Upgrade Your Fitness Bucket List

Push your limits by conquering these 12 life-changing physical challenges

January 25, 2013
woman running at night
1/12 Getty Images
If you’ve run a marathon PR…

Do a 12- or 24-hour race
Finishing your first marathon may inspire you to run another one--even faster. But after a few personal bests, you may wonder what's next. Instead of striving for speed, push your endurance with a 12- or 24-hour race. Competitors typically run the same loop (usually about a mile long) as many times as possible in the designated time span, either solo or as part of a group. (Related: How fit are you? Try these DIY Tests to Help You Find Out.)

Try it: Gemini Adventures hosts races in Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado as part of its 24 Hour Challenge Series. Baby-step your way toward the daylong event with either the 6- or 12-hour contest, or compete as part of a team. Other options include the Labor Pain 12-Hour Endurance Trail Run in Reading PA, the Mind the Ducks 12-Hour Run in Rochester, NY, and the Brazen Running Dirty Dozen in Pinole, CA.

Learn how to transform your body forever with the NEW Spartacus Workout!

summit races - mt. evans ascent
2/12 Courtesy of the Mt. Evans Ascent
If you’ve completed a stair run…

Do a summit race
Once you've scaled a skyscraper in a race like the Empire State Building Run Up, there's nowhere to go but up--literally! Peak races invite competitors to cover double-digit miles, while also gaining thousands of vertical feet.

Try it: During the Pikes Peak Ascent in Colorado, runners cover 13.32 miles and climb 7,815 vertical feet. Real gluttons for punishment may sign up for the full marathon, which requires turning around and running back down the mountain. The Mount Washington Road Race in New Hampshire, the Blue Ridge Mountain Club Ascent in North Carolina, and the Mount Evans Ascent in Colorado are also good bets.

Boost your strength with the FREE Power of 12 Workout

fitness: mountain hiking 14er fourteener picture
3/12 Thinkstock
If you’ve hiked your local peak…

Scale a fourteener
Take your hiking prowess to the next level--more than 14,000 feet above sea level to be exact--by bagging one of our country's highest peaks. Known as "fourteeners," these summits reside mostly in Colorado, although the exact number is debated. Many mountaineers believe that a peak must exceed 14,000 feet above sea level and be at least 300 feet higher than any connecting ridge or saddle. (Search: 14ers in the US) By this precedent, Colorado has 53, California has 12 and Washington has two. Alaska has more stringent standards (at least 500 feet of prominence), yet still boasts at least 20 fourteeners, including the highest peak in the United States: Mount McKinley at 20,320 feet.

Try it: To get started, tackle a class 1 fourteener (the easiest). The American Alpine Institute can help you find climbing courses, skills expeditions, and guided tours.

Hike the Trails of Italy's Cinque Terra

fitness: gran fondo bike race ride cycling picture
4/12 Chris Bersbach
If you’ve completed a century…

Do a gran fondo
For cyclists who can pedal 100 miles, but aren't quite ready to tackle a USA Cycling-sanctioned race, a gran fondo is an excellent next step. Popular in Europe for decades, a gran fondo--which translates to "big ride" in Italian--is just that: a long-distance cycling event. Although it's not technically a race, some fondos use timing chips to identify and reward the fastest climbers and top overall finishers, giving you a reason to push yourself. Bypass the many food-filled rest stops and you could be on your way to securing a spot in a season-long gran fondo series. Not too shabby for a non-racer.

Big Rides, Big Fun

Try it: These days you can find a gran fondo in nearly every major American city. The Echelon Gran Fondo Series brings bikers to beautiful Sonoma County, with rides in Hood River, Oregon and Silicon Valley on tap. Check out the Gran Fondo New York to compete against other cyclists on timed climbs. And for spectacular scenery and the chance to ride alongside pros, you can't beat Levi's Gran Fondo in Santa Rosa, CA, which offers three distance options (see how we fared on the full 103-mile route) and takes you from city to farm to coast and back again.

Video: Pre-Ride Safety Check

obstacle race - civilian military combine
5/12 Courtesy of Civilian Military Combine
If you’ve finished a 5-K or 10-K…

Do an obstacle race
You could graduate to a 10-miler or a half marathon, but an adventure race will test your endurance and strength. You may run only 4 or 5 miles, but along the way you'll have to scale walls, trudge through mud and water, and crawl under barriers.

Try it: The Civilian Military Combine (held in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York) begins with the PIT, where competitors have seven minutes to complete as many rounds as possible of seven push presses, seven kettlebell swings, and seven box jumps. Racers then embark on the 5- to 7-mile obstacle course that may require hurdling barricades, climbing ropes, or even swimming. Several other race series offer a similar military-inspired experience, including the Spartan Race, Rugged Maniac, and Rebel Race.

The 7 Tests of True Strength

runner's world half marathon
6/12 Ryan Hulvat
If you’ve finished a half marathon…

Do a multi-day challenge
Put your stamina to the test by racing on back-to-back days, which means you could end up logging up to 39 miles over one weekend.

Try it: At the annual Runner's World Half & Festival in Bethlehem, PA, you can sign up for the Hat Trick--a 5-K and a 10-K on Saturday, followed by a half-marathon on Sunday. In Orlando, FL, the Goofy's Race and a Half Challenge--part of the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend--dares runners to complete a half marathon on Saturday and a full the following day. Or try a Ragnar Relay--a 200-mile team race, where each participant completes three legs of 3 to 8 miles in a 36-hour period in one of 14 cities nationwide.

The 12 Hardest Races in the World

fitness: adventure race picture
7/12 Courtesy of Checkpoint Tracker
If you’ve finished an Ironman triathlon…

Do an adventure race
Like a triathlon, these races test your mettle by stringing together a series of endurance challenges such as running, biking, paddling, climbing, and rappelling. Although solo races are available, most require you to enter as part of a team. That's because race duration can range from two hours and 10 miles (for a sprint) to more than 300 miles and 10 days (for an expedition). Although the format of the races may also vary, most require you to find a series of checkpoints, possibly before a time cut off. Besides physical strength, expedition racing also requires keen organization, teamwork, and navigational skills--in other words, brains and brawn!

Try it: Checkpoint Tracker Adventure Racing, the largest series in North America, helps you ease into the sport with a variety of distances and team-size options. Work your way up to a long-distance event, earning points along--your best five finishes help determine your (or your team's) ranking. You can also visit The United States Adventure Racing Association's website (usara.com) find races near you.

7 Natural Endurance Boosters

fitness: snowcat skiing picture
8/12 Getty Images
If you’ve skied a double black diamond …

Switch to snowcat skiing
Mastering the hardest runs at a resort is one thing, but becoming a good backcountry skier requires a different skill set. Take your next trip up a notch by booking a snowcat session. Snowcat skiing trips take attendees and a guide to an off-trail spot for the unique experience of flying down untracked snow. It's similar to heliskiing, except instead of traveling via helicopter, skiers ascend the mountain on a snowcat--a type of ski hill grooming machine--which lowers the cost. Although the terrain is carefully selected, there's still risk involved (hello, avalanches!), so be sure to pick an experienced and knowledgeable guide. With someone else worrying about logistics, you'll be free to concentrate on successfully descending the long, powdery, wild landscape.

Winter Fitness Tips for Outdoor Exercisers

Try it: No ski bum will be surprised to hear that most snowcat sessions take place out west. San Juan Ski Company in Durango, CO is one of the largest outfitters, boasting 35,000-plus acres of snowcat skiing-friendly real estate. According to Skiing Magazine, in 2009, "Vermont's Sugarbush Resort bought a snowcat cab from Colorado's Ski Cooper, gave it a fresh coat of red paint, bolted it to one of its groomers, and became the first of Vermont's resorts to offer cat-skiing."  The 12-passenger cabin is still taking skiers off the beaten path as part of Sugarbush's expanded Cabin Cat Adventures program.

The Ultimate Ski and Snowboard Tune-Up Workout

women practicing yoga - 30 day yoga challenge
9/12 Thinkstock
If you’ve mastered crow pose…

Do a 30-day yoga challenge
The gist is simple: practice yoga 30 times in 30 consecutive days. This mostly self-imposed challenge has grown in popularity through social media, as yogis have taken to Twitter, Tumblr, and personal blogs to share their experiences. (Search: 30-Day Yoga Challenge) Aside from the potential gains in strength and flexibility, you may come away from this venture with a renewed sense of mindfulness and commitment.

Try it: Bikram NYC has an ongoing 30-day challenge. Upon completing the feat, yogis receive a T-shirt, a week of yoga classes, two guest passes, recognition on the studio website, and other discounts and perks. Not in New York? Test yourself at home or in the studio of your choice.

10 Challenging Yoga Poses to Master This Year

marathon swim
10/12 Thinkstock
If you’ve done an open-water swim…

Do a marathon swim
We've got to hand it to you: Swimming for one, two, or four miles straight is nothing to sneeze at. Now, think about conquering a longer distance--10, 12, or 20-plus miles.

Try it: The Manhattan Island Marathon Swim takes competitors around the perimeter of the Big Apple--all 28.5 miles. The race has been held annually since 1927. For a more intermediate distance, try the Swim Around Key West in Florida (12.5 miles) or Distance Swim Challenge in Southern California (12.6 miles).

fitness: off road xterra triathlon
11/12 Courtesy of XTERRA
If you’ve done a triathlon…

Take your next one off-road
You don't have to commit to an Ironman to make your next triathlon more challenging--just trek into the woods. With off-road races, the disciplines are the same with a slight twist. Instead of road biking, you mountain bike, and instead of road running, you trail run. As a result, the last two legs are more technical, forcing you to navigate roots, rocks, mud, and variable visibility--all of which requires better focus, balance, and bike handling than the road.

Try it: XTERRA runs the most extensive and well-known series of off-road triathlon events. Distances vary, but if you're nervous about how your road skills will translate to the trail, start small. A short distance off-road tri typically consists of a half-mile swim, 8- to 12-mile mountain bike ride, and 3-mile trail run. To find a race near you, visit xterraplanet.com or usatriathlon.org for non-XTERRA events.

Life Lessons from a World Class Triathlete

fitness: cyclocross bike race picture
12/12 Getty Images
If you’ve raced a road bike…

Tackle cyclocross
Whether your goal is to push your boundaries on a bike or just have more fun, cyclocross--a mix of road and mountain biking--can accomplish both. These races are typically held in the fall and winter, which makes for interesting riding conditions, especially since they usually consist of multiple laps of a short course (1-2 miles) riddled with obstacles such as dirt, sand, steps, and wooden barriers. The pace can be feverish--similar to a criterium--and because you ride on what is essentially a rode bike with slightly knobbier tires, cyclocross races also demand sound bike-handling skills. Best of all, when you're done with your race you can join the rowdy crowd for Belgian-style waffles, beer, and some good-natured heckling.

Try it: If you already have a road bike license through USA Cycling, you're also approved for entry to sanctioned cross races. You can find one near you at bikereg.com. The US Gran Prix of Cyclorcoss, a four-weekend, eight-race series for pros and amateurs alike, guarantees big, noisy crowds and big fun.

Break Through Your Cycling Barriers