The Runner's Bucket List: 200 Races to Run Before You Die

The Runner's Bucket List: 200 Races to Run Before You Die

by Denise Malan


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Have you ever thought about running a 5K naked or getting the all-time biggest marathon finisher’s medal? How about running five miles while eating a dozen donuts or chugging down a few beers? Or maybe you’d prefer running a half marathon in paradise or a 5K dressed as a gorilla? Whatever your dreams, runner and traveler Denise Malan has written the perfect book for everybody who is searching for America’s greatest—and craziest—running adventures: the races that all enthusiasts should seriously consider running before they die. She gives the inside scoop on 200 truly unique races around the United States, covering distances from one mile to ultramarathon.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781600788383
Publisher: Triumph Books
Publication date: 04/01/2014
Pages: 328
Sales rank: 489,645
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Denise Malan is an avid runner who has worked as a reporter. She wrote a running and fitness column for the Caller-Times that was voted by readers as the newspaper’s favorite column. She lives in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Read an Excerpt

The Runner's Bucket List

By Denise Malan

Triumph Books

Copyright © 2014 Denise Malan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62368-825-7



The roar of the crowd, the thrill of the chase, the triumph of the finish ...

Oh, who are we kidding? Sometimes we're in it just for the swag.

Runners love T-shirts, jackets, hats, medals, and pretty much anything else with a race logo they can show off. And race organizers love swag too; it not only attracts runners to their races but gives the events some good, cheap advertising. It seems every year races up the ante on the best giveaways to make their events stand out.

From the coolest medals to the most unique swag (harmonicas, anyone?), these races get creative so you can feel pampered and earn some souvenirs to be proud of.


You won't be singing the blues over this swag

* * *

Some places are country. Some places are more rock 'n' roll. But Mississippi is the blues.

That's exactly what race director John Noblin thought when he helped start the Mississippi Blues Marathon. Other cities like Nashville were capitalizing on their musical histories with destination marathons, so why not Jackson?

LOCATION: Jackson, Mississippi

DATE: early January

DISTANCE: marathon, half marathon, marathon relay (five runners)



RACE HIGHLIGHTS: unique swag like harmonicas and blues CDs; scenic and historic course through Jackson

The blues was born in the Mississippi Delta's fields and, later, its juke joints, thanks to artists such as Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. The Mississippi Blues Trail celebrates this heritage with more than 150 historical markers throughout the state, including a dozen in Jackson.

A couple of the markers, and some blues venues, are on the marathon route, along with the state's original Capitol, three universities, and several historic neighborhoods.

"We thought, If a person comes to Jackson for only one day, what would you want them to see?" Noblin said. "The route takes in just about every historic point in Jackson."

The Mississippi Blues Marathon was first run in 2008 and from the start has had only one sponsor, BlueCross BlueShield of Mississippi. By 2013, 3,000 racers competed in the full, half, or relay marathon distances, and the race was recognized as one of the best deals for your money.

This race is blues through and through, from the bands playing at the expo to the beneficiary of the money raised — the Mississippi Blues Commission's Musician Benevolent Fund, which helps established blues musicians during times of need.

And, of course, there's the bluesy swag.

Each participant receives a CD of blues songs from Broke and Hungry Records and a commemorative harmonica made by Hohner. The finisher's medal is different each year — in 2013 it was a rocking, glittery guitar with a pick attached.

"I think there's a feeling that a lot of races are getting more and more expensive," Noblin said. "Our race packet value, what folks take away from our race, is a large percentage of what they give to put in it."


Two days. Four races. More than 30 miles. No problem.

* * *

You're going to need an entire medal rack just to show off the bounty you earn at the Michelob Ultra Challenge at the Gasparilla Distance Classic.

Taking on the challenge means competing in all four of this racing festival's distances — the 15K and 5K on Saturday, with a half marathon followed by an 8K on Sunday.

Challenge racers get the T-shirts and other goodies for each distance, plus the four finisher's medals. The ultimate reward, though, is the giant challenge finisher's medal and embroidered finisher's jacket at the end of the fourth race.

LOCATION: Tampa, Florida

DATE: late February

DISTANCE: half marathon, 15K, 8K, 5K

FIELD SIZE: 28,000 (1,100 in the challenge)


RACE HIGHLIGHTS: run multiple races to earn a treasure trove of medals; earn an embroidered finisher's jacket and challenge medal for the full four-race challenge

Put that all together, and you can see why the pirate-themed festival's motto is, "It's all about the booty."

"We try to make sure our runners walk away with something special," said Susan Harmeling, executive director of the Gasparilla Distance Classic Association. "They earned the medal they wear around their neck."

The challenge started somewhat by accident. The association used to host two race weekends in Tampa: a marathon and half marathon in December, and the 15K/5K in February. The weather was proving too hot for the marathon weekend, so organizers combined the racing events into one weekend in cooler February.

There was an immediate uproar from runners who were used to doing both events, Harmeling said.

"We thought, Okay, we'll create an opportunity for you to do all of them," she said. "And they did."

For those not quite ready to do the full Michelob Ultra Challenge, the Gasparilla offers shorter race combinations: the Beck's Light Challenge, which includes the half, 15K, and 5K; and the Select 55 Mini Challenge, which includes the 15K on Saturday and 8K on Sunday. You'll still get extra swag — and extra bragging rights — over the rest of the pack.

The popularity has only grown since the challenges' first running in 2004. About 1,100 of the 28,000 racers in the festival now compete in the Michelob Ultra or one of the shorter challenges.

"There are some crazy runners out there," Harmeling said. "The hardest challenge you can throw at them is the one they want to do."


Make it to the finish swine

* * *

Many races have themes, but the Flying Pig Marathon takes it to the extreme.

The Flying Pig — whose name is a nod to Cincinnati's meatpacking history-has "grunts" for volunteers. The most spirited aid stations compete in a "Ham It Up" contest. Along the course, runners can refuel with "Pig Newtons," and at the end they cross the "Finish Swine."

LOCATION: Cincinnati, Ohio

DATE: early May

DISTANCE: marathon, half marathon, marathon relay (four runners), 10K, 5K

FIELD SIZE: 30,000


RACE HIGHLIGHTS: fun pig theme and medal; beginner-friendly marathon

I could go on; the pig puns are never ending. They are also marketing gold, apparently.

"The brandability of the pig has helped," race executive director Iris Simpson-Bush said. "Just that name has allowed us to grow in leaps and bounds."

The marathon started in 1999 with a few thousand entrants. By 2011, more than 30,000 people competed in all weekend events, including a half marathon, 10K, and 5K.

The race has more than just a catchy name and fun theme on which to build its reputation, however. The Flying Pig is known for its hospitality — and its swag. Runners get tons of freebies at the race expo sponsored by local mega-company Procter & Gamble, and each entrant receives a premium bag, technical shirt, and a poster.

The finisher's medal is among the most coveted in marathoning. As you guessed, I'm sure, it features a pig, a 3D version smiling and flying toward you from the front and flying away on the back, complete with a curly tail.

Simpson-Bush said the Flying Pig has always tried to offer runners something extra since its inception.

"We understood that Cincinnati is not typically a destination city," she said. "We felt to attract out-of-towners we might have to do a little bit more."

That has made the race popular, especially among first-time marathoners who at one time thought they could run 26.2 miles only when pigs fly.


Find yourself at the Center of the Universe

* * *

A little-known fact about Tulsa, Oklahoma: it contains a tiny spot that is the Center of the Universe. And those who don't mind adding an extra .3 miles to a marathon can run right through it and earn an extra medallion to pair with the Route 66 Marathon's award-winning medal.

LOCATION: Tulsa, Oklahoma

DATE: late November

DISTANCE: marathon, half marathon, marathon relay, 5K



RACE HIGHLIGHTS: extra .3-mile detour that earns a medallion; party zone in the "Center of the Universe"

"We call it the world's shortest ultra," race executive director Chris Lieberman said.

The Center of the Universe is a spot on a pedestrian overpass over some railroad tracks in downtown Tulsa where you can hear your voice echo. (No, of course it's not really the center of the universe. It earned its nickname because it's a very particular spot. Even someone standing next to you won't be able to hear your echo.)

The bridge was near the marathon route, so organizers decided to make it an optional detour.

"There are so many races these days to chose from, you have to differentiate yourself," Lieberman said.

Runners have about 16 miles to think about it and can make a game-time decision.

If they take the extra route, they're rewarded with beer, music, and a party atmosphere packed with spectators, plus a medallion to carry with them the rest of the race signifying they finished 26.5 miles. About one-third of racers choose the detour, Lieberman said.

The Center of the Universe medallion isn't the only Route 66 swag you'll be proud of. The regular finisher's medal is an award winner.

In the first few years of the race, the medals were in the shape of the Route 66 road sign. But Lieberman said the organizers wanted something more imaginative, something that really honors the heritage of the historic highway.

"We figured out what's cool about Route 66," he said. "It's the cars and the chrome and the paint."

Now, each year, Lieberman and assistant race director Kim Hann spend hours researching the antique autos that used to travel the route. And each year, they design a new medal honoring one of them. The 2012 medal overlayed chrome and translucent paint in homage to the 1936 Dodge pickup, symbolizing strength and endurance. The year before, the medal was in the shape of the flying lady, the hood ornament of a 1941 Cadillac.

First-time marathoners or those belonging to clubs such as the 50 States Marathon Club or Marathon Maniacs also get special medals with their designations.

"Kim and I spend a lot of time thinking of the medals," Lieberman said. "We just don't stop until we think it's a first-class medal."

That work has paid off: in three years the medal climbed from third to second and finally first place in Marathon & Beyond magazine's annual list of best medals.


A finisher's medal you'll actually want to wear

* * *

Sorry, guys; these races are all about the ladies.

And they're all about the bling — genuine Tiffany & Co. necklaces are the finisher's medals for these girly-girl races in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. (Men are still welcome as participants; the races are just really geared toward women.)

Kacey Faberman, of Charlotte, North Carolina, ran the Nike Women's Marathon in 2012. She didn't sign up necessarily for the necklace, but it ended up being a major bonus (and it didn't hurt that each one was handed out by a cute guy in a tuxedo at the finish line).

"I love having a race medal that I actually wear," Faberman said. "When I've received finisher's medals in the past, I've felt way too silly to wear them — I'm 27, not seven."

The pendant that year was a commemorative dog tag with the Nike swoosh that came in the signature light-blue Tiffany's bag. Faberman put the necklace on after the race, then wore it back to the hotel, to a celebratory dinner, and to the airport the next day. She still wears it sometimes.

LOCATION: San Francisco, California; Washington, D.C.

DATE: mid-October (San Francisco); late April (Washington)

DISTANCE: marathon, half marathon (San Francisco); half marathon (Washington)

FIELD SIZE: 30,000 (San Francisco), 15,000 (Washington)


RACE HIGHLIGHTS: Tiffany & Co. finisher's necklaces for both the half and full marathon; cute guys to hand them out

"The fun thing about wearing the necklace, and seeing others wear it as well, is that you can't help but ask one another about their experience of running this women power event," Faberman said. "And like most runners, I can talk ad nauseam about the races I've run, so I never hesitate to share my San Francisco experience when asked about the necklace."

The Nike Women's Marathon began in San Francisco in 2004 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the first women's Olympic marathon, which American Joan Benoit Samuelson won in Los Angeles. Since that year the Nike Women's Marathon has raised more than $134 million for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

The pendant on the finisher's necklace has been different for each race. Some are a simple circle or rectangle, and others are more elaborate. The 2005 pendant was a silhouette of a woman in full stride.

The San Francisco marathon and half marathon are so popular that in 2013 Nike started a half marathon in Washington, D.C., also with a specially designed necklace from Tiffany's.

There could be some drawbacks to these races — the marathon gets low marks on some race review sites for being disorganized, pricey, and overly commercialized (you must be a Nike+ member to register). But the San Francisco course is gorgeous, and if you're in it for the swag, you can hardly beat a "medal" you'll actually want to wear.


One of the classiest races around

* * *

Some runners come for the fast course which winds through several small upstate New York towns. Some come for the beautiful fall foliage or the small-race feel.

LOCATION: Bath to Corning, New York

DATE: late September or early October

DISTANCE: marathon, half marathon, 5K



RACE HIGHLIGHTS: wine glass, champagne, and glass finisher's medal for racers; gorgeous fall foliage and flat course are bonuses But many come for the champagne and the stemware.

In the home of the famous Corning Inc. glassmaker, the Wineglass Marathon keeps it classy with some of the best swag around (and don't forget to visit the Corning Museum of Glass while you're in town).

The Wineglass swag bags that include champagne and a wineglass, plus unique handmade glass medal for finishers, have earned the Wineglass praise in top running publications. Even with the great swag, the registration price has remained reasonable.

Add that it's one of the highest-ranked races in the country for percentage of its field qualifying for the Boston Marathon, and it's easy to see why the Wineglass has grown rapidly in the last decade.

It took 25 years for race registration to double (from 250 runners at the first Wineglass in 1982 to 500 runners in 2007). By 2010 the race sold out for the first time at 1,800 participants. The next year, the field capped at 3,000 sold out three months before the race. A half marathon also was added in 2011, followed by a 5K the next year.

So register early if you want to get your hands on some of the best race packets in the country, and get ready for a scenic, fast course followed with a little bubbly at the end.


The best beach-themed medal

* * *

For nearly the entire Fort Lauderdale A1A Marathon or Half Marathon course, the Atlantic Ocean is either on your right or your left as you cruise the famous A1A Coastal Byway, and the race finishes on the beach.

LOCATION: Fort Lauderdale, Florida

DATE: President's Day weekend in February

DISTANCE: marathon, half marathon, 5K



RACE HIGHLIGHTS: cruise the famous A1A highway; earn one of the most creative medals in racing

It's only natural that the finisher's medal continues the theme.

Race organizers come up with a new medal for each running, a task that becomes harder and harder each year, said Matt Lorraine, who owns race parent company Exclusive Sports Marketing. Organizers start working on the next year's medal practically as soon as the race is over.

Previous medals have included sea turtles, sandals, and clamshells, which won the Marathon & Beyond medal contest in 2010 with a truly unique feature — the clamshell was hinged and opened to reveal the engraved medal.

In 2012, the race put two medal finalists to a vote of the runners — sandals vs. seahorses. The sandals won, and though they didn't have a locket, they were larger than most medals at about six and a half inches for the marathon and four inches for the half. The seahorses were a close enough second in the voting that they became the 2013 medal, which featured two seahorses, back to back, with a hinged locket in the middle.


Excerpted from The Runner's Bucket List by Denise Malan. Copyright © 2014 Denise Malan. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction v

1 Bag the Best Swag viii

2 Push Your Limits 14

3 Be Part of a Big-City Race 34

4 Enjoy the Scenery 48

5 Run Naked (Or Close to It) 62

6 Connect with Nature 72

7 Stay Indoors 90

8 Stuff Your Face 100

9 Chug-a-Lug 114

10 Tour Wine Country 122

11 Feel the Sand Beneath Your Toes 132

12 Brave the Elements 140

13 Party Hardy 156

14 Dress Up 170

15 Honor Our Country's Heroes 182

16 Set a PR 194

17 Indulge Your Inner Sports Nut 206

18 Study Your History 216

19 Stay Up Late 228

20 Is a Bridge Too Far? 242

21 Finish an International Destination Race 254

22 Seek Adventure 264

23 Get Some Friends Together 284

24 Run Wild 300

25 Have a Laugh 312

Acknowledgments 325

Index 326

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