There's something soulful, primal, and downright animal-like about running alone in the woods or on a marathon course with thousands of other racers. It sure as hell beats running on the treadmill. So we considered a large number of America's foot races – trail runs, marathons, ultras, obstacle courses, local races – and picked the best 15. What makes these the best? In each case it's different. They range from the most prestigious (Boston) to the most difficult (Badwater) to the most-likely-to-include-nude-runners (Bay to Breakers), and everything in between. Whether you're an accomplished ultrarunner or simply training for your first marathon, this list has something for everyone who thinks running is more than just exercise. Launch Gallery >>
Dipsea Race (Marin County, CA)
While big city marathons have become international events, the Dipsea allows racers to get a piece of local Northern California culture. For one thing, the application process for the 1,500 spots, which was still done by snail mail through 2012, favors locals. Then there's the handicapping system, which evens the playing field for competitors by giving head starts based on a set of data (age, gender, so on) compiled and interpreted by a guy known as "Birdman."
Once you're in the race, it's 7.4 beautiful and challenging miles from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach, including 50 stories of stairs right at the beginning, single-track trails, a plank footbridge, switchbacks, lush forest, and ultimately a beach where you can cool off. There are a few shortcuts if you know where to look. [Second Sunday in June; dipsea.org]
Credit: Jim Sugar / Corbis