You Don't Have to Do the Same Slog Every Year

What kind of race is right for you?

Change up your races from time to time.     Photo: Eric Benjamin

There's a boom in offbeat races—gravel grinders, obstacle-course runs, cyclocross events—so it's never been easier to experiment with a new sport. Here's how to decide which one's right for you.

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  1. 1

    Sup Racing

    2012 Battle of the Paddle. Dana Pt., Calif. Photo: Robert Zalecki

    What: Paddling around in some of the world’s most scenic locales, like North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

    Why: It’s a day on the water that gets you a workout and a tan. And you don’t even need your own board. Rentals are ubiquitous, and many races offer them on-site.

    The Best: Ta-Hoe Nalu (Kings Beach, California; August; tahoenalu.com); Carolina Cup (April; Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina; wrightsvillebeachpaddleclub.com)

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  2. 2

    Cyclocross Racing

    Riders in a cyclocross race. Photo: Michael Darter

    What: An hour spent circling a one-to-two-mile off-road loop, with frequent dismounts to hop over logs and hay bales.

    Why: It’s Nascar run on a muddy, grassy track, with pit stops to swap out broken or gumbo-caked bikes. Spectators drink, ring cowbells, and heckle participants.

    The Best: Cross Vegas (Las Vegas, Nevada; September; crossvegas.com); Providence Cyclocross Festival (Providence, Rhode Island; October; providencecrossfest.com); Cross Crusade Series (Nationwide; crosscrusade.com)

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  3. 3

    Outdoor Games

    A competitor at a mountain-town festival. Photo: Rick Lohre

    What: A celebration of outdoor sports held at mountain-town festivals.

    Why: There are countless events with varying degrees of difficulty, from dog-friendly mud runs to multi-discipline all-mountain challenges.

    The Best: GoPro Mountain Games (Vail, Colorado; June; mountaingames.com); Dominion Riverrock Festival (Richmond, Virginia; May; dominionriverrock.com)

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  4. 4

    Obstacle Racing

    Participents take part in the Tough Mudder endurance event at Dalkieth Country Estate on August 24, 2013 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo: Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images

    What: Mud pits, fire jumps, barbed-wire crawls—like gym class on steroids.

    Why: They’re as much a party as a race. The keepsakes for completing them—the orange Tough Mudder headband, Warrior Dash’s fuzzy Viking helmets—come with bragging rights.

    The Best: Tough Mudder (toughmudder.com); Spartan Race (spartanrace.com); Warrior Dash (warriordash.com)

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  5. 5

    Gravel Grinder

    Riding gravel roads can be a fun change of pace. Photo: Eric Benjamin

    What: A race on gravel or fire roads, originally birthed by Midwest bikers.

    Why: Miles of backwoods trails on your road bike, with no cars or strip malls in sight and none of the scary downhills prevalent at mountain-bike events.

    The Best: Crusher In The Tushar (Beaver, Utah; July; tusharcrusher.com); Dirty Kanza (Emporia, Kansas; May; dirtykanza200.com)

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