The 10 Best Costume Races in the U.S.
Bay to Breakers
San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers started in May 1912 as a serious footrace, but evolved into a roving street party with music lining the course and 110,000 revelers at its largest. The 12K race, which still takes place in May, starts near the Embarcadero on San Francisco Bay and finishes on the Pacific Coast beside the breaking waves of Ocean Beach.
The event still features elite competitors, but it has become famous for its endless parade of costumed and nude runners, many of whom are unregistered. Then there are the “Centipedes”—groups of 13 or more physically linked costumed racers—and “Salmon”—runners who start at the finish line and run “upstream” handing out high-fives while dressed as the inspirational fish. The first costumed runner showed up in 1940 decked out as Captain Kidd. He finished last—but the rest is history. Registration opens on Halloween, naturally.
Monster Dash Half Marathon, 10 Mile, 10K and 5K
The Monster Dash Half Marathon, 10 Mile, 10K and 5K series in Chicago, St. Paul, and Fort Worth puts on some the biggest Halloween races with the best swag around. Runners earn a stained-glass medal, full-zip race jacket or hoodie, and 5K racers can even trick-or-treat at water stops. Runners get in the spirit with a wide array of get-ups to compete for best costume honors among adults, children, couples and groups. The Chicago race travels the Lakefront Trail on Lake Michigan, Forth Worth runners follow the Trinity River Trail, while the Minnesota tree-lined course is all downhill for the nearly 9,000 runners tackling the half-marathon and 10-mile races. Entertainment spurs runners on and post-race parties promise free beer for runners 21 and older.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon and 5K
The Halloween-themed Rock ‘n’ Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon and 5K benefitting the ASPCA bills itself as the largest 13.1-mile costume party in L.A. With the majority of the 10,000 participants decked out in disguise, they’re not kidding. Runners at the October race flash through a fast course that starts at the Staples Center and finishes at L.A. Live, with Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series’ signature entertainment lining the way, including 14 stages featuring live bands. A costume contest takes the main stage after the post-race concert, headlined by Little Hurricane in 2014, with prizes for Best Overall Costume, Best Rock Star, Best Superhero, Scariest and Most Original. As a fundraiser for the ASPCA, the event also includes a 1-mile costumed dog walk. Yep, pooches get decked out too.
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Cupid’s Undie Run
Runners in 38 cities around the U.S. and Australia undress for a good cause at Cupid’s Undie Run, a February mile-long race for adults 21 and older. Since its start in 2012, the fun run has raised $5 million for the Children’s Tumor Foundation raising awareness and funds for neurofibromatosis, a rare genetic disorder that causes nerve tissue tumors. They’re aiming to drum up another $5 million in 2015 alone. Pre-game and post-run parties at bars in each town bookend the brief run, where skivvied runners bare (nearly) all. But that doesn’t stop them from dressing up in their bedroom best. Red, pink, ruffles, tutus, hearts, and “I’m With Cupid” lingerie dominate the scene. Fundraisers earn prizes like custom underwear, embroidered bathrobes, Patagonia jackets, engraved flasks, and a VIP open-bar at the after-party. Freezing your butt off never sounded so good.
Chiditarod is one of about 20 winter shopping cart races around North America that lovingly parody the Alaskan dog sled Iditarod with wacky wardrobes and general chaos. The trend started in San Francisco in 1994, spreading to Vancouver, New York City and points beyond. But the March Chicago race bills itself as “Probably the World’s Largest Mobile Food Drive.” In 2014, nearly 1,200 decked out racers braved snow and 17 degree temps to raise 21,000 pounds of food and $40,000 to fight hunger. Teams of five—four pullers and one musher—race a bedazzled shopping cart through a 4 to 5-mile course while costumed as an ensemble. Teams donate at least 60 pounds of food, stop at mandatory bar checkpoints, commit sanctioned sabotage, bribe race officials, and compete for awards including fastest (this is a race, after all), most epic fundraiser, most food donated, best in show, best costumes, best bribe, and a variety of ad hoc awards like worst fashion. The event celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2015.
Disney race series is a costumed runner’s dream come true. Love comics? Caped crusaders are de rigueur at the inaugural Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon Weekend in November. Is Star Wars more your style? Get your Wookiee on at the new Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend in January. Or run through Cinderella Castle while dressed as Cinderella at the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend in February.
Races— including distances from 5K to marathon and kids’ events too—are themed to princesses, villains, fairies, movies, rides, and even wine, and travel through Disney’s theme parks with bands, DJs, Disney characters, and other entertainment to spur on racers. You’ll also see some of the 163,900 runners who tackle Disney races each year dressed as Pixar personalities, Muppets, and more from the ever-growing world of Mickey Mouse.
Las Vegas Great Santa Run
The Las Vegas Great Santa Run is the largest of its kind and reigning World Santa Challenge champion with more than 11,200 runners donning old St. Nick’s red garb for the 5K event. Registration includes a goodie bag and five-piece Santa suit to wear on race day. The event celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2014 with a new canine division, which includes a “doggie bag” for Santa’s best friend. A pre-race party with live entertainment kicks off the 5K followed by a 1-mile Kris Kringle Jingle walk. The race benefits Opportunity Village, a charity that provides programming and services for 3,000 people with intellectual disabilities in Nevada. Their goal for 2014? 15,000 Santas. That’s a lot of ho-ho-ho.
Denver Gorilla Run
The Denver Gorilla Run at City Park in partnership with the Denver Zoo owns the Guinness World Record for “Largest Gathering of People Dressed As Gorillas” with 1,161 runners donning ape suits in 2013. Registration for the November 2014 5K includes a gorilla costume, lunch at the Silverback After Party with free Silverback Pale Ale, and entry into the Denver Zoo, the finish line for the race. Gussying up your gorilla suit is encouraged. Runners enter as individuals or teams with a designated “Silverback” leader and compete for awards like Largest Team, Most Creative Gorilla, Fastest Gorilla, Oldest Gorilla and more. New in 2014 is the Little Gorilla Obstacle Challenge for kids 12 and under. Yep, they wear monkey suits too. The Denver race and other Gorilla Events in Austin, Cincinnati and Edmonton, Canada raise money for the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund dedicated to the endangered 880 mountain gorillas in Africa.
Awesome ‘80s Run
Flash back to the “Me Decade” with the Awesome ‘80s Run 5K series in Pasadena, San Diego, and San Francisco, California. Runners get totally tubular with their costumes—think Pac Man, Rubik’s Cube, Pee-wee Herman, leg warmers, mall hair, and neon galore. Runners compete for gnarly awards including Best Individual Costume, Raddest Team Costume, Most Tubular Team Name, and Massive to the Max, which is, like, the largest team. Dance crews lead Michael Jackson and Richard Simmons inspired warm-ups before runners race 5K around a local city park. Then it’s Back to the Future to snap a selfie with a DeLorean and other ‘80s-themed props at the after-party, while an ‘80s cover band rocks out—natch.
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Legacy Health Starlight Run
The Legacy Health Starlight Run in Portland, Oregon is part of the city’s Rose Festival, celebrating a different theme every year in May. Past motifs have included “Making Memories,” “Portland’s Party,” and “Rock ‘n’ Roses.” The Starlight 5K’s 7,500 runners dress the part for a costume contest at the pre-party, which includes live music, giveaways, games and more. Runners compete in youth, adult, group and individual categories for prizes like Alaska Airlines flights, concert tickets and more. Then they take to the streets following the Portland General Electric/SOLVE Starlight Parade route with more than 250,000 spectators cheering them on before the night’s main event: the illuminated floats of the Starlight processional. It’s a foot parade and light parade rolled into one.