5 unusual races to add to your running bucket list

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If you’ve run a lot of road races, you may feel that they’re all pretty similar. Whether you’re racing in Tokyo or Boston, South Africa or the U.K., you’ll probably be running a classic distance on a typical course. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to these kinds of runs, but if you’re looking for a new, think-outside-the-box race, here are a few you should check out. 

Défi Escaliers 

The Défi Escaliers is a super cool (and extremely difficult) race in Quebec City that takes runners up and down the historic city’s many staircases and features three distance options—9K, 13K and 19K. If you enter the 9K race, you’ll face 1,250 steps between the start and finish. Despite being only 4 km longer, you run double that stair tally in the 13K, hitting 2,500 steps. Finally, in the 19K race, you’ll run up or down all 40 staircases connecting Quebec City’s Lower Town and Upper Town for a grand total of 2,828 steps. This is not a race for the faint of heart, but it is sure to be a fun time, and you couldn’t ask to run it in a cooler city.  

Red Bull 400 

The Red Bull 400 is a race series with events held around the world. These races are 400m in length, which would be pretty easy if they didn’t go up Olympic ski jumps. Runners who are brave enough to take on this challenge will face a whopping 140 metres of elevation gain in the quarter-mile race.

Your legs and lungs will be screaming at you if you give this run a shot, but once you make it to the finish, you’ll be glad you went for it. OK, it might actually take a few hours before you stop hating yourself for putting your body through such a brutal race, but we promise that eventually, you’ll be proud of your accomplishment. (Until the pandemic, there was a Red Bull 400 event in Whistler, B.C., but it has yet to return since the pandemic cancellation. However, there are other Red Bull 400 events held around the world, e.g., Japan, Bosnia and Austria), so if you ever get the chance to run one, you should consider it. 

CN Tower Climb 

We know, we know–there are way too many races on this list with a focus on running up, but runners love challenging themselves, and running uphill or up stairs will never not be tough. The CN Tower Climb for Nature is yet another brutal challenge that takes place in Toronto every year. Participants in this run will climb 1,776 steps, but unlike the Défi Escaliers, you won’t have flat sections of road between staircases for some mid-run recovery. Not that you need another reason to run the CN Tower Climb, but it’s also a fundraiser for the World Wildlife Fund Canada, and the proceeds will go toward restoring and protecting Canada’s ecosystems. This year’s race goes on April 15 and 16. (Note: there is also a CN Tower Climb sponsored by United Way; this year’s race is Oct. 21 and 22.)

Great Wall Marathon

If you’re looking for an international destination race, the Great Wall Marathon in China is an amazing option. Once again, it involves climbing a lot of steps (more than 5,000), but the views, the atmosphere and the fact that you’re running on the Great Wall of China make it well worth the effort. The race has been around since 1999, and it is extremely popular, so if you’re interested, you should register well in advance. 

Wings for Life World Run

Finally, a race on this list that doesn’t necessarily involve stairs or steep inclines. The Wings for Life World Run is another Red Bull event, and anyone can do it, no matter where in the world you live. There are in-person Wings for Life runs, but the entire event is app-based, so there’s no need to travel to an actual course. What makes it unique is the fact that you run until you either want to stop or you get caught by the “Catcher Car,” a virtual car that starts behind all the runners and slowly catches up to every participating runner. This is another fundraising event, and Red Bull donates all proceeds to spinal cord research. 

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