Think marathons and other long-distance races always meant traditional, spandex-clad runners pounding city streets to hit their mile splits faster than they did the year before? Power gel, shin splints and thousands of discarded paper cups included?
Think again. Turns out some pretty unconventional races mark the worldwide sporting calendar. These are five of the world’s craziest marathons.
Man Vs Horse Marathon
This yearly race, which takes contestants over farm tracks, footpaths, open moorland and tarmac, unfolds over 22 miles of Welsh countryside – drawing thousands of spectators.
The Man Vs. Horse Marathon began in June 1980 after a chat over several beers in the back bar of a Welsh hotel. The then Landlord, Gordon Green, heard two men debating the merits of men and horses running over mountainous country. In an aha! moment, Gordon glimpsed an opportunity to promote his neighborhood, Llanwrtyd Wells – supposedly Britain’s smallest town – and boost takings at his hotel. Man Vs. Horse, a race of runners verses riders on horseback, was born.
Horses, it transpired, were rather good at the race. It took 25 years before a man – the mysterious Huw Lobb – finally beat one. Lobb won in 2 hours and 5 minutes, beating the fastest horse by 2 minutes.
The race now lures a maximum entry of 50 horses, enabling it to parade as “the world’s largest horse race”. It is certainly the weirdest, with prizes given by the oddball splinter political party, the Monster Raving Loony Party.
Antarctica Ice Marathon
The only footrace within the Antarctic Circle, the Antarctica Ice Marathon must rank as one of the most extreme sporting events on earth.
“You need to be a little bit crazy,” one contestant told Britain’s Daily Telegraph. Only a little?
Expect snow and ice throughout and an average windchill temperature of -20 degrees Celsius. Oh, and there is the chance of mean, raking winds. Just to add to the fun, you are at an altitude of 700 meters, which means thin air that makes it hard to breathe. Too bad there are no penguins to break the monotony, as you drive yourself on across the hushed white continent at the bottom of the world.
Competitors must bundle up to avoid hypothermia. Think balaclavas, goggles, long johns, waterproof running pants and Egyptian mummy-style layers of thermal clothing.
The seventh Antarctica Ice Marathon, scheduled for November 20, will happen just a few hundred miles from the South Pole, at the foot of the Ellsworth Mountains.
Tough Mudder is a messy, 10-12 mile obstacle course series held in different states across America and in Europe and Australia. The roll call of obstacles may include giant hay bales, knee-high tires, cargo nets, pitch-black tunnels, tangled forests and barbed wire.
Oh yeah, and there’s mud, tons and tons of glorious mud.
At Tough Mudder’s end, when you feel frazzled and ready to die, you just might in the flames of the “Warrior Roast”: a fire you have to jump over.
But then you get beer! And turkey legs and live music at the post-race party. Good redneck fun. The race shows that marathons need not be boring, the organizers say.
The hardcore obstacles owe their existence to British special forces: meant to test your strength, stamina and drive.
At least, according to reporter Adam Cooper in the Sydney Morning Herald, it is impossible not to be swept along by the adrenaline.
The London Marathon
On paper, the London Marathon is just a regular, agonizingly long high-speed footslog through a massive city. But, cementing the stereotype that the Brits are an oddball breed, many London Marathon entrants dress up in ridiculous costumes.
Adding to the challenge, the costumes are often very heavy. Picture how it feels to run 26 miles through a smoggy, humid city dressed in a sumo or clown suit. Or as Homer Simpson. Or a rhinoceros.
But this race does have a serious side. The 1 million pounds prize lures hardcore runners to jostle with the assorted loonies.
The Santa Claus Marathon
The Santa Claus Marathon sets off from the Arctic town of Rovaniemi in Lapland, Finland — Santa Claus’ official home. You need not dress in a full Father Christmas suit, but entrants do wear Santa garments to get in the spirit.
You can treat the Lapland event as a normal footslog marathon. Alternatively, you can enlist walking poles, skip or do it any other way you fancy, short of hopping on a reindeer or into a snowmobile. According to the organizers, the Santa Claus Marathon is “filled with jolliness and action”.
Oddly, the date is not Christmas, but mid-June. You are supposed to set off at the start of the bright white night, some time between 6pm and 8pm, from “Santa Claus’s Workshop”.
This oddball Arctic marathon is no surprise, as Finland has spawned some of the world’s weirdest sports in any class, including the World Wife Carrying Championship: a brisk 253 meters with your wife on your back.