50 Best Themed Races – Extreme Marathons, Superheroes, Haunted 5K’s & More
As much as we love running, let’s be honest -- sometimes it can get a little boring. You’re entering the same local races year after year, running the same routes in your town and toughing through long run after long run.
Sometimes it’s fun to shake things up a bit. Trying a new race that isn’t like the ones you’re typically used to is one of the best ways to do that.
We’ve scoured the internet to compile a list of 50 truly epic races happening this year that will leave you breathless, in more ways than one. Whether you’re into food, costumes, oddities or once-in-a-lifetime challenges, we’ve got you covered.
So pack a bag, see new sights and enjoy these unforgettable races.
To jump to a particular theme, click the "quick navigation" links below.
1. Superhero Races
Nobody grew up wanting to be Lex Luthor -- they wanted to be Superman. Superhero races give grown adults the chance to revisit their childhood dreams without any judgement from others.
If you think about it, runners are a perfect fit to dress as superheroes -- we already have all the colorful spandex we need to pull off a superhero costume. So put on a cape, a mask and dress as your favorite hero as you run the streets of these cities.
8th Annual Superhero Half Marathon and Relay on May 21 in Morris Township, New Jersey
Running in a costume for 13.1 miles isn’t for the faint of heart -- it will separate the heroes from the sidekicks.
Everyone who crosses the finish line will get a medal and all the post-race food they can eat. The first 3,000 to register will receive a wicking t-shirt.
CASA Super Hero Race on Saturday, April 22 in Salem, Oregon
This race gives you the option of running a 5k or a 10k. Capes and costumes are encouraged.
Heroes for Hope 5k on April 1 in Swainsboro, Georgia
Wear your best superhero outfit as you fight one of society’s biggest villains -- cancer. By raising awareness and money to fight this disease, you can be a real-life hero, and that’s better than pretend any day of the week.
Comics for a Cure on May 6 in Durham, North Carolina
This superhero-themed 5k will provide a free comic book for all racers. Comic book artists will ink some free drawings and there will be photo opportunities with superheroes.
Southlake Superhero 5k on April 1 in Southlake, Texas
Dust off your best superhero costume for this 5k where you’ll see a variety of heroes from both the Marvel and DC universes. Afterward, there will be a concert and food in the Aria Amphitheater.
Superhero 5k Run, Walk or Fly on April 29 in Saint Johns, Michigan
There will be a bunch of heroes running the streets during this 5k. Prizes will be awarded in four different categories.
Super Heroes Half Marathon Weekend on Nov. 9-12 at Disneyland Resort, California
You choose the length of the race you want to do -- the Avengers Half Marathon, Thor 10k, Infinity Gauntlet Challenge or Spider-Man 5k. Each race offers a different awesome-looking metal worthy of your superhero status, and you’ll also get a shirt and a virtual goodie bag.
2. Haunted/Scary Races
Nothing can take your mind off your aching legs and burning lungs more than a good scare. You won’t know whether your heart is pounding from your activity level or sheer terror with these scary theme races.
Devil’s Chase on Oct. 28 in Salem, Massachusetts
This 6.66-mile run will feature more than 1,000 devils wearing horns and capes. Soak in the history of Salem, which became famous for its witch hunts and offers a spooky backdrop for this run.
Learn more about the race and see a picture of the “Run Like Hell” cup you can buy to commemorate your race, here.
Run Scream Run 10k/5k on Oct. 7 in Ypsilanti, Michigan
This is a scary good time the whole family can enjoy. With costume divisions and t-shirts and cool medals for all finishers, you’ll never forget this experience.
Rosehill Cemetery Crypt 5k on Oct. 7 in Chicago, Illinois
This 5k might just scare your running pants off. You trot or walk through this 350-acre cemetery at night.
You’ll see mausoleums and headstones, and then take part in the post-run festivities. Learn more here.
5th Annual Run of the Dead on Oct. 14 in Liverpool, New York
This 5k run will make you feel like you are starring in a real-life zombie movie. You’ll have to fight your way through obstacles in your path to survive this one.
To see a short, terrifying video of what you’re in store for, visit here
The Hairy Gorilla Half Marathon and Squirrelly Six Mile on Oct. 29 in Voorheesville, New York
You’ve never seen anything quite like this racing experience. There’s so much to take in -- from the giant gorillas and squirrels that are hot on your heels to the graveyard featuring your name -- that the miles will fly by.
Halloween Half Marathon and 5k on Oct. 29 in Atlanta, Georgia
With costumes and kick-ass Halloween-themed medals that are unique every year, this race focuses on one classic Halloween character each year. Every finisher receives a medal, both in the half marathon and in the 5k.
Zombie Chase 5k on Oct. 7 in Dayton, Oregon
You’ll spend your run sprinting away from zombies while taking on various obstacles in your path. Runners can either choose to be a zombie or a fleeing citizen, and those with the best costumes will take home prizes.
5KRundead on Various Dates in Different Cities
This zombie-themed run is sure to make you pick up your pace. Every runner will get a t-shirt and a dog tag finisher medal.
While you’re outpacing the zombies, keep in mind all of the proceeds from the race will go to charity.
Haunted Half Provo on Oct. 28 in South Fork, Utah
This race offers a half marathon or 5k option. You’ll see some over-the-top costumes on this course, and there will be a rockin’ party area after you finish, complete with Monster energy drinks.
Scarecrow Scramble Nighttime 5k and Fall Festival on Oct. 14 in Lisle, Illinois
A great event for families, this course contains slight hills and offers a costume contest, hayrides, a bonfire, food, face painting and more. If you’re looking for a race that gives you that Halloween feel while you run in the dark, but you don’t want to be scared out of your mind, this one’s for you.
Wicked 10k on Oct. 28 in Virginia Beach, Virginia
We’d go to this race just to see the live Thriller dancers that appear. But it offers much more than that -- thousands of competitors, costumes, music, tomato and cheese soup, Blue Moon beer, beautiful scenery, a technical shirt, prizes and a bottle opener finisher medal.
Boos, Brews and Brats on Oct. 28 in Manistee, Michigan
This is a great family event with plenty of all-day activities for children -- there’s a kid-friendly movie, pumpkin painting, trick or treating and a costume contest. For adults, there is the Zombie 5k run, the .5k Zombie Pub Crawl and the Monster Bash with live music.
3. Food/Drink Themed Races
Races offer runners a great opportunity to get their snack on. We run so we can eat, right?
If you are a big fan of post-race food, you won’t want to miss these races that offer up some amazing grub.
April Fool’s Twinkie Run for ALS on April 1 in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Who can resist a Twinkie? This 5k race pays tribute to the yummy cream-filled spongy cake while raising money for a good cause.
Grilled twinkies and chocolate will be available after the race. To line up your spot in the race and the post-race Twinkie line, visit this link.
Brain Freezer 5k on July 8 in Burlington, Vermont
Runners are forced to feed themselves ice cream during this race. Doesn’t sound too tough, does it?
There’s a catch though. They have to eat a whole pint of ice cream as fast as they can mid race and then finish the run.
Cheesehead Run on Aug. 19 in Hilbert, Wisconsin
This 5k or half marathon offers cash prizes, but the real prize is the gourmet buffet that awaits you at the finish line. Runners can eat maple nut granola, seasonal salads, meats, and of course, cheeses -- and adult runners can have Wisconsin craft beers as well.
Runners will get t-shirts, goodie bags, and medals for the half marathon. Learn more here.
The Hot Chocolate 15k/5k Race in Various Cities on Different Dates
The hot chocolate racing movement is gathering steam. This run is currently offered in more than a dozen cities, including Chicago, Minneapolis, San Diego, Las Vegas, Tampa, Philadelphia and Denver, to name a few.
Participants get to consume way more calories than they burn off with a number of delicious treats. Check it out here.
Eat My Crust 5k on May 7 in Viera, Florida
This 5k has a pizza after-party, along with giveaways and prize packs. Plus, if you’re feeling extra confident, you can enter the pizza delivery challenge where you run the entire race while carrying an actual pizza box.
Charm City Wine Run on May 6 in Baltimore, Maryland
While we often get plenty of whine during races, we don’t get nearly enough wine. This race changes that by giving you unlimited beer, wine and spirits tastings, which takes place right after the race.
The Cookie Challenge 5k on May 7 in Hamden, Connecticut
If you’re a cookie fan before you start this race, we’ll see how you feel about them afterward. Runners must eat big cookies before they can head back to the finish line on this out and back course.
They've got a pretty clever motto for the race, which is "Puke and Rally."
Hershey Half Marathon on Oct. 15 in Hershey, Pennsylvania
Taking a run down Chocolate Avenue in Hershey might help take some of the sting out 13.1 miles, especially when people are handing out mini candy bars. In addition to some great chocolate, you’ll also get a medal and a shirt.
The Bacon Run 5k on Oct. 14 in Marietta, Georgia
Unlimited bacon is as good of a reason as any other to participate in a run. In this 5k, you’ll be able to chow down to your heart’s content and you just might set a PR in your attempt to reach the bacon quicker.
4. Extreme/Grueling Races
One of the best parts about being a runner is proving how tough you are -- both to yourself and others. See how much punishment your body can withstand at these tough races.
Bix 7 on July 29 in Davenport, Iowa
This annual 7-mile race known for its hot weather and lots of grueling hills always draws a crowd. In 2016, more than 14,000 runners participated on the course that attracts world-class athletes from all over the globe.
To learn more about this famous face that began in 1975, visit this link.
Tough Mudder in Different Cities on Various Dates
You’ll be sweating like a mother while doing the Tough Mudder. These muddy races work every muscle in your body -- even ones you didn’t know existed.
If you’re ready to get dirty, check out the Tough Mudder events here.
8th Annual Defiance 50k/30k/15k on Oct. 7 in Tacoma, Washington
If you sign up for the 50k, be prepared to run 31.1 miles through an old growth forest that has an elevation change of 1,300 feet. After you hop over roots during your run, party at a fire pit afterward.
Are you ready for this act of defiance? Register here.
Grand to Grand Ultra on Sept. 24-30 in Utah and Arizona
This race is so badass you’ll need to take vacation days to complete it. It’s 273 kilometers, otherwise known as 170 miles.
It’ll be plenty of hard work, but you’ll have some awesome views along the way -- it starts on the Grand Canyon’s north rim and ends at the Grand Staircase. Sign up here if you dare.
Mount Washington Road Race on June 17 on Mount Washington in New Hampshire
You better get some serious hill practice in if you plan to run this 7.6-mile race. You’ll run on the road that travels from the base of the mountain and you’ll almost reach the summit -- that’s a rise of 4,650 feet.
Speedgoat 50k on July 28-29 in Alta, Utah
This 50k isn’t for beginners -- you’ll want to have some easier long-distance races under your belt before attempting this one. There are rocks, uneven terrain and lots of ascents to deal with.
Badwater 135 on July 10-12 in Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, California
If the name Death Valley doesn’t scare you, the idea of tackling 135 non-stop miles might. The number of miles isn’t the only daunting aspect of this run, it also covers three mountain ranges.
If proving how tough you are is one of your 2017 New Year’s resolutions, this is your big chance. Learn more here.
Mount Marathon Race on July 4 in Seward, Alaska
Before you enter this 5k race, you should know it’s not just difficult -- it’s dangerous.
There’s even a mandatory safety meeting the day before the race. You’ll face steep inclines and loose rocks.
To view the race course and decide if this test of fortitude is for you, visit this link.
Twin Peaks 50M/50k/30k on Oct. 14 in Corona, California
This might be one of the toughest courses the U.S. has to offer. It has rocky terrain, remote locations and extreme weather, and you just might come across some rattlesnakes or mountain lions along the way.
If braving the elements and the wild kingdom sounds fun, check it out here.
5. Other Offbeat Themed Races
If you’re looking for something different than your usual race day experience, check out these unique races.
Murder Mystery 5k on Various Dates in Different Locations
If you make Sherlock Holmes look like a simpleton, you’ll want to check out the Murder Mystery 5k. While you’re running, you have to collect clues and solve a mystery.
That ‘80s Run on April 29 in St. Charles, Missouri
If you’ve never been able to get over your deep love of shoulder pads and rockin’ headbands, you’re in luck. This 5k and 10k run pays homage to all things 1980s.
Everyone who signs up will get a radical neon t-shirt and tickets for prize baskets. The first thousand finishers will earn a medal. There are prizes for the top finishers also. To find more information, visit here.
Gildan Underwear Run on July 14 in Central Park, New York
If you’ve always dreamed of running in your underwear, you’re in luck. This 1.7-mile run allows you to display your backside while you get fit.
The Color Run on Various Dates in Different Cities
If you’ve always fantasized about looking like Rainbow Brite by the time you reach the finish line of a 5k, The Color Run might be just what you’re looking for. You’ll be covered with various colors every kilometer of your race.
To learn more about The Color Run and to see if there are any events planned in your city, click here.
Bay to Breakers on May 21 in San Francisco, California
You’ll never see anything quite like this 12k race where people dress in costumes to make the trek from the San Francisco Bay to finish near the Pacific Coast’s Ocean Beach. For more than 100 years, this race has truly been one of a kind.
Blacklight Run In Several Cities on Different Dates
In this 5k, you’ll wear a white shirt and get covered with UV Glow Powder, which will make you glow in the race’s Blacklight Zones. Your glow won’t have anything to do with your sweat in this run.
3rd Annual Oregon Trail Game 5k on Aug. 6 in Oregon City, Oregon
This 5k is based off the computer game, Oregon Trail. Runners need to make critical choices along their path, such as whether they’ll go hunting or cross a river -- their decisions will help decide their fate.
Runners will not only be timed for their actual run, but they’ll get a game score as well. See the details here.
Warrior Dash Offered In Several Cities on Different Dates
Looking for a race that gives you a chance to jump over fire and toast your success or failure with an ice-cold beer? The Warrior Dash could be the answer to your dreams.
See what all the fuss is about here.
Dublindee Kilted 5k on March 11 in East Dundee, Illinois
Men who’ve always wanted to run in skirts will get their chance with this race. The first 300 runners to register will get a kilt and a beer glass.
Hippie Dash 5k on April 1 in Gulfport, Florida
Get your grooviest running gear and channel your inner hippie for this run. Participants will get a far-out t-shirt, goodie bag and post-race food.
Only Fools Run at Midnight on April 1 in Medical Lake, Washington
Dust off your best headlamp and head out at a time you normally would be tucked in bed. Although this 3.5-mile run will be on lighted streets, you never know when a headlamp will come in handy.
Bubble Run on Various Dates in Different Cities
Ever wonder what it would feel like to run through a bunch of bubbles? Now’s your chance.
Beat Beethoven 10k/5k on April 15 in Fairbanks, Alaska
Beethoven could have never imagined his Fifth Symphony would one day be used to inspire physical fitness. But in this race, the goal for runners is to finish the race before the end of the song, which is 31 minutes.
To decide if the race inspired by the classical tune will make your list, visit this link.