Here are the sounds you'll hear at a typical marathon: huff, puff, wheeze, snort, repeat. Here are the sounds you'll hear at the Hit and Run 5K: sploosh, boing, splat, whoopee, and other onomatopoeias that haven't yet been invented. Less like a race and more like running through a living cartoon, the Hit and Run 5K's obstacle course of inflatable onslaughts has been known to "make ninjas cry."
Dodging, ducking, leaping, and balancing across a wet-and-rubbery battlefield, contestants face formidable foes such as the giant spinning balls of the Duck or Dive, the unreliable puffy poles of the Wobble Walk, the flying wet menaces at the Whacking Wall, and the Bouncy Bridge, which is kind of like London's Tower Bridge if it were any fun. All contestants receive their own spiffy T-shirts and matching headbands?a fetching ensemble that instantly deflates roving dodge balls?along with a hearty packet of deals from the race's sponsors.
It's a charity race with a back story like none other: bloodthirsty demons have been working in your community's offices, living in its homes, attending its schools. And now they're on the hunt and people are running for their lives. Citizens might be booking it across a field, seemingly far from the chaos, when shapes emerge on the horizon dressed head-to-toe in vampires' telltale black clothes. If you're a citizen, be prepared to run. If you're a vampire?lock in your target.
That's just part of what you might experience on the Vampire 5K, a twilight fun run where participants can register as "citizens" or "vampires" and take off from two separate starting lines. Both camps eventually converge in a chase that finds vamps trying to convert their mortal counterparts to the dark side. Citizens, dressed in white, sport two garlic flags; if the flags are taken before runners cross their finish line, they switch to a black tee and chase citizens. After the race, a moonlit party finds both camps sipping bloody marys during a dance party and award presentation. The race benefits the Mission to Hear Foundation, which provides hearing aids to underprivileged children, adults, and whatever they're calling the age group that comes in between these days.
The course itself carries on that fun vibe, too. Winding through city streets and local parks, the 5K route is dotted with hydration stations that dole out hot chocolate. Holiday music, a giant Santa inflatable, and snow blowers help to set
The Duck N Dodge is not your average 5K?it's chock full of gopher holes, a slip 'n' slide, and slingshot stands, and those who sport beards longer than 2 inches are treated like kings. On a course designated by flannel shirts, towels, bras, clothesline, and duct tape, runners tackle obstacles, solve challenges, and soak up mud along the way. The obstacles dare racers to scale mud-slicked ramps, leap fences, and rampage through Aunt Emmie's messy kitchen, where if you're not quick, you might get roped into dish duty. Once they cross the finish line sufficiently coated in mud, participants can refuel at the grub tub or snap commemorative shots in a photo booth. The Duck N Dodge 5K race is created for ages 13 and up, while youngsters can take part in the Duckling Dash which is intended for ages 6-12.
But the race is about more than just good ol' fashion fun. Because everyone who helps out on race day is a volunteer, the organizers are able to donate all proceeds to support charities including World Vision, Back2Back, and Warner Camp.
Though all the runners at the 5K Run/Walk Thru Sparta follow the same course—a flat USATF-certified path that starts and finishes in Balyeat Field and slices through downtown Sparta—there are three types of race they can run. Runners can compete seriously by registering in the Individual category; they can join the Run for Rides category to earn a T-shirt and three carnival-ride tickets for Town & Country Days; or if they're of age, they can Run for Beer to collect a T-shirt and two drink tickets for the Town & Country Days Beer Tent. Children 12 and younger can also sign up for a separate Kids Fun Run, which rewards registrants with three carnival-ride tickets and zero cursed goblets. After the race, the top three runners in each age group receive awards.
Part of Sparta’s Harvest on the Ridge festival, which celebrates the township’s colorful crop of fruits and vegetables, the Dirty Apple Obstacle Run sets challengers on a 2.5-mile quest through “applesauce” mud pits, defiantly unflipped tractor tires, hurdles, and other agility tests. Whether participants struggle individually, work together as a family, or construct a mud-proof robotic surrogate, the point of the event is friendly competition and general good times rather than time trials. Afterward, racers gather at the festival downtown, where kids might put together a puppet or two, adults can swap stories and sip Michigan brews, and the whole clan can soak up the classic rock of West Side Soul Surfers.