All over the country, there are races that will test your mettle, sending you running up rocky cliffs and through scorching heat as you struggle for the finish line.
Fortunately, there are also downright leisurely ones featuring luxuries like music and beer. So whether you’re new to running or a veteran road warrior, there’s a race for you.
Now, if you fall into the former set and are up for a challenge, here are the hardest races in the country across all of the major distances — 5K, 10K, half-marathon and marathon. And if you fall into the latter camp, we’ve got a much, much saner alternative for each.
THE TOUGHEST 5K
July 4, 2018
The name refers to the actual mountain you’re running up and down, rather than the distance. But this Alaska 5K is no joke. Dating back to 1915, it’s been part of the Independence Day celebrations in the town of Seward ever since. The course is a brutal 3,000-foot scramble up the steep, rocky mountain, with the fastest runners struggling to finish in less than an hour.
THE SANE 5K ALTERNATIVE
Spenard Roadhouse 5K
August 19, 2018
For an Alaska race that’s decidedly not a test of endurance, fortitude and calf strength, there’s this friendly 5K. It begins in downtown Anchorage. From there, you’ll run along the water to enjoy a nice coastal breeze before heading toward the finish line, where snacks and a beer garden await.
THE TOUGHEST 10K
Toughest 10K in the USA
Newbury Park, California
December 2, 2018
The extra literal name should let you know what you’re in for — this is no “fun run.” The course winds through the hills of Newbury Park, California, and features 3,500 feet of elevation gain with some grades as steep as 40%. The technical trail run challenges your legs and your lungs, but it also offers plenty of gorgeous hilltop views along the way.
THE SANE 10K ALTERNATIVE
Avenue of the Giants
Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California
May 6, 2018
This annual race begins with a pasta dinner — always a great start — so fuel up on carbs, and then run the following morning. The course sticks to smooth, paved roads cut through old-growth Redwood forests where trees can reach 300-feet tall. With all the natural scenery above and around you, it won’t be easy to keep your eyes on the pavement in front of you. But that’s definitely the key to running without falling.
THE TOUGHEST HALF-MARATHON
Hotter ‘n Hell
Wichita Falls, Texas
August 26, 2018
Why would you run a half-marathon in the middle of a Texas summer when the temperatures hover around 95 degrees? Great question. If you can provide an answer, consider signing up for this toasty run through rural Wichita Falls. In the event you want an even greater challenge, there’s a 100-mile bike race the day before, which would make for one hell of a warmup.
THE SANE HALF-MARATHON ALTERNATIVE
Rock n’ Roll Half-Marathon
March 25, 2018
This temperate, springtime option winds through some of Dallas’s most vibrant neighborhoods, including Deep Ellum and the Bishop Arts District. And, as the name implies, there’s music — at the finish line, sure, but also along the route. So, when you get tired, local bands will be there to rock you back to health.
THE TOUGHEST MARATHON
Pikes Peak Marathon
Colorado Springs, Colorado
August 19, 2018
Starting at 6,300 feet above sea level, you’ll be sucking for air early on in this tough uphill race. The ascent takes you up to the summit at 14,115 feet and along rocky, often narrow trails before you start making your way down. So watch your step, and don’t plan on setting any personal records on this race day.
THE SANE MARATHON ALTERNATIVE
Fort Collins, Colorado
May 6, 2018
There’s no such thing as an easy marathon, but there are fast ones. This is one of those. The scenic route takes you along a mostly flat and downhill stretch that actually descends in elevation through the foothills of the Rockies, ending in the city of Fort Collins. So as far as marathons go, this one’s quite reasonable.