5k’s are the bread and butter of community fitness gatherings and eventually all of the marathons run together, literally. Recently the 5k scene has been infiltrated by some trends, such as color runs, but the trends run stale and fail to hit the unique opportunities at the local level. Marathons infused with hometown flavor that highlight a town’s personality can transform any city into a racing Mecca. Peruse your town to find the locations, businesses, resources and themes that can spark a 5k enlivened by neighborhood flair. Three cities have taken this recipe and now hold big time races—Jefferson City Outdoors Prison Break, Fugitive Runs, and Shanty to Shorts 5k.

Three Success Stories that are Killin’ It

 1. Jefferson City Outdoors Prison Break

Jefferson City, Missouri had what some may consider a huge eyesore, a huge creepy eyesore.The 175-year-old Missouri State Penitentiary was an eerie beacon of the town that hosted ghost tours and history tours. But that got someone thinking about all of the former prisoners who spent years deep in a cave beneath the prison without a drop of water or a speck of light. These convicts brooding in the dank prison surely spent their many hours developing an escape plan—and thus the Jefferson City Outdoor Prison Break was created.

The marathon starts runners, dressed in their prisoner t-shirts, from the depths of the dungeon to a prison bus that will transport them to a new prison. But right before they board the busses, something goes awry and a siren blares and the rebellion and escape begins. The prisoners burst onto the very path to freedom a former fugitive might have planned. The five plus mile course tests every amount of athleticism, just as a prison break surely would. Runners pound through obstacles, hilly terrain, chain fences, mud pits and mud slides to reach their refreshing and rewarding victory. The race is now in its third year and proves that a unique part of town history and lore can make a one-of-a-kind marathon experience.

Seek out historical landmarks or abandoned buildings in your town and develop a race centered on that premise. Maybe your town has a famous pilgrimage where races can retrace the steps, or maybe your town is home to a musical legend and your racers can dress up in the legend’s garb. Whatever your town’s history is, find it and use to your race’s advantage.

prison break slide

Prison Break water slide. Credit: Jefferson City Outdoors Prison Break

 2. Fugitive Runs

Fugitive Run wall obstacle. Credit: Fugitive Runs

Fugitive Run wall obstacle. Credit: Fugitive Runs

The Fugitive Run in Rolla, Missouri, is basically the next exhausting adventure criminals would have to tackle after a prison break. The run, a mud obstacle course that contains over 100 obstacles, takes advantage of the great outdoors. It challenges races to plow through obstacles that fugitives on the run would face in the rocky city and quarry of Rolla. This means crawling, climbing, swimming, and jumping to your freedom, and giving it all you got along the (what other choice do you have?). The race was designed by Military Law Enforcement and SWAT and is a seriously grueling course. The race has exploded locally and is no longer just an annual event. Multiple races and obstacle courses are held throughout the year, and the specialty is the Extreme Night Death Button. This requires fugitive teams to challenge themselves physically and mentally through a course that involves smoke, CS gas, live fire, challenges, paintball, booby-traps, orienteering, hunted, Topo maps and surprises and mystery at every turn. Participants are even encouraged to bring compasses, flints, multitools, first aid kits, goggles and whistles.

D’ettra Kearse, Owner and Director of The Fugitive Beach, said, “It’s like a spin-off of Fear Factor and Ninja Warrior, and there aren’t many permanent obstacle courses available.”

What Rolla, Missouri has done is create more than a race. It is has created a live action role play scenario, a real world video game and experience that provides an incredible workout and even more so, lasting memories and an unbeatable group experience. The venue is used strictly as a permanent obstacle course and even has Fugitive Beach where families of the fugitives can camp, train, relax in the sun and slide down a 60s style slide. The races social media strategy has brought in 600 people at one time, and the Special Olympics will host their first obstacle race in the U.S. there in August.

fugitive run group

Fugitive Run group. Credit: Fugitive Runs

3. Shanty to Shorts 5k

S2S 2014 start

Shanty to Shorts 5k 2014 start. Credit: Shanty to Shorts 5k/10k

You can get just about everyone to run if a cold beer is waiting at the finish line. This idea has come to life in the Shanty to Shorts 5k. The race is all about convenience, a good time and connecting resident businesses. The starting point, Shanty Creek Resorts, is exactly 5k to the front doors of Shorts Brewing Company in Bellaire, Michigan.  Just wake up, get dressed, walk out the front doors of the resort and then you are off and running. The beauty of it is, by the time the race and award ceremony is done, it is the perfect time to start drinking (and with $1 off pints, why not?). The race combines both companies’ missions to promote creativity and a lust for life, but most of all this point-to-point race is all about local integration.

The 5k does even more to emphasize the local movement and makes the race as communal as possible. The trophies for best overalls are designed and made by the Parkside Arts Council and the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners in each age group are rewarded with preserves made at the homegrown Rocky Top Preserves (blueberry for 1st, raspberry for 2nd, and cherry butter for 3rd.) Any shoes from the event are repurposed, in line with the community’s environmental efforts. The Shanty to Shorts 5k proves that by centering a race around hometown business and bringing in as much hometown flavor and help as possible, a standout race is guaranteed.

Shanty to Shorts shoe trophy. Credit: Shanty to Shorts 5k/10k

Shanty to Shorts shoe trophy. Credit: Shanty to Shorts 5k/10k

Bottom line—get creative with your next 5k. Jump start your brainstorming with an idea from above—a point-to-point race, using a local landmark, or an action adventure. Consider alternatives themes, dress ups, or challenges. Turn over every stone in your community to find the niche special to your people. This is an ingenious way to combine native fitness, well being, community flavor and mom and pop businesses to create a 5k like no other. The planning may take months to perfect, but the end result will be a one-of-a-kind race that attracts your community and will surely become a town staple for years to come.

By Paige Pope