The 12 Best Themed Running Events

Running Inspiration & Motivation

The 12 Best Themed Running Events

There are thousands of standard 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon events out there but what about something a little bit different and unique?

There are thousands of standard 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon events out there but what about something a little bit different and unique?

If you are becoming bored with standard running training and completing the same type of events then perhaps you should considerer an alternative. From racing a horse to running away from zombies, there are plenty of unusual, quirky races out there for you to make the most of.

Here is our pick of the 12 best themed races around the world, which are guaranteed to put the enjoyment back into your running.  


The Color Run

If you are considering taking part in your first event, or are looking for a colourful addition to your running portfolio then why not book your place in the happiest 5k on the planet? During The Color Run, participants are covered in different coloured paint at each mile of the course. Founded in 2011, the event takes place in countries all over the world encouraging runners of all ages and abilities to take part in the unique celebration.

The essence of this event is to celebrate the happiness of running, promote the health benefits of the sport and celebrate individuality. There are no timers on the course as organisers encourage participants to have fun and enjoy the experience. Those running in the event wear white clothes to enjoy the full novelty of the colour and to cross the finish line looking like they have run through a rainbow.


Zombie Runs

The world has been hit by a zombie apocalypse… well at least for these 5k running events it has anyway. To make it out alive you must complete a challenging 5k obstacle course and dodge impending flesh eating zombies along the way. Ignite your fight or flight response and test your nerve, skill and running capabilities in this eccentric challenge.

Runners begin the course with three flags attached to their belt- these act as lives during the race and it is the zombie’s job to try and remove them from participants. Runners aim to finish the race with at least one of the lives still attached to their belt. Should you lose all of your lives you can still finish the 5k, but you won’t qualify for a survivor’s medal because unfortunately zombies will have infected you. This adrenaline filled experience is something to try if you are looking for something out of your comfort zone.


Empire State Building Run Up

As one of the oldest and most famous tower races, the Empire State Building Run Up sees participants take on New York’s tallest building and run up all of the 1,576 stairs in the fastest time possible. To ascend the Empire State building in a lift takes around one minute, running the 86 flights of stairs takes the fastest runners around 10 minutes. The annual event began in 1978 and only a few hundred people are selected to run each year.

Both professional tower runners and casual runners take to the stairs in what is considered by many as an extreme test of endurance of the body and mind. The race is organised as a time-trial format, waves of around 50 people start the race from the lobby of the famous landmark to reduce the traffic on the stairs. After runners have conquered the stairs, they are rewarded with breathtaking views over the city from the observation deck of the building.


Antarctic Ice Marathon

With an average temperature of -200C, altitude of 700 meters and the small matter of running a marathon on snow and ice, the Antarctic Ice Marathon is not for the fainthearted. Only a limited number of competitors take part each year in the southernmost marathon on earth. For those looking to join the exclusive 7 Continents Marathon Club, completing the Antarctic Ice Marathon ticks off the seventh continent in style.

The marathon is run at the foot of the Ellsworth Mountains, a few hundred miles from the South Pole. Conditions in previous marathons have been so unpredictable that finishing times have varied wildly from year to year. Some years the feat has been completed in three hours but in other years it has taken runners over five hours to cross the finish line. Just don’t expect to run your fastest time during the Antarctic Ice Marathon, as conditions are anything but ideal.


Man v Horse

In arguably one of the most bizarre running races in the world, the annual Man v Horse event sees participants pit themselves against horses. The event first came as a result of a pub bet by two men who were drinking in Landlord Gordon Green’s pub. One of the men assured his friend that man was capable of outrunning a horse over long distances. Green decided to put his punter’s argument to the test and so the Man v Horse race was born.

Run in the small Welsh town of Llanwrtyd, it took 25 years for the man’s argument to be proven correct when in 2004, Huw Lobb won the event. Until then it was horses that dominated the podium. The course is 22 miles so although it does not quite qualify as a marathon, the multi-terrain and rugged hills do not make this course easy for the horses or human runners.


Walt Disney World® Marathon Weekend presented by Cigna

If anyone can get you through a marathon, Mickey Mouse can. Known as the most magical race in the world, the Walt Disney World® Marathon Weekend presented by Cigna takes participants across four of the Disney theme parks in Florida; Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. Along the way you can expect encouragement, support and entertainment from all of your favourite Disney characters.

Since it’s inception in 1994, the event has grown year on year and now the weekend of the marathon features 5k, 10k and half marathon events for all of the family to get involved in. There is entertainment throughout the course to cheer the runners on and finishers receive a well-deserved Mickey Mouse medal for their efforts. Although there are timing systems in place for this marathon, the event is less about personal bests and more about the happiness of running through magical surroundings with all of your favourite characters.


Electric Run

If you have had enough of running in the daylight then sign up for the eccentric, glow in the dark 5k Electric Run! Run in the dark, the event incorporates lights, music, UV costumes and a one-of-a-kind after party that feels more like a festival than a post race celebration. You can take part in this event on your own or as part of a team and the 5k welcomes all ages to enjoy the psychedelic experience.  

The course is comprised of five to seven lands depending on the size of the event with features such as; glowing neon trees, tunnels with dancing light patterns and coloured fountains. The Electric Run is completely untimed, as organisers want to place more emphasis on the fun experience over finish times. Those running in the event are encouraged to dress for the occasion in bright colours and celebrate crossing the finish line with a unique show of light and sound hosted by live DJs.  


Krispy Kreme Challenge

2400 calories, 12 doughnuts, 5 miles, 1 hour. It might not sound like a usual strapline for a running event but the Krispy Kreme Challenge is an event like no other. Testing participant’s physical and gastrointestinal capabilities, this event was the brainchild of students from the North Carolina State University who first attempted the challenge as a dare.

Runner’s start from the Bell tower on the University campus and run 2.5 miles to a Krispy Kreme shop, where they must eat a dozen doughnuts. Then the real challenge begins as runners travel 2.5 miles back to the campus (trying not to throw the doughnuts back up on their way) all in under an hour. Although the energy source for this event may be questionable, the challenge raises a lot of money for the local hospital every year. There is also the option to run as a casual runner and complete the 5k, then enjoy the doughnuts afterwards.


Wife Carrying Championships

This is an event that takes carrying your spouse over the threshold one step further. Participants must take on the challenging obstacle course, which is run over sand, water and fences all while carrying their partner. This is a serious test of communication and physical strength. If you are not married then don’t worry; you can still compete in the event as your partner does not need to be your legal wife, but it should be someone who trusts you!

The official World Championships are held every year in Sonkajärvi, Finland however there are similar wife carrying events that now take place all over the world. The concept dates back to the 19th century and every year the event provides entertainment for competitors and spectators alike. Want to know the best part about winning the official Wife Carrying Championships? The winner gets his wife’s weight in beer.


Sonderhausen Marathon

Run in an abandoned Salt Mine in Germany, the Sonderhausen Marathon is an extremely difficult challenge. The mine is situated around 700 meters underground, giving the race the title of deepest and lowest marathon in the world. Although lights are placed at certain points of the course, some of the marathon is run in darkness so runners are required to wear a bicycle helmet and head-torch because of the dangers the course brings.

The poor air quality of the mine, high temperatures, uneven floor and the impending danger of loose rocks falling on runners as they navigate the course makes for less than appealing conditions during the marathon. The only way to reach the start line of the Sonderhausen Marathon is by the old lift shaft, which can only hold 12 runners at a time. So be sure to arrive early to take your place at the start line.


Burro Days World Championship

Burro is the Spanish word for Donkey. The Burro Days World Championship Run is an event where runners guide a burro over a 29-mile course in Fairplay, Colorado. This unusual event first began in 1948 as a celebration of the mining heritage of the area. Runners must navigate the rough, difficult terrain of the area and all the way up the 4000m ascent of Mosquito Pass, before traveling back to Fairplay.

For runners, combining a mixture of trail running and trekking all while staying in control of a burro is a challenging demand. Runners must not whip or ride the burro at any point in their quest to complete the course. To be successful in this annual event the runner must understand the burro and their needs, have patience with the animal and have the endurance and skill levels to be able to navigate the distance.


5k Foam Festival

The 5k Foam Festival is a course is filled with inflatable obstacles, mud and foam. The primary aim of the festival is for participants to have fun. The event is family friendly and usually comprises between 16 and 25 obstacles to make up the course over a distance of around 5k. The event is a great challenge for those looking to try something a little different.

Participants can run alone or in a group although most people find the course to be more fun when completed with the help and encouragement of teammates. The 5k Foam Festival is another event where organisers do not place emphasis on finishing times, but on the experience of the day. The named 5k Foam Festival takes place in Canada however there are similar themed events emerging in locations around the world which offer you the chance to take on inflatable obstacles covered in foam.

Picture credit: aaltair /