight. This is a journey of the mind with racers completing 5,649 laps around a course that's just under half a mile in Queens, N.Y. Invitation only, but anyone can inquire.
• How long: 3,100 miles; current race record is 41 days, 8 hours, averaging 75 miles per day.
• Where: New York City, June 17-Aug. 7
• $1,250, which includes all food, lodging, first aid, drinks and transportation daily to the race.
Race Across America
"This ain't no tour," proclaim RAAM organizers. It's a 3,000-mile pedal-powered race through 12 states, climbing up and eventually down some 170,000 feet of elevation, literally from sea to shining sea. And almost 50 percent longer than that one in France.
• How long: 3,000 miles; last year's winner finished in 8 days.
• Where: Starts in Oceanside, Calif., June 12-13; ends in Annapolis, Md., June 20-25.
• $2,895 for solo riders to $14,995 for an eight-person team.
Western States Endurance Run
Since 1977, the granddaddy of ultra runs has been torturing long-haul runners who must make it across some of California's most rugged and remote terrain.
• How long: 100 miles; course record: 15 hours, 7 minutes, 4 seconds.
• Where: Squaw Valley, Calif., June 23-24.
• $370; must complete a qualifier
Dubbed "The Race Across the Sky," the Leadville 100 weaves its way through the thin air at elevations of 9,200 to 12,600 feet. It's one of four ultra races tackling the Continental Divide known collectively as the Rocky Mountain Slam.
• How long: 100 miles
• Where: Aug. 18-19, Leadville, Colo.
From the hell furnace of Death Valley to the snow-capped peak of Mount Whitney, Badwater is known simply as the "challenge of champions." To even be considered for this race, you must complete at least three 100-milers; only then will a panel of five ultrarunning gods consider your application to fill one of now more than 90 slots for race day.
• How long: 135 miles, 48-hour limit
• Where: July 16-18, starting in Badwater, Calif.