Health + Fitness

5 Must-Do Races to Get Your Heart Pumping on Vacation

Work up a sweat at the Charleston Half Marathon, then enjoy the city’s charms on an extended getaway. (Photo: Courtesy of Charleston Marathon)

Who says vacation needs to be relaxing? A growing number of travelers are opting to get their adrenaline pumping by adding on a race. Runners know it as a “runcation,” while cyclists and other athletes dub it “marathon travel.”

Races help personalize a city: You can make local friends at the starting line and cover more ground — in a faster race-pace time — to discover more authentic places along a charted race trail or course.

Here are five trip-worthy races that will get your adrenaline pumping in cities that deserve to be explored off the beaten path. The best part? You’ll come home in better shape than when you left.

The Charleston Half Marathon in Charleston, South Carolina

The Race

Enjoy the well-preserved architecture and antebellum charm of the Holy City (named for its steeple-lined skyline) as you race down the southern tip of the peninsula.

Lube up to prevent chafing before running 13.1 miles past some of the city’s best sites: the historic mansions, the Charleston Harbor and the Battery, a fortified seawall where cannonballs stacked by British soldiers before the American Revolution still remain.

Replenish your body with the shrimp and grits dished up at the finish line.

Prefer a longer run? Charleston’s much-hyped marathon weekend also includes a 26.2-mile, full marathon.

The City

Afterward, feast on protein at Artisan Meat Share. A few blocks south on King Street, you’ll find plenty of boutique shopping, with everything from clothing to home décor to paintings.

Brush up on Civil War history at the 19th-century Aiken-Rhett House Museum. Take the Ashley River Road, a National Scenic Byway, to Drayton Hall, an 18th-century plantation.

Then kick back with a craft cocktail beneath a pounded tin ceiling at the Belmont while watching muted black-and-white movies roll on the wall.

Tour de Nash in Nashville, Tennessee

marathon travel
Give your calves a workout at the Tour de Nash. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Nash)

The Race

Breathe in the fresh air during this bike race as you pedal along Nashville’s winding greenways with 1,000 other riders before taking in the city’s legendary music scene. Pick from one of three routes: an 8-miler if your family’s in tow or go the distance with either the 25- or 45-mile ride.

Get to know neighborhoods like Germantown, the first suburb of Nashville, before you cross the finish line to celebrate with food and live music at the Capitol District Street Fair.

The City

Start with lunch at the 22,000-square-foot Acme Feed & Seed and follow it with a nostalgic stop at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum.

Next, do a quick tour of Ryman Auditorium. It originated as a tabernacle and went on to become one of the world’s premier concert halls. After the Ryman, wander in and out of the neon-lit honky-tonk bars on Broadway for a post-race beer while listening to both pop and country songs about heartbreak.

Step it up with a night out at the historic Bluebird Café or tickets to the famed Grand Ole Opry. And no stay in Nashville would be complete without lighting up your taste buds with hot chicken; try it for breakfast over a buttermilk biscuit smothered in sausage gravy at Biscuit Love.

The Tough Mudder Run in New Orleans, Louisiana

marathon travel
Get down and dirty at the Tough Mudder. (Photo: Courtesy of Tough Mudder)

The Race

Unleash your inner beast and get dirty in the Southern swamps 20 minutes away with the Tough Mudder run. Dig deep to conquer 18 to 20 obstacles over a 10 to 12 mile course as other Mudders help push you through grueling challenges like electroshock therapy.

You’ll look like a badass plastered in mud when you cross the finish line for “insta-popularity” on your favorite social media site.

The City

Clean up and take a street car to Parkway Tavern for a traditional, deep-fried shrimp or alligator sausage po’ boy before swinging by the heart and soul of New Orleans — the French Quarter.

Unearth New Orleans’ history with a walking tour of its aboveground, crumbling cemeteries like St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Then dance the night away with everything from jazz to swing to reggae on Frenchmen Street.

If you’ve still got energy on Sunday morning or have much to repent, check out one of the jazz masses at St. Augustine Catholic Church.

The GoPro Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado

The Race

marathon travel
The GoPro Mountain Games are a wet and wild good time. (Photo: Courtesy of GoPro Mountain Games)

Been there, done that? Well, GoPro Mountain Games’ list of events is sure to challenge you if you don’t get stage fright — expect 70,000-plus fans. Take some of the more than $100,000 prize money by winning an event like slacklining, fly fishing, bouldering or paddling.

There are even categories for your furry friends to compete in, from dock jumping to racing to retrieving. Enjoy three free nights of music from the grassy hillside of the outdoor Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater and find your zen while doing yoga.

The City

Still not enough? Burn more energy by whitewater rafting, zip lining or hiking through the Colorado Rocky peaks at Vail. Then slow down your heartbeat and life by “stopping to smell the roses” in Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. Grab lunch at the Rocky Mountain Taco food truck.

After lunch, wander the cobblestone streets of Vail Village and take in its exclusive Swiss charm while exploring its various boutiques. Kick back with an all-American bourbon at Mountain Standard and celebrate your primal self as your meat cooks over a wood fire, you savage.

The La Jolla Rough Water Swim in San Diego, California

The Race

Already conquered land? Try joining nearly 2,000 other swimmers at La Jolla Cove for the 100-year-old tradition of braving the rocks and waves of the Pacific Ocean.

Swim (from 250-meters for younger participants up to three miles) in 70-ish degree water (if you’re lucky) beneath the sandstone cliffs of this protected cove.

Think you can get to Scripps Pier and back faster than anyone else? Go up against some of the best by registering for the prestigious three-mile Gatorman.

The City

Dry off and hike the 2,000-acre Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.

Enjoy the sunshine while touring the gardens and zoo at the 1,200-acre Balboa Park, making sure to stop in at the Botanical Building, home to more than 2,000 plants. Explore the city’s military and maritime heritage at the USS Midway Museum.

Check out George’s Level2, the new bar at George’s at the Cove. Their mixologists will mix up craft cocktails for you as you enjoy panoramic views of the Pacific blue.