The Trans-Iowa V9 is a race of more than 300 miles over gravel roads.
For amateur athletes and weekend warriors who like to race, options used to be limited to the basics: road runs ranging from 5K to marathon length; triathlons; or maybe a bike race on local roads. In recent years, the event calendar has exploded with alternatives.
Case in point: cycling on bumpy roads covered with tiny rocks. “Gravel bike racing is huge,” said Stephen Regenold of GearJunkie.com. Gravel roads tend to go off the smoothly beaten track, challenging the strength and endurance of riders on long courses. Try the Trans-Iowa V9, a 300-plus mile race; Kansas’ Dirty Kanza 200; or Minnesota’s Almanzo 100.
Alleycat racers cycle along the kinds of routes familiar to bike messengers.
Another option for adventurous cyclists: alleycat races, which send competitors on routes that mimic a day in the life of a bike messenger. Alleycat races tend to be informal, explained Stephen Regenold of GearJunkie.com. There is no sanctioning body, and rules depend on the race. “If you want to race in an alleycat, get to know your local bike community and ask around,” Regenold wrote in Outside. “Don't let the piercings and tattoos of the urban set intimidate.” Alleycat events include the North American Cycle Courier Championship in Seattle, Minneapolis’ All-City Championship, and Monster Track in New York City.
Colorado's Leadville 100 includes high-altitude running as well as mountain biking.
These days, marathons are for wimps. Instead, try your legs at any number of "ultradistance" races, the kind that stretch farther than 26.2 miles. ULTRAmarathonRunning.com, which calls itself the “world’s ultrarunning hub,” lists more than 700 extra-long races around the globe, ranging from America’s oldest (the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run), to the incredibly extreme (the Badwater Ultramarathon, which covers 13,000 feet in elevation gain), to the longest (the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race, which takes participants around 5,649 laps of a half-mile block in Queens, New York).
Other options for ultradistance junkies: the Leadville 100 mountain-bike race and run, both high-altitude endeavors in Colorado; any race in the Ironman triathlon series, which challenges participants to swim 2.4 miles and bike 112 before running a full marathon; and races that pit athletes against each other for 24 hours or more.
Urban adventure races are multi-sport events in cities that use clues and puzzles to drive the competition.
If you like to exercise your brain and body at the same time, check out an urban adventure race, which sends teams on multi-sport treks around cities via a series of clues and puzzles. The Great Urban Race stages events in 20 cities around the nation. Other options: the Oyster Racing series, which can include hotel stair-climbing, kayaking, roller-skating and catching an oyster in your mouth that is dropped from two stories high; and Urban Dare, which also stages events in cities around the country. A quick search on your city is likely to turn up other options, too.
Some events put competitors through decidedly unusual scenarios.
You can feel like a reality-TV star by signing up for multi-sport adventure and orienteering events that require mental strength, physical endurance and teamwork.
Each year, more than 600 orienteering races challenge competitors to navigate via map and compass, according to the website for a nine-day Wyoming competition called the Rocky Mountain 1,000-Day. For more options, check out the United States Adventure Racing Association website, which lists events happening all year round.
The Revolution Adventure Race Series offers even more to choose from, such as the Shenandoah Epic Adventure Race, which includes 100 miles of paddling, mountain biking, orienteering, road biking and trekking over 26 hours.