Five Races That Make Running Fun (and one that might kill you)

I've just gotten into running in the past nine months or so. I went for my first run on my birthday last year – July 21. I mean, I worked out before that – I used to be a big fan of the elliptical. But I really wanted to be able to run in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in October '08 because my mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer just a year prior to that. So that was my motivation. I trained from July to October (and let me tell you, running in Iowa's 90 percent humidity when it's 90 degrees out is no piece of cake) and completed the race swimmingly. Since then, I've found myself getting kind of addicted to races.

I did the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving at the Iowa State Fairgrounds (less guilt for gorging later that day), signed up for the Red Flannel Run in February (but ended up being out of town), completed the five-mile Run for the Egg the day before Easter and managed to show up for the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick 5k after downing an entire bottle of wine all by myself the night before (whoops). I'm just amazed at how many races are going on at any given time – there's a whole running community I had no idea existed. This probably seems silly to you seasoned runners, but I just honestly did not have a clue. Des Moines is not a small town by any means, but it's certainly not a bustling metropolis either. Yet, I could easily find a 5k to run every single weekend if I wanted to. Anyway, in the spirit of my newfound motivation, I thought I'd write about interesting races. Whether it's the cause that seems questionable, the costumes people wear or an interesting race route, the races below are sure to catch your attention.

1. The Oatmeal 5k – Lafayette, Colo.

Lafayette holds the Oatmeal Festival every year. In addition to a health fair, Oatie the Quaker Oats Mascot and a giant, inflatable bowl of oatmeal, the Oatmeal Festival hosts the Oatmeal 5k. The best part really comes post-run though – all runners get to eat their fill of oatmeal with all of the trimmings. Considering the race occurs in January in Colorado, I bet a nice warm bowl of oatmeal is greatly appreciated after running 3.1 miles. Photo by Cliff Grassmick

2. Beat Beethoven 5k - lots of places

When I first read about this, I got a mental picture of a guy with wild white hair dressed up in period clothing running his heart out. But no. The point is to beat Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. At 33 minutes long, this would mean the runner would have to run slightly under 11 minute miles. A challenge for some, totally easy for others. Beat Beethoven is often held as a fundraiser for music departments. I bet some people dress up like Beethoven though. At least, I hope they do.

3. Living History Farms Cross Country Road Race - Clive, Iowa

This one is my goal for the year. It's only seven miles, but the tricky part is the terrain you're running on. You're running through waist-deep ponds, through trenches, off small cliffs, using rope to pull yourself up steep inclines – it's insane. And people dress insane. Check out this photo gallery from the Des Moines Register – in just one quick run-through, I spotted Superman, Santa Claus, Snow White and a number of ballerinas. There's even one dude running with no shirt on – in late November in Iowa, that's just asking for pneumonia (Oh God… I think I just channeled my mother). Photo from

4. Tower of Terror 13k - Orlando, Fla.

This is my other goal for the year, but really it's just an excuse to get to Disney at Halloween. I LOVE Disney World at Halloween. In fact, I'm a lover of all things that are campy-creepy, so the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 13k (get it… 13?!) is perfect for me. It starts at 9:30 at night and gives runners the chance to run through Disney properties late at night. Afterward, the Tower of Terror and several other rides at Hollywood Studios are open for the sweaty runners to enjoy. I. Can’t. Wait. Let's just hope I can run eight miles by then. Photo by Stacy Conradt

5. The Doughnut Run 5k - Ames, Iowa

I'm not sure that it's a great idea to run while stuffing your face full of glazed doughnuts, but the Iowa State Triathlon Club seems to think it's not a problem. Here's how it works: at each aid station along the route, you have the opportunity to scarf down doughnuts. If you eat one doughnut, you get to take 15 seconds off of your time. Two doughnuts gives you another 30 seconds off. Three doughnuts gets you 45 seconds off. So if you run the race in 20 minutes and eat two doughnuts, you get a total of 45 seconds off your race time – 15 seconds for doughnut #1 plus another 30 seconds for doughnut #2. But only the weak eat a mere two doughnuts. For every five doughnuts you eat past the first five, you get a bonus two minutes off your race. The catch? You have to keep the doughnuts down at least past the finish line. Graphic from the Iowa State Triathlon Club

6. The Badwater Ultramarathon - Death Valley

It's 135 miles, folks. ONE HUNDRED THIRTY-FIVE MILES. I'm in pain just thinking about it. Add that to 120 degree temps in the shade and you've got a marathon only the most hardcore runner would even consider running. Even then, 20-40 percent of participants don't complete the race. The first time this race was completed was 1977, after several attempts by Al Arnold. Successful try #2 didn't happen until 1981 when Jay Birmingham put himself through the torture. It became an official race in 1987, but only five runners completed the race. Making this race even harder is the fact that there are no water stops. Each runner has to provide his or her own pit crew complete with water, ice, food and first aid. You might think there's a fantastic prize for finishing 135 miles in Death Valley, but not really. Runners who finish in 60 hours or less get a medal. Runners who complete the course in 48 hours or less get a belt buckle. Suffice it to say people are running for the glory, not the winnings. So far, no one has died. Photo by Geoff Tripple via What crazy races have you participated in? OK, forget participation - what crazy races have you heard of?

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Forget not the Bisbee 1000 Stair Climb.

Bisbee Arizona is a mile-high mining town on the Mexican border, barely attached to various deep canyons. About 1/3 of Old Bisbee houses are accessible only by steep stairways. The annual race up-and-down those stairs is always a blast.

Scores of other stairclimb races are also held.

Those of us with bad knees had best just watch such events.
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