In 2012, tough mud-seeking Spartans outran zombie Energizer bunnies wielding colour bombs.
If that makes any sense to you, you'll understand why this was the year of playful theme races and punishing obstacle courses.
Events like the Tough Mudder, the Spartan Race and Colour Me Rad hit record participation in 2012, gained worldwide word-of-mouth status beyond their cult beginnings and have scheduled even more dates and locations for 2013.
Novelty race or ultimate challenge, in their own way these very different events are extreme.
The Death Race promises to "break the weak of body and mind" at the website youmaydie.com.
The zombie chase (officially Run For Your Lives) answers the frequently asked question, "Will the zombies be grabbing, tripping or biting participants? Are they the walking dead or the running dead?"
The novelty race appeals to the competition-averse who would just as soon play kick the can with friends, ignoring their placement or time result when a 5K is suddenly playtime.
For Colour Me Rad (actually Color, but we're in Canada), participants wearing a bleached-white kit are bombarded with blue, green, pink, purple and yellow powder (actually corn starch) and "come out silk-screened like a tie-dyed hippy."
The Energizer night race starts at twilight and runners wearing headlamps trot through the dark over five or 10 kilometres. (This was the first-ever organized road race I signed up for. The inventiveness appealed to me and seven months later I ran a half-marathon.)
At the other end of the abuse scale are the punishing, military-style challenges like Tough Mudder, the Spartan Race and the Warrior Dash.
To test racers, these events set out dozens of obstacles that include 15feet walls, ice-water plunges, electric shocks, barbed wire and unexpected surprises such as "Hell on Earth," as promised at a Spartan Race. "There will be obstacles to catch you off guard. Get over it. We're here to rip you from your comfort zone."
After launching in the U.S. in 2009, the Tough Mudder expanded to Canada this summer and confronted more than 15,000 racers with 23 obstacles over a 21-km course in Whistler.
So committed to training hard and playing dirty, Tough Mudders distinguish themselves in the same way Olympians mark themselves as elite athletes with a tattoo of the rings - they get the race logo inked on their bodies. (To say they play dirty is completely literal. This is not a race that rewards first, second or third but sets out challenges and recognizes completion.)
"Tough Mudder is the ultimate alternative to straight-forward marathons and triathlons," said the co-founder and CEO Will Dean. "Our events put you to the test physically and mentally, but they also challenge you to work together with your teammates and other participants."
Here's betting 2013 will be even dirtier than 2012. These events hit our neck of the woods next year:
.Spartan Race: May 11 in North Vancouver
.Tough Mudder: June 22 and 23 in Whistler
. Warrior Dash: July 20 at Bonney Lake, WA
.Run For Your Lives: Aug. 24, near Olympia, WA
.Color Me Rad: Aug. 17 at UBC .Energizer Night Race: date TBA, Stanley Park
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