Circumpolar Race Around the World (CRAW): The Virtual Global Relay Run

Last Updated:

Leave it to Lazarus Lake, creator of the Barkley Marathons (arguably one of the toughest ultramarathons in the world) and the Backyard Ultra, to transform the idea of racing virtually into a years-long, team-based race around the world.   

After the success of his four-month-long virtual Race Across Tennessee held during the summer of 2020, Lake decided to expand the format and created a virtual relay race that winds around the entire world.  

As Lazarus Lake rarely does anything in a conventional way, he designed his virtual course to travel South to North, rather than East to West around the Equator, and thus dubbed his race the “Circumpolar Race Around the World” (often abbreviated now to CRAW).   

In this article, we shed some light on the details of this race and give you information on how to become part of this adventure.

craw passport
My official CRAW passport!

What is the Circumpolar Race Around the World?

The Circumpolar Race Around the World, or “CRAW,” is a virtual race with teams attempting to completely circumnavigate the Earth, which involves covering more than 30,000 miles.   

Teams consist of up to ten members and must be designated as either a Running team (involving running, walking, hiking, treadmill, or snowshoeing only) or a Cycling/Multisport team (which includes miles covered not only on foot, but by other human-powered activities, such as cycling, swimming, cross-country skiing, inline skating, paddle-boarding, kayaking, and canoeing).  

Team members report their miles on the CRAW website, and the team makes progress based on the combined mileage of all members

The race is divided into 12 Regions: Latin America, Andes, Pampas, Antarctica, Down Under, The Islands, Southeast Asia, Indian Subcontinent, The Stans, Europe, Great White North, and Lower 48, with each Region requiring approximately 2,000 to 3,000 miles to complete. 

Teams sign up for one region at a time, completing one region before signing up for the next one.  

Circumpolar Race Around the World (CRAW): The Virtual Global Relay Run 1
The CRAW route (credit: craw.racing)

The Inspiration For CRAW 

According to the race website, Lake’s vision for CRAW evolved from his experience with the Race Across Tennessee (RAT), which required individual runners to log approximately 635 miles (1000km) from May through August, with a website tracking each runner’s virtual progress across a map of Tennessee.

Lake indicates that the vision for CRAW is “not quite the same as that for the RAT,” but rather, “a chance to maintain the consistency that the RAT was looking to develop,” with success coming from “keeping up a steady effort” rather than “hammering out miles to finish it as fast as possible.”  

He also notes that following your progress around the globe is a way to motivate yourself and is simply more fun than exercising just to exercise. 

“Reaching the next city, or the next country” and “completing a Region and collecting that next medal” is a “tangible return on your effort.” 

He also believes that being part of a team working together to achieve a common goal provides further motivation and satisfaction.

Lake also sees the race as a way to discover and learn about the world, with participants covering “the greatest desert that you never knew existed and countless mountain ranges that you had never heard of,” passing through “tropical jungles, vast plains, and temperate forests,” riding crowded ferries and “hopping between land masses.”  

CRAW – The Race Route

The entire route (credit: craw.racing)

In explaining the route he created for the race, Lake asserts that schools have “taught us about the directions all wrong” and have incorrectly led us to believe East, West, North, and South are all the same. 

He states, however, that the directions are not all the same, as you can travel East or West forever, no matter how many times you pass the place you started, but if you go North or South, you can only go so far before you find yourself going in the other direction.

With these thoughts in mind, and with the goal of keeping most miles on land, Lake thus eschewed the more expected and conventional idea of running around the Earth near the Equator and instead forged a course that passes through both the North and South Poles and is 80 percent on land.    

Here’s the official video covering the race route:

CRAW: Race Perks 

Upon initial sign-up, each team member receives a CRAW passport and is assured that “visas will be expedited.” 

Then, upon a team’s completion of each Region, each member receives a medal based on that Region from the CRAW map, complete with all the details. 

Each medal arrives in its own display case, but is designed to fit together like a puzzle if all 12 regions are completed and all medals collected.   

Additionally, while Lake has not established a cut-off date for completing the race, he does offer some incentives, including a Gold Buckle for running teams completing the race in less than 12 months and a Silver Buckle for beating the 16-month mark (or, 8 and 12 months, respectively, for the Multisport teams).

In addition to passports, medals, and buckles, the race website offers inspiration in other ways. 

Lake provides heartfelt and motivating advice and commentary and also includes a video of the race route on a virtual globe, showing the exact path for each Region.  

His details regarding various parts of the route (at one point, he describes how you will take a Dornier X 1929 Air Boat from Argentina to Antarctica) are also designed to make the race feel more real, and the information he provides regarding the history, environment, and sights of each Region, complete with photos and diagrams, is well-researched and absorbing. 

Teams can check their progress on a map, showing where they are virtually along the course, and participants have added some photos and information from places along the route, which adds to the sense of adventure and camaraderie.   

craw south and central america
The CRAW medals for Central and South America

Team Progress and Results  

The race first opened for registration on September 1, 2020, and about ten Running teams have now finished all 12 Regions comprising the race, with Fear the Running Dead completing the feat in 208 days. 

Nearly 90 Multisport teams have also completed the race, with CRAW MultiSport Team covering all the miles in 101 days.

According to the race website, 208 Running teams and 427 Multisport teams are participating and have competed at least one Region.

Due to the popularity of the race and teams’ desire to keep running, Lake created four “bonus” Regions: Sub Saharan Africa, North Africa, Western Europe, and the Middle East, which affords participants the opportunity to cover more than 12,000 additional miles if they want to keep going.  

In explaining his decision to add more Regions, Lake indicated he simply had the itch to have “been everywhere,” even if just virtually, and also felt there were some places on the medal map puzzle that needed more pieces to complete the 3-D effect. 

He also added that he is “still wrestling” to create a route to pick up Eastern Russia and China, as there are “lots of cool places to visit” but not many roads.

Circumpolar Race Around the World (CRAW): The Virtual Global Relay Run 2
The Fernandand Magellan Buckle ( known as the Fernão de Magalhães Buckle in Portugal) awaits teams that complete CRAW within a time limit. If you complete your Circumpolar trip running (on team or teams) in less than 12 months, you will be eligible to get the Gold Buckle. If you can beat the 16 month mark, you can get a Silver Buckle. Over 16 months is only the Medal.

How Can I Join The CRAW Race?

Lake estimates it will take most teams one or two years to complete the journey and has not established a cut-off date for any team and, in fact, indicates on the race website that he has “taken the time limit off for an absolute finish.” 

This change means there is still time for new teams to join and begin the journey.

If you are interested, you can find detailed information and a link to register on the race website: craw.racing, but here is an overview of the details:

  • You must run as part of a team, with a team consisting of up to ten total members, with one designated as the captain.
  • You can run solo (as a team of one), but must contact the race before doing so. 
  • Your team must be designated as either a Running team or Multisport team.  Runners can be a member of a Multisport team, but a Running team must consist only of members covering miles by foot.
  • If you want to participate, but don’t have a team, you can post to the CRAW Facebook group and indicate either that you are looking for teammates for your own team or are interested in joining another team who may be looking for another member.  The race website also has CRAW Classifieds to help connect runners with teams. 
  • Members log their own mileage on the honor system (no requirement to upload Garmin or Strava results), but must do so within a specific timeframe using a link from the website.  Specifically, miles run from Monday through Sunday must be entered by the following Tuesday.    
  • Team members sign up for one Region at a time, with each costing $40.00.
  • When a team completes one region, they can then choose to stop or continue on to the next Region, which will require signing up for that Region and paying another $40.00 fee. 

Why Should You Try the CRAW? 

With the global situation perhaps not resolving as soon as we had hoped, traveling and in-person races remain uncertain, and a virtual option that provides some motivation and camaraderie, as well as a chance to learn more about the world, seems like a good idea.   

As Lake says, the CRAW is “not so much a race, as a journey and an adventure,” and who doesn’t want a little of that right now?  

Learn more about this race at craw.racing and runsignup.com

Photo of author
A lifelong runner and USATF Level 1 coach of high school cross country and track, Sarah enjoys racing all distances, from the mile to ultras. She is a recent transplant from California to Seattle and spends her free time exploring her new neighborhoods by foot.

2 thoughts on “Circumpolar Race Around the World (CRAW): The Virtual Global Relay Run”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.