9 Extreme Fitness Challenges to Try in 2012

These races are anything but run-of-the-mill. Test your athletic skills (and have some fun!) at one of these unique events

December 22, 2011
metro dash
1/10 Courtesy of Metro Dash

Have you had your fill of humdrum 5-Ks? Are you already bored with mud runs? Then you'll want to scope out these nine races, which up the ante with imaginative challenges, spectacular scenery, and extra-tough obstacles. (Search: What are the most challenging races in the world?) Whether you want to put your strength to the test with Navy Seal--type trials, race up a mountain, or outrun zombies, read on to discover plenty of exciting races to add to your 2012 bucket list.

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Run for Your Lives race
2/10 Courtesy of Run for Your Lives
Run for Your Lives

Multiple dates and locations
Next race: March 3, Atlanta, GA
Registration: $77

Participants wear belts festooned with flags, which represent a runner's healthy state at the start of the race. (Video: How Do I Stay Calm on Race Day?) As these brave souls make their way through 12 obstacles in a zombie-infested 5-K course, the undead will make a play for the "health" flags as runners sprint through mud, water, and "blood." The object is to keep your "health" to the end of the race. Finishers either celebrate survival (if they cross the line with at least one flag) or zombie transformation. After the race is an Apocalypse Party featuring music, food, and beer.

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Ragnar Relays
3/10 Courtesy of Ragnar Relays
Ragnar Relays

Multiple dates and locations
Next race: February 24--25, Wickenburg to Tempe, AZ
Registration: $1,200 per team

Grab 11 of your closest running pals for this relay that spans about 200 miles, 24 hours, and some of the country's most scenic landscapes. Each participant runs three legs, which could be anywhere from 3 to 8 miles. Only one teammate runs at a time, so in addition to supplying 12 runners, each team also needs two vans to transport the teammates that aren't running.

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Metro Dash
4/10 Courtesy of Metro Dash
Metro Dash

Multiple dates and locations
Next race: January 14, Orlando FL
Registration: $50

With the tagline "Not just about finishing," this urban adventure race poses a challenge for even the most seasoned gym rats. Athletic types must climb, crawl, lift, and sprint their way through 25 Navy Seal-inspired obstacles set up around a 600-square-meter space. Participants get two chances to complete each obstacle. Should they fail, they'll have to do five burpees as a penalty. If they skip an obstacle they're penalized 20 burpees. Intense, right? You can see if you're up for the race by trying Metro Dash's free training program online.

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Devil Dash
5/10 Courtesy of Devil Dash
Devil Dash

Multiple dates and locations
Next race: May 12, Las Vegas, NV
Registration: $59--$79, depending on when you register

You may feel like you're navigating Dante's circles of hell with this purgatory-themed 5-K race. Before these gluttons for punishment can enter the pearly gates and the Beer Garden of Eden, they'll have to surmount obstacles designed after the seven deadly sins, which may involve scaling the Tower of Greed, descending into the muddy Slippery Slope to Hell, or climbing the ultra-steep Hell's Hill.

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6/10 Thinkstock
Pike’s Peak Ascent

September 16, 2012, Colorado Springs, CO
2012 Registration information will be posted on pikespeakmarathon.org in March

Until last year runners could tackle Pike's Peak--which is closed to pedestrians and cyclists--only during the Pike's Peak Marathon. Now racers can test their mettle in a shorter race. They'll cover 11.6 miles and more than 3,500 vertical feet at an average grade of 5% to 8% as they climb to Glen Cove, which soars to a whopping 11,425 feet elevation.

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Freeze Yer Gizzard
7/10 Courtesy of Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run
Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run

January 21, International Falls, MN
Registration: $35 before December 31, $40 thereafter

Calling all polar bears! If you can withstand subzero temperatures, you'll want to sign up for the annual 5-K or 10-K race held in the notoriously frigid Minnesota destination. Last year racers endured a not-so-balmy -4°F weather (plus wind chill!). Following the race you can participate in other chilly thrills, like snow sculpting, snowshoeing, and frozen turkey bowling.

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Rugged Maniac
8/10 Courtesy of Rugged Maniac
Rugged Maniac

Multiple events and locations
Next race: February 25, Jacksonville, FL
Registration: $68--$78, depending on when you register

Contenders cover 5 kilometers of rugged terrain, which involves a combination of forests, ski slopes, motocross tracks, and fields as they tackle at least 15 obstacles. They'll scale 7-foot-high walls, descend a 60-foot waterslide, leap over fire, and crawl under barbed wire as they make their way to the finish line and after party.

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Adventure Xstream
9/10 Courtesy of Adventure Xstream Series
Adventure Xstream Series

Multiple events and locations
Next race: April 14, Moab UT
Registration: $175

Built for jacks-of-all-trades, this 50-mile course gives adventurers a chance to navigate beautiful destinations in Utah and Colorado via mountain bike, kayak, and on foot. There are also special challenges like orienteering and rappelling involved, and during each leg outdoorsmen tackle a different activity. Less experienced athletes can start with the sprint course, which covers 30 miles. A word on this race's difficulty: About 90% of entries finish this race, which is open to both "aspiring and elite athletes." Participants should know how to kayak and mountain bike.

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Empire State Building Run Up
10/10 Courtesy of the New York Road Runners
Empire State Building Run Up

February 8, New York City, NY
Registration: General registration is closed for 2012, but charity racers can still sign up if they meet a $2,500 fund-raising minimum

Want an affair to remember? Try climbing 86 flights in the iconic New York City tower. Runners ascend 1,576 steps to the skyscraper's observation deck, after which they can enjoy refreshments and the zen of having achieved an empire state of mind. General entry to this race has already sold out, but you can still participate by agreeing to raise at least $2,500 for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation--the event's charity sponsor. Or check at nyrr.org next December to try to participate in 2013.

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