Alcohol, food, costumes and ... wife carrying? Around the world, people have imbued weirdness and fun into the very serious sporting events that are marathons and races. Follow us in exploring the silliest ones out there.
Long distance running is an athletic feat that many associate with months of hard training, muscle strains and unbelievable breath control work. Running a marathon is no joke — except when it is.
Around the world, lovers of athleticism have found ways to turn the sport of racing into a fun, and often outright weird, event. Sometimes it's about costumes, other times its about putting a twist on cultural traditions, and a lot of the time it's about alcohol.
Runners dressed up in carnival costumes during the Cape Wine Marathon
Cape Wine Marathon/Facebook
Running and drinking in South Africa
The Cape Wine Marathon is an annual event which celebrates the rich wine culture and picturesque landscapes of South Africa's Cape Winelands. Participants run through vineyard-covered hills and historic towns, surrounded by a mountainous backdrop. The trail includes 12 historic vineyards which provide runners with wine tastings (and lots of water) as they pass by, along with gourmet food. Runners can choose between the half-marathon, or 5- and 10-kilometer participation options.
Runners and spectators are also encouraged to dress up, with a theme being selected for each year — in 2022, the theme was "carnival." Prizes are awarded to the top finishers and for the best costumes — so you know you need to dress to impress.
You don't even need to run to taste the wine: Spectators can hang out at the starting village and celebrate a day of live music and culinary festivities.
Runners dressed up in T-rex costumes race one another
2023 T-rex World Championship/Emeralddowns
America's Dino Dash
For this delightful event, participants get together and don dinosaur outfits, most often inflatable T-Rex suits, before racing. The racing began in 2017 as a pest control company's team building activity, but it gained significant attention when videos of T-Rex runners participating in various events and viral challenges started appearing on social media. These videos quickly went viral and inspired similar events in other countries, including Japan.
This year's edition was held at Emerald Down's, with more than 200 people joining the championship. Whilst the boozier races on this list have obvious age restrictions, this one is free for all people to join. Just this year, two four-year-old mini dinos participated in the event, and had a great time coming in last. Still, they stole the show.
Three men race with their wives hanging off their shoulders.
India and Finland bring the wives along
Bhaaryaasametham running is a unique tradition originating from the Indian state of Kerala. The term Bhaaryaasametham translates to "with the spouse" in Malayalam, the language of Kerala. In this endearing practice, married couples participate in running events together, symbolizing their commitment to journeying through life side-by-side. But the real race does not happen side-by-side. Instead, husbands carry their wives on their shoulders as they sprint to the finish line. The more competitive races even have official rules, which include that the wife must weigh at least 50kg.
This strange race is a lot more common internationally than one would expect, but it is especially celebrated in Finland, where the practice is tied to a very questionable history. Many believe that wife-carrying originated from the stories of Ronkainen the Robber, whose gang would abduct women to forcibly marry, running away with them on their shoulders. Dark history aside, the event today has a much lighter tone, including alcohol, costumes and entertainment. The winner's prize usually includes the wife's weight in beer.
Participants of the man v.s. horse race
Man versus horse/Facebook
The U.K., where men race horses
Have you ever felt that, if you really tried, you could outrun a horse? The annual marathon held in Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales, is dedicated to answering exactly this question. Participants, both human and equestrian, race over a gruelling 35.4-kilometre course that covers rugged terrain, including hills, streams and forests.
Allegedly, the event started in 1980 when Gordon Green, a local landlord, overheard two men arguing at the Neuadd Arms Pub. One of the men insisted that, over a significant distance, man and horse have equal capacities. Green decided to make this into a challenge which was organised into a public event, and has since recurred every June.
The first time a man won instead of a horse was in 2004, when Huw Lobb took home the prize of £25,000 ($30,667). Since then, the marathon has only been won by a human once more, by Florian Holzinger in 2009.
A group dresses up as mutant ninja turtles for the sedan race
Sedan Chair Race/Hactl
Tradition and charity at China's sedan chair race
Originating from the ancient Chinese practice of using sedan chairs to carry dignitaries, this race has developed the custom into an exciting and competitive sport. The race is held annually in Hong Kong, originating from the early 1970s when David Newbery sought to create an event that combined charity fundraising, athletic competition, and Hong Kong's past. The inspiration for the race came from the historical use of sedan chairs in the city during the colonial era when they were a common mode of transportation for the wealthy.
Since 1975, participants are asked to rent out their own sedan chairs and, usually in groups of eight, run with one passenger seated upon it. The teams will usually coordinate their costumes, making it a silly spectacle for all to enjoy. Distance can vary every year, but the race always begins in Hong Kong Island's iconic area known as The Peak. All proceeds of the race go to charity.
The Puffing Billy overcomes runners
Puffing Billy Running Festival/Facebook
Australians pick up steam
The Welsh may have put humans and nature to the test, but in Australia, runners face off against a more advanced foe: trains. The Puffing Billy Running Festival takes place annually in Victoria, more specifically through the picturesque mountains of the Dandenong Ranges. The marathon began as an affectionate gesture towards the Puffing Billy steam locomotive – "Australia's favourite steam train!"
It was originally built in the 1900s to aid residents of the mountain range, and would carry anything from people to livestock to timber. Today, the train looks just as it did back then, still running off steam, and has become a popular tourist attraction for the area.
This year, 3,000 participants ran a distance of 13.5 km (8.3 miles) against the great foe that is a trains running above ground. The speed of the train can vary based on weather conditions, but the average time it takes for Puffing Billy to arrive to its destination is 52 minutes. The current race record was set in 2018 by Nick Earl, who beat the course in 42 minutes and 56 seconds.
Two runners take a break during the Marathon des Châteaux du Médoc
Marathon du Médoc/Facebook
Only the best food and wine in France
The Marathon des Châteaux du Médoc celebrated its 37th edition in 2023, continuing its legacy as the world's most renowned gastronomic race. The 42.195-kilometre trail winds through the Médoc region of Bordeaux, France, featuring spectacular vineyards and châteaux. Along the trail, runners are supplied with not only wine of the highest quality, but other French delicacies too: oysters, foie gras, cheese and more.
Participants are also encouraged to wear costumes, with themes such as cinema, food or superheroes guiding the runners and spectators alike. Following Bacchanal rules, music is a key part of the celebration, so folk bands and players are stationed throughout the whole trail.
But it's not all about running for this marathon — it's more about enjoying good food and good company.