Sure, running shoes, water and the right gear are important, but today's running races also include chocolate fondue, zombies, glow sticks, feather boas and an eight-pound block of double Gloucester cheese.

Running doesn’t have to be all about timing and endorphins. As 2013 begins and resolutions kick into high gear, 5K and 10K runs with creative themes are a way to stay fit and help you stick with your New Year’s exercise plan.

“A race gets you out the door and gives you a goal to shoot for,” says Jason Karp, a running and fitness expert and author of Running a Marathon for Dummies.

Getting Started

To train for a race, Karp recommends starting out with a mix of running and walking, building up to 30-minute runs and enlisting a partner to help you stay with your program. Looking to lose weight? “Have a weight goal in mind and check it regularly,” he adds. “Set realistic intermediate goals along the way if you want to reach your long-term one.”

To help keep you in shape and smiling in 2013, here are 10 quirky runs, from Seattle to Sydney — feather boas optional. 

The Color Run. Runners start this race in white T-shirts and end up looking like a pastel Jackson Pollock painting. The popular multicity 5K run divides its kilometers into different colors: yellow, orange, pink, blue and a rainbow extravaganza for the final stretch. As runners pass by, volunteers stationed at each zone toss nontoxic powder on them. By the end, everyone looks like they “fell into a Willy Wonka, tie-dyed vat of colored goodness,” organizers say. The Color Run now includes several stops in Australia.

Hot Chocolate Run 15K/5K. It’s hard to beat a race that has fondue waiting at the finish line. These popular runs are based on the fact that just about everyone loves chocolate. Besides hot chocolate (perfect after a brisk run in Chicago, one of the cities on tap in 2013), postrace delicacies include a chocolate fondue plate with apples, marshmallows, pretzels and more. The fitted hoodies in the goodie bag also get high marks.

Bisbee 1000. Billing itself as a 5K that feels like a 10K, this unique race takes advantage of the mile-high Arizona town of Bisbee’s network of outdoor staircases and scenic backroads that were traversed by mules during the area's copper-mining heyday. Created as a fresh-air alternative to a gym’s stairclimbers, the late-October race attracts a wide range of participants, from entire families to travelers soaking up Bisbee’s sunshine and quaint vibe.

Firefly Run. In this 5K and 10K race, runners illuminated in flashing neon arm and leg bands navigate city streets from Dallas to Chicago under darkening skies. The bands come with registration, but many participants add their own glow-in-the-dark accessories. Costumes are encouraged: Expect plenty of Tinkerbells and luminescent ballerinas.

Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling. Spain has the running of the bulls. This Scotland village has the chasing of the eight-pound block of Double Gloucester cheese. The event has been toned down for safety reasons in recent years, but it still draws dozens of adventure-minded souls who speed down Cooper’s Hill chasing a block of cheese while thousands of spectators cheer. The winner, of course, gets the cheese, which is handmade at a local dairy. 

Divas Half Marathon and 5K. In addition to water, runners of this Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, race get pink feather boas and tiaras at the rest stops along the oceanfront route. Men are allowed to race, but organizers go all out to make things as “girly” as possible, with roses and champagne at the end and gift bags full of items like perfume samples and pink sandals, says organizer Robert Pozo. In 2013, diva races are also slated for San Francisco, Long Island, N.Y., and North Myrtle Beach, N.C.

Tough Mudder. Dubbed “the new gauntlet for body-conscious Gen Xers” by The New York Times, this 10- to 12-mile obstacle course, which descends on cities from Tokyo to Toronto, was designed by British Special Forces as an edgy alternative to the average marathon. Participants scale 12-foot walls, swing across greased monkey bars and hurl themselves over hay bales, all the while exhibiting humor and teamwork because “Mudders do not take themselves too seriously.” Every race ends with “a beer, a laugh and a rockin’ live band.”

City Challenge Urban Race 5K and Half Marathon. Think of it as part insider's tour and part think-on-your-feet scavenger hunt. Runners get 12 clues designed to lead them to landmarks throughout small cities in California. The landmarks are never commercial businesses or obvious landmarks, says founder Scott Hegness. "This is all about getting to know areas of a city that even locals might not know are there," he says. That might include a whimsical statue tucked into an alley or a nineteenth-century Spanish adobe home. Next stops are Las Vegas and Scottsdale, Ariz., in January.

Run for Your Lives 5K. This unique obstacle course race requires runners to dodge brain-eating zombies while figuring out the best route to the finish line. The zombies, who are actually apocalypse-loving volunteers, go after "health flags" tucked into runners' belts. Those who finish the race with at least one flag intact are declared winners who managed to stay alive. The Zombie Run, as it is widely known, is slated for more than 20 cities in 2013, from South Florida to Seattle.

Boston Urban Iditarod. Replace the dogs with people and the sleds with shopping carts and you have Boston’s version of the famed Alaskan Iditarod, with a costume party and bar crawl thrown in. Every March, teams of four to six people dressed as dogs, Vikings and everything in between navigate city streets hauling grocery carts for 3.5 miles. “It’s not as hard as you think, but it’s not as easy as it sounds,” organizers say.