5 Wacky Races

5 Wacky Races

It's no longer considered crazy to run a marathon, these days you have to try something really unusual. Like one of these 5 wacky races...
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I can just about remember the days when we watched Marathon runners with a mix of awe and pity - who were these superhuman athletes and had they no common sense? Fast forward to current times and (with the right training) a marathon could be within the reach of almost anybody. Heck, sometimes it seems that half of the runners complete the full 26.2 miles dressed as a pineapple.


This normalisation of a serious sporting challenge has driven the endurance elite (and a few crazies) to find races that create eye-popping stories to tell. In fact there are so many ultras, extreme weather or terrain events that its hard to say which are the more weird or wonderful. So in the end I chose 5 that have touched me in some way - although I'm not sure I'd attempt them all...


1. Marathon des Sables (see title image)
Let's start with the grand-daddy of ultra races - the famous MDS. Often simplified as '6 marathons in 7 days' the race is actually a series of varied length stages totalling 155 miles (250km) - the longest stage being almost 50 miles (80km) in a single day. Oh, and did I mention that the whole event takes place in the Sahara Desert? On top of that, runners carry all of their own kit and food for the week with the race organisers providing only water and tents. Alarmingly, contestants are required to include a snake-bite kit in their back-pack. Yes this one remains on my bucket list - a few friends have completed MDS and told me that its not that hard - mostly sitting around in tents waiting for the next run. Yeah, right...


2. Marathon Du Medoc
Medoc marathon runners pass a vineyard
Although the Medoc Marathon is 'only' a regular marathon distance, it distinguishes itself in this list by taking place in one of the most famed wine regions of the world, Bordeaux in France. But wait, there's more - the kind Chateaux of the Pauillac appellation set out tasting stations along the way. Runners - typically in fancy dress - are rewarded with red wine and cheese samples in place of the usual Gatorade and bananas. For full disclosure I'm running this race in September so will update with further details afterwards. I doubt there will be many PBs on that day.


3. The Quad Dipsea 
First run in 1905, the regular Dipsea is the oldest trail race in America with a scenic course from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach in Northern California - arguably one of the most beautiful in the world. The stairs and steep trails make it a grueling and treacherous race. And its unique handicapping system has made winners of men and women of all ages. One of my few regrets is not getting an entry bib for the Dipsea when I lived in San Francisco. Once again not content with the difficult (but achievable) 7.4 mile single track path, endurance runners created the Double Dipsea, and then the Quad Dipsea. As one might imagine, the latter takes in 2 round-trips on the original one-way course building to over 28 miles and 9,200 feet of climb - mostly stairs, which probably explains the record time of 3:41:01.


4. ÖtillÖ
Like so many of the wacky races, ÖtillÖ (Swedish for Island to Island) started from a bet made in a bar, challenging friends to swim and run across the islands of the Stockholm archipelago. Later formalised into a course that totals 10km (6mi) of swimming and 65km (40mi) running across 26 islands, ÖtillÖ has now grown into a global brand of Swim-Run races around the world. To add further interest, competitors can only enter as pairs and are tied together with a 10m safety cord for the entire event. No fancy dress, but the conditions do mean that you'll need a wetsuit and shoes that you can both swim and run in. I'm often in Stockholm with friends and family and ÖtillÖ is always there - needling me to give it a shot.


5. Big Dog's Backyard Ultra
Big Dog is the original back yard ultra - it's a concept that takes a bit of digesting. In part to understand how it works, but mostly to comprehend why anyone even enters. The course is short and simple - a 4.16 mile loop of founder Gary 'Lazarus Lake' Cantrell's farmland in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. Yes, I know that seems pretty easy and any runner could complete it in less than an hour. The problem is that you get to do it again in the next hour. And again in the next, and on until there's only one runner left. And this is the insane cruelty of this event - every hour Gary blows his whistle and the weary runners get up and do it again until they collapse. The current record is 75 hours (yes, that is more than 3 days of continuous hourly loops). Note that I have no intention to ever enter this crazy form of torture.


Did I miss you favorite wacky race? LMK in the comments below.

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