Follow TV Tropes


Epic Race

Go To

Everybody's gonna get a card like this. When you leave, you're gonna punch out here at this time clock. Three thousand miles roughly away from here is another time clock just like that at the Portofino Inn. The difference between the two times is your time across the country. The record stands at thirty-two hours and fifty-one minutes. Believe it or not, those guys did break the fifty-five mile an hour speed limit.
—Race organizer, The Cannonball Run

A stock plot: the characters have to proceed from a starting line to a finishing line under some set of rules over the course of an extended period of time — often several days. This could be by car, by horse, by foot, or by any means necessary. Expect badasses of whatever types are appropriate.

This may involve Wacky Racing or it may not: the distinguishing characteristic of an Epic Race is the extreme length (generally 12 hours or more), not its idiosyncratic nature. An Epic Race is so long that the challenge of merely going that distance in the time adds interest, irrespective of anything else.

Generally a subtrope of The Big Race, for obvious reasons.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Appare-Ranman!: The premise of the story is a country race that spans from the starting line in Los Angeles to the finish line in New York City.
  • Future GPX Cyber Formula has two grandprix races established as the cross country events (Peruvian and Japanese GP). One video game adaptation features a spin-off event called "Extreme Speed" which is a massive on-road cross country race.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Steel Ball Run, Part 7 of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, features an extreme example, with a race across the USA starting in San Diego and ending in New York. Even without the bizarre plot involving Stand battles, the president of the USA, and the mummified body parts of Jesus, it's still an extraordinarily long and dangerous race which goes on for 116 days. Of the 3852 people said to have entered, only 39 make it to the finish line, and 88 participants lose their lives during the 6000 km race. It is almost entirely a horse race, with the exception of Sandman, who just decided to run it on foot.
  • Outlaw Star has the crew of the eponymous ship enter the Heifong Space Race in pursuit of the MacDougall Brothers. The race is said to cross a couple billion kilometers and the estimated time of completion is one thousand hours.

    Comic Books 
  • Issue #5 of Steelgrip Starkey and the All-Purpose Power Tool features an "Around-the-World Super Construction Race", combining both a footrace with feats of engineering.
  • In the Suske en Wiske comic "Het Sprekende Testament" (The Speaking Testament), the heroes of the series race in a modified train that drives on (and off) the road.

    Fan Works 
  • Earth and Sky: Twilight Sparkle ends up testing her experimental flying harness against the Flim-Flam Brothers (AKA Professor Destiny and Doctor Insanity) and their rocket-powered flying rig in the Grand Pegathalon, an epic flying race that goes all around Equestria's borders. As the first non-pegasus entrants in the Pegathalon, they end up opening the gates for flying species from across Equestria and beyond (including griffins, a qilin, and even a winged buffalo) to compete.
  • Nobledark Imperium: The Iron Race is a cross-galactic racing competition held at irregular intervals by Craftworld Saim-Hann. Participants are chosen by invitation, but there are no particular requirements other than skill — typically lineups include Craftworld Eldar, Humans, Kroot, Kabalites, Orkish Speed Freaks and more bizarre entrants still, and racers are permitted almost any kind of vehicle that they care to turn up in, which historically has included light battleships. The race itself winds in and through the Webway and across some of the most hazardous regions that the galaxy has to offer, including active warzones, Tyranid hive fleets, the event horizons of black holes and the edge of the Eye of Terror. Competitor casualties tend to be high, earning it the nickname of "the Suicide Race", and on at least a few occasions all of the competitors died before reaching the finish line.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Bite the Bullet tells of a 1906 horse race running seven hundred miles and a prize of two thousand dollars (in 1906 money).
  • A few inspired by the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash:
    • Cannonball, the first of the films to come out, starring David Carradine. This is also the only film inspired by the Cannonball not billed as a comedy.
    • The Gumball Rally came out shortly after Cannonball, starring Michael Sarrazin and Raúl Juliá.
    • The Cannonball Run was more directly based on the Cannonball, being written by the race's actual organizer. A sequel, Cannonball Run II, followed a few years later with Speed Zone, a semi-official sequel, coming a few years after that.
  • Death Race 2000 features the Transcontinental Road Race which acts as a Bread and Circuses event to pacify the population of a totalitarian United States of the future. As the name suggests, it runs from one side of the country to the other, though the focus is more on running over pedestrians.
  • Death Race, an In Name Only remake of Death Race 2000. In this case, it's a NASCAR-style track race where part of the goal is to kill the other racers. Death Race 3 changes the race to a Baja 1000-inspired desert rally.
  • The Great Race, inspired by the 1908 New York to Paris race, has the protagonist and his arch rival competing in custom cars.
  • Hidalgo: Very Loosely Based on a True Story. The film centers around a 3,000 mile horse race across the Arabian desert. The raiders, kidnapped princess, and backstabbing among the competitors were not officially part of the deal.
  • The Disney movie Iron Will is about a dogsled race which runs over five hundred miles and lasts several days.
  • It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World tells of a group of motorists who learn of a hidden treasure and try to get to it before the others. Transportation includes cars, planes, and even bicycles.
  • Midnight Madness features five teams of college students taking part in an all-night puzzle hunt in Los Angeles.
  • Rat Race has a millionaire recruit a number of ordinary citizens to race from Las Vegas to New Mexico for two million dollars in cash. Meanwhile, the millionaire and his friends take bets on the racers. While mostly using automobiles, some of the participants take trains, helicopters, and even a hot air balloon.
  • Smokey and the Bandit has Burt Reynolds as a bootlegger who attempts to deliver a tractor trailer full of beer to a millionaire in a limited amount of time. Along the way, he has to match wits with an overenthusiastic sheriff.
  • Truth in 24, a documentary about the Audi team in the 2008 24 Hours of Le Mans, plays up this trope.
  • Two-Lane Blacktop has a pair of street racers engage in a race against a wanderer from the American Southwest to Washington, D.C. Both parties lose interest in the race and the film ends before we see who won.

  • Around the World in Eighty Days may be the Trope Codifier. The plot centers around a race against time as protagonist Phileas Fogg attempts to win an argument that the completion of an Indian railway section would make it possible to circumnavigate the globe in eighty days. (This was in 1872.) Travel is mostly done by rail or boat.
  • Ian Watson's story "The Great Atlantic Swimming Race" (swimming past the whole Atlantic Ocean) has a satirical bent.
  • Stephen King, writing as Richard Bachman — The Long Walk. It's a foot race run by 100 teenage boys, the so-called "walkers", with the following rules: if you drop below 4 miles an hour, you get a warning. Receiving 3 warnings in quick succession gets you killed. And as a final touch, it has no finish — it lasts until there's only one surviving walker. It's written by Stephen King — were you expecting a happy ending?
  • The Race by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott involves a cross-country airplane race in 1909. The series' main character, Isaac Bell, is assigned to protect the favorite to win from her estranged husband. However, there is more to this than meets the eye.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Amazing Race usually has the contestants racing around the world. Planes are the usual method of transportation between countries, but transportation within countries uses cars, buses, trains, rickshaws, foot, and many other methods.
  • Curfew depicts a race across a dystopian United Kingdom that lasts all night, starting in London and finishing in Scotland.
  • Drive (2007) depicted a cross-country road race with some rather shady organizers. Unfortunately, only six episodes were produced and the entrants only got as far as Cleveland (starting from Florida).
  • The now-forgotten reality series Lost (no, not that one), in which contestants were dropped off in an unknown location somewhere in the world and had to find their way back home.
  • Top Gear (UK) does this a lot, mostly pitting a car against another form of transportation:
    • The first such race pitted an Aston Martin DB9 against a pair of high speed trains running from the Top Gear studio in Surrey to a hotel in Monte Carlo. Jeremy even refers to the challenge as an epic race when introducing the segment, so he recognized this trope was in play.
    • The economy race from Basel, Switzerland to the Blackpool Illuminations took 17 hours. The presenters had to make the journey on one tank of gas, so it was a challenge of strategy as well as speed.
    • The race from Heathrow to a ski resort in Switzerland between a new Ferrari and a series of forms of public transportation. Notable for having one of the closest finishes on the series.
    • The race between a Mercedes-Benz and a cruise ship was their longest yet, running over 1300 miles and ending the day after it started.
  • NBC's Treasure Hunters, which combined this trope with Treasure Map and lasted one season. Cars are normally used to move around, but two legs took place in Europe and planes were required to go there.

  • The third segment of the Twilight Histories episode “The Moon” is set in a world where the Space Race ended in a tie when America and the Soviet Union landed on the Moon at the same time in 1955. Since then, the two nations compete in a literal space race each year. The winner gets to determine lunar policy for the next lunar year.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Polyhedron magazine issue 152 featured "The Thunderball Rally", a d20 Modern game set in 1976 which depicts a Mafia run road race from New York to the Queen Mary in Los Angeles.
  • On the future Mars of Transhuman Space: In the Well, there's the Olympus Mons biathalon. You start by climbing the 15km-tall cliffs that make up the edge of the Olympus volcano — with a bicycle on your back — then you bike 300km to the caldera at the center.

    Video Games 
  • The Crew has a number of Faction Missions involving these. The longest of these, "Frontier Tour", lasts between three and four hours. Hopefully, your controller is fully charged.
  • The endurance races from the Gran Turismo series which have been getting longer as the series progresses. The fourth and fifth games even have races lasting a full twenty-four hours.
  • Need for Speed: The Run has the protagonist competing in a race across the country to settle a debt with the mob.
  • Sega's Rad Mobile is the first-person Outrun/Rad Racers inspired game that invoke racing across multiple locations from western to eastern United States of America.

    Web Video 
  • Jet Lag: The Game: Season two's challenge was to be the first pair to circumnavigate the globe. To this end, each team was given a travel budget insufficient to cover all necessary flights, but allowed it to be replenished by completing designated challenges. To prevent a team from completing all their challenges in one spot, tasks completed in the same city saw diminishing returns.

    Western Animation 
  • The Alvin and the Chipmunks film, The Chipmunk Adventure, had this as their main plot. The Chipmunks and the Chipettes had to race around the world in hot air balloons, dropping off and collecting dolls. Unbeknownst to both parties, they're being used as Unwitting Pawns in a gem-smuggling ring.
  • Tom Slick from the classic George of the Jungle once raced Baron Otto Matic from St. Louis to New York. The Baron cheats by giving Slick a map that sends him to California instead.
  • Peanuts:
  • Phineas and Ferb: Summer Belongs to You! has the title characters attempt to circumnavigate the world on the summer solstice. Finagle's Law bites hard.
  • Turbo Teen had an episode where the heroes have to transport a witness to a trial in New York through a cross-country road race called The Daredevil Run. The other racers leave them alone, but they have to contend with the defendant's enforcers and recurring villain The Dark Rider.

    Real Life 
  • The Baja 1000, an off-road race on Mexico's Baja Peninsula where the 1000 refers to the usual distance in miles. Finishing times over twelve hours are not unheard of. Special mention must go to the 2000 running which ran twice as long and both winners (in two-wheel and four-wheel classes) clocked in at over thirty hours.
  • Numerous cross-country races:
    • The Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash was run a few times in The '70s, started as a protest against the then forthcoming fifty-five mile-an-hour national speed limit. The race normally ran from New York City to Los Angeles. Inspired a few movies, including The Cannonball Run.
    • The 2904 could be considered the Cannonball meets the 24 Hours of Lemons. The 2904 in the name refers to both the distance from start to finish (New York to San Francisco) and the limit of how much the teams could spend. Said limit includes not just gas, meals, and speeding tickets, but also the car itself.
    • The C2C Express followed the same route as the Cannonball, New York to Los Angeles. The race imposed a three thousand dollar limit on cars as well as a restriction to cars made before 1980.
  • Endurance races such as 24 Heures du Mans, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • The sport of endurance riding, which involves trekking great distances on horseback. In older times, these races could be cross-country. Nowadays, most national events are between 50 and 100 miles, which can be completed in about 12 hours by the winners. The rides are divided into different legs, with health checks for the horses and riders before they're cleared to continue the competition.
  • Giro d'Italia is a bicycle race usually held in Italy, but has been known to run through and sometimes even start in other countries. The race is usually held over twenty-one stages over a course of twenty-three or twenty-four days.
  • The 1925 serum run to Nome, also known as the "Great Race of Mercy," was not a race against other competitors, but a race against nature itself — twenty mushers and over a hundred and fifty dogs undertook a 674-mile journey in blizzard conditions to save Nome, Alaska from a diphtheria epidemic after aircraft proved unusable. The serum arrived in five and a half days, a feat that has never been duplicated. The Iditarod, a 1150-mile dogsled race, is a commemoration of this last great hurrah and Crowning Moment of Awesome of dog-sledding.
  • The 1908 New York to Paris race, as indicated by the name, ran across three continents (North America, Asia, and Europe). Six cars started out from New York on February 12, 1908. The first of three finishers entered Paris on July 26 of the same year.
  • The Peking to Paris race was originally run in 1907, starting from Peking (today known as Beijing) and finishing in Paris. The race covered a distance of just over nine thousand miles and lasted two months. note 
  • The Paris-Dakar Rally (since 2007 it is only known as the Dakar rally due to changing routes), of course.
  • The Tour de France, a 3500-km bicycle race.
  • Vuelta a España is a bicycle race around Spain normally lasting twenty-three days. (Two of those are rest days.) The shortest edition was the 1963 race which covered 2,419 kilometers.