Running a marathon or riding 100 miles in a day used to seem like a stern challenge, but with the advent of ultra endurance events, that’s changing.
These 10 endurance events contain tests so brutal that your success is not measured by where you place or the time you achieve, but whether you survive at all. At the University of Worcester, our Sports Nutritionists could help you plan what to eat, and our Sports Scientists could advise on how to train, but perhaps the most fascinating job of all falls to the Sports Psychologists, who ask why on earth anyone would do this to themselves?
1. EnduroMan Arch to Arc
London to Paris: the hard way. The Arch to Arc is a test like no other. Starting at Marble Arch, competitors run 87 miles to Dover, hop in to the sea, swim at least 21 miles across the channel, clamber out in France, and then cycle 180 miles to Paris, finishing at the Arc de Triomphe. The clock starts at the Arch, and stops at the Arc. Only 18 people have ever completed the event. This ultra triathlon can take around three days to complete, but the world record is a staggering 61 hours and 27 minutes.
2. The Self-Transcendence 3,100 miler
The world’s longest certified foot-race, the Self-Transcendence is based on 5649 laps of one extended block in Queens, New York. In the 18 years of the race, only 37 people have ever finished.
3. The Norseman
The Norseman is a triathlon so extreme that most mere mortals wouldn’t even get off the start line. That’s because the race starts with a 4 metre plunge off a ferry in to the freezing waters of the aptly named Hardangerfjord, and a 2.5 mile swim. From there athletes cycle 112 miles through 5 mountain passes across the Hardangervidda plateau, before finishing with a marathon run to the rocky peak of Gaustatoppen, at 1,850m above sea level. Along the route you can expect a warm welcome from the locals, as well as the orcas and reindeer. And all this for no greater prize than a black t-shirt.
4. The Iditarod Trail Invitational
From the absurd heat of Death Valley to the frozen wastes of Alaska, and the Iditarod Invitational, a 1,000 mile race from Anchorage to Nome along a historic Dogsled trail. At -40 degrees C, the temperatures are somewhat inhospitable, as are the race organisers, who deliberately adopt a no intervention, minimal support approach. There is no designated or marked route, only mandatory checkpoints racers must pass through. As the organisers themselves admit, a mistake could cost you fingers, toes, or even your life. The good news is you can choose whether to run, mountain bike, or ski your way along the trail. The bad news is that all three options will hurt… a lot.
5. The Tour Divide
With one stage spanning 2745 miles, vertiginous mountain passes, and windswept valleys, the Great Divide mountain bike race is one of the least relaxing ways to see North America. In fact, it’s an epic pitched battle from the hinterlands of the Canadian Rockies to the badlands of the Mexican Plateau. Starting out in Banff, Alberta, racers ride down the spine of North America, until finally arriving in Antelope Wells, New Mexico. The terrain is tough, with over 90% of the route off-road. With 200,000 thousand feet of elevation gain and loss to contend with, it’s a monster in every way. Talking of monsters, as you tackle every kind of terrain, from mountains to deserts, you can expect to meet both Grizzly and Black Bears, Mousse, and even the odd Cougar.
6. The Marathon des Sables
Starting in the scorching Saharan heat of Southern Morocco, the Marathon des Sables requires competitors to complete the equivalent of five and a half marathons in five days, in temperatures soaring above 50 degrees centigrade by day, and almost as far below zero at night. At night runners pack down in open-sided Berber tents in a desperate attempt to recover before the next day’s onslaught. With athletes required to carry all their own food and kit on their backs, weight is everything, with some even resorting to sawing toothbrushes in half to save on load.
7. The North Pole Marathon
Known as ‘the coolest race in the world’, the North Pole Marathon is a standard 26.2 mile marathon distance, but that’s the only thing about it that’s standard. Staged on top of the world, on shifting ice-flows that can fracture and drift at any moment, runners endure temperatures of minus 40 degrees centigrade, as well as risking an encounter with the polar bears who roam the ice.
8. The Jungle Marathon
If the depths of the Amazonian rainforest in Brazil don’t seem like natural marathon territory to you, you’re not alone. And yet some people look at this impenetrable labyrinth of green and think ‘yep, I could run 158 miles through there’.
Racers again have to carry their own kit and provisions. Add in all the usual thrills of the rainforest, such as temperatures nudging 40 degrees C and 99% humidity, as well as perilous river crossings, piranhas, swamps, anacondas, and poisonous flora, plus a simple hammock for a bed, and you’ve got a seriously intimidating challenge.
9. The Badwater 135
Death Valley: two words that don’t conjure up a pleasant run through the park. Then again, neither does the thought of running 135 miles through sand and cacti in temperatures pushing 50 degrees C. With the start line - in Badwater itself – marking the lowest point in the US, at 280 feet below sea level, and the finishing line over 8,500 feet higher, altitude sickness as well as searing heat test the runners on this satanic course. It’s no wonder the route takes in places like Furnace Creek and the Devil’s Cornfield.
10. Brutal Triple Ironman
You don’t have to travel to Death Valley or the Amazon to find one of the hardest physical challenges in the world. The Llanberis ‘brutal’ triple ironman is right up there when it comes to soul-crushing toil, nearly three days of gruelling racing without rest. Set in the Snowdonian National Park, the race kicks off with a 7.2 mile swim in the freezing waters of Lake Pardan, followed by a 350 mile cycle through the foothills of Mount Snowdon, with 32,000 feet of ascents. The final stage is an 80 mile run, including a haul all the way to the summit of Snowdon and back. This race is so extreme that you are required to bring a support crew with you to keep you safe during the night sections and on the mountain stage.