The obstacle race boom has made its way to the U.S., and with it, more events than you could ever enter. Needless to say, not all obstacle races are equal. There are now DIY events run by nobodies with land and some construction know-how, big-time pretenders out to make a buck. The real-deal events have it all: a challenging course, a fun after-party, and participants that make the just-right atmosphere. Here are seven of the best, plus how they stand out. Launch Gallery >>
Distance: 9 miles
Difficulty: Tough. The folks who run this event want to be clear: "It's not a competition," says Tough Mudder's Alex Patterson. Likewise, there's no end rankings nor chips to measure your time. It's all about getting to the finish. Still, the dramatic elevation gains (about 1,250 feet), and the fact that the race keeps you cold, wet, and guessing, make it difficult, even if it isn't competitive. The ski slopes where these races are held are usually chilly, and with ice baths, water slides, and the constant spray of hoses, the cold becomes something you can't ignore. With the exception of the barbed-wire-crawl across a nine-foot vat of ice cubes, there are no truly excruciating obstacles. The log-carry up and down a small hill is difficult, but not treacherous; the greased, rotating monkey bars are tough on the fingers; the dash through a 30-meter long, smoke-filled walkway is only difficult if you inhale the smoke; and the greased half-pipe climb is made easy by the helpful hands of fellow racers.
Vibe: This is a race that is not just for the skinny, crazy-fit runners you see on 8-plus-mile trail runs. It's all-inclusive. And while many entrants skip a cargo net or hale bay climb along the way, most finish – even if some take four to six hours to do so. But at the end, the free beer across the finish line is hard-earned and all the sweeter in the company of the accomplished, tired, dirty, cold and weary.
Cost: $90–$155; toughmudder.com
Credit: Photograph by Gregg Segal