8 Tough, Fun, and Wacky Iowa Running Events in 2023

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Pull those running shoes out of the closet—it’s racing season!

Regardless of skill or experience, there’s a race somewhere in Iowa that can be a memorable experience for you this year.

Here are eight fun races over the next few months that are just a little bit off the beaten path. 

Ames Midnight Madness – Ames, July 8

This race has been around for over 50 years, with a bit of a chaotic, uncertain history (hence the madness.)

The Midnight Madness race doesn’t actually begin at midnight, but it kicks off in the evening so that runners can escape the punishing heat of an Iowa summer day, then party into the night. 

The 5K and 10K races both begin at 7 p.m. with a fun run for kids at 6:30 p.m. Once you finish, the post-race celebration goes until 10:30 p.m., with live music from the Ames-based band Stranger than Fiction. 

Registration is $45 between July 1 and July 7, then $50 on the day of the race. 

Accel Crawfish Crawl – Cedar Falls, July 22

Is this New Orleans? No, it’s Iowa.

This wacky new event combines Iowa’s love for running with its apparent love for seafood, as participants can run in the 5K in downtown Cedar Falls, then participate in the delicious afterparty: a crawfish boil. You can also just come for the food part of it—no need to wear yourself out before you tear into some Cajun nosh. 

The shrimp shuffle (kids’ race) begins at 4:30 p.m., and the adult 5K goes from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., at which time the crawfish boil will commence. There will also be live music from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. from the Iowa-based rock band “The Schmidt Brothers.”

Registration for the kid’s race is $15. The adult 5K is $30, including a T-shirt (and a bib to protect said T-shirt). If you want to skip the run and just eat crawfish, you’ll pay $15. Prices go up after June 30.

What to know: Kids 12 and under can get into the crawfish boil portion of the event for free. 

Big Grove Brewery: Run For Beer – Des Moines, Sept. 17

The point of this one is right in the title: You’re in it for the beer.

Described as a “5K-ish course” through Des Moines’ Sherman Hills neighborhood, the Run for Beer is a loosely organized, un-timed run put on by the Iowa Brewery Running Series that begins and ends at Des Moines’ Big Grove Brewery. All ages and all experience levels are welcome, and all participants over 21 years old get a free beer at the finish line. A portion of the proceeds go to support local nonprofit organizations. 

The race will begin at noon on Sept. 17, with live music and food trucks.

Registration is $35 and includes a free beer, a collector’s pint glass or other item from the Iowa Brewery Running Series, and access to event festivities. If you want a T-shirt, the registration price goes up to $48. 

What to know: The race will take place on an open course, meaning there won’t be any street closures. Runners will be subject to all traffic laws and regulations and accountable for their own safety, so keep your head on a swivel out there. 

Hobo Days Glow Run/ Walk – Britt, August 12

Home of the delightful Hobo Days festival since 1900, Britt should be high on your list of places to visit this summer. There is a hobo parade, free hobo stew, live music, and a Hobo Days Glow Run that will begin at 8:45 p.m. on Aug. 12 at Britt’s Gazebo Park.

While in town for the race, be sure to partake in all the festivities. You’re sure to see things you will never see anywhere else, including free “hobo entertainment” at a real-life hobo jungle, the crowning of a “Hobo King and Queen,” and a tour of the National Hobo Museum. 

The festival runs from Aug. 10-13. Registration for the race is $20, and all proceeds support Britt Parks and Rec youth sports. 

What to know: Parking in Britt during Hobo Days can be difficult with all the festivities going on. Be prepared for a lengthy stroll to the starting line. 

Color Blaze 5K – Le Claire, Aug. 12

Be ready to get messy at the Color Blaze 5K, an annual event that raises money for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

All runners get a goodie bag, a T-shirt, and a color pack to contribute to the multicolored madness. 

Registration is $30. To guarantee a T-shirt in your size, runners should sign up before July 23. 

What to know: The race is untimed in order to encourage runners to have fun instead of worrying about the clock. 

DeRailed Adventure Race – Riceville, Sept. 16

This 15-mile race is for those willing to push themselves to their physical limits, with a 6.3 mile run, a 6.7 mile biking section, a water section that goes for 100 to 200 feet (it is not swimming, but you and your shoes will get wet, the website states) and a few other mystery events that could include mental or physical challenges. 

You will get sweaty, you will get wet, and you will run and bike on surfaces both soft and hard as you compete for a medal. First, second, and third place will receive awards, while those who finish in 2:20 or less get a finisher’s medal.

Registration is $35, but increases on Aug. 21. The race will start at 9 a.m. and end at 11:30 a.m. 

What to know: You will need to bring a water bottle with you during the race, and are required to wear a life jacket during the water event. 

Run for Pie 5K and Kids’ 1-mile Fun Run – Lisbon, Sept. 16

The reward for finishing this race is sweet: a piece of freshly baked “Church Lady” apple pie. Contestants for this race will run on a USA-track-and-field-certified flat track, and have their times measured via bib chip. 

Registration is $25 for the 5K and $20 for the kids’ 1-mile fun run, with all proceeds going to the education of impoverished children in Haiti. If you register before Aug. 31, you are guaranteed an event t-shirt. The 5K begins at 9 a.m. and the kids’ race is at 9:45 a.m. 

What to know: The top three finishers in both the men and women’s division will get to pick out a fresh-baked pie to take home, which is miles better than some silly medal. 

Boos and Brews 5K: Run for Beer – West Des Moines, Oct. 29

Another open 5K race put on by the Iowa Brewery Running Series, this one takes place on Oct. 29 at Fox Brewing Company in West Des Moines.

Expect to see plenty of costumes during this run, which begins and ends at the brewery and takes runners through Valley Junction, starting at noon. 

This event is just like the Big Grove run, but with a more autumnal theme. You’ll still get a free beer and a collector’s pint glass or some other brewery “swag.” Registration is $35 and includes a beer at the finish line. For a T-shirt, you’ll fork out $48. 

What to know: The event is rain or shine, so be sure to wear clothes that are good for chilly fall weather. In events such as lightning or other unsafe conditions, the brewery says that everyone can “still hang out and drink beer.”

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