World’s Toughest Races: Ready for the Ultimate Test?
There is a race for every person. Some may aspire to complete a full marathon, while for others, an ultramarathon is the dream goal. A few, however, seek out races beyond the conventional. These are races that put your body and mind to test. By combining great distances with extreme conditions such as rugged terrain, unforgiving temperatures, elevation, and navigation difficulties, these footraces are the most difficult in the world.
Let’s look at some of the toughest races in the world and what makes them the ultimate test of endurance.
1. Badwater 135
If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to run in the lowest valleys and the highest points in the United States, then head for the Badwater 135. Labelled as the “world’s toughest footrace”, Badwater 135 is equal parts demanding and prestigious. Covering a distance of 135 miles (217 Km), the starting point is Badwater Basin in Death Valley, the lowest elevation in North America at 85m below sea level. The course finishes at Whitney Portal (2,530m above sea level), which is the trailhead to Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States.
If this isn’t enough, participants are to complete this course in 48 hours and battle the scorching heat, which can rise up to 53°C. However, entry into Badwater is by invitation only. Every year, a maximum of 100 participants are selected, based on an application that has strict qualifying requirements based on the runner’s race history and personal capabilities.
2. Barkley Marathon
This is not for the faint-hearted. Barkley is considered to be one of the toughest ultramarathon races in the world. Officially, the first Barkley was run in 1986 and has grown in popularity in the past few years. The race consists of five loops spanning over 100-miles through Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee. Till date, only 15 runners have been able to complete the course.
Participants have 60-hours to complete the race that involves a five-loop course with each loop distance being about 20 miles. Runners have to climb and descend an elevation of 60,000 ft each. About 40 runners get to run the Barkley each year, through a course that is not marked, without GPS and consists of unruly terrain, bushes and thorns. Runners have an option of completing all five loops in 60 hours or participating in ‘Fun Runs’ — that’s three loops in under 40 hours.
Fun fact: At every checkpoint there are books kept from which runners have to tear the page that corresponds to their bib number as a proof of crossing those checkpoints.
3. Marathon Des Sables
A footrace open to runners and walkers, Marathon Des Sables is located in one of the most extreme and demanding routes in the world, the Sahara Desert. The race covers a distance of about 250km and is split over a course of six days with one rest day. In addition to crossing dunes and sand storms on the course, the temperature in the desert can rise over 40°C.
However, the real challenge is that participants have to carry their own food, equipment, clothing and sleeping gear to last the duration of the race. The course has gained popularity over years and now brings in close to 1,000 participants each year.
4. Hardrock 100
If mountaineering, wilderness navigation, and wilderness survival excites you, then the Hardrock 100-mile endurance run is the one for you. The run spans 100.5 miles (161 Km) in length, and includes a climb and descent each of 33,000 feet. It is held on a loop course on four-wheel drive roads and dirt trails along the Southern Colorado’s San Juan Range, USA. Each year the course direction changes. If the previous year’s run was run in the clockwise direction, the next year’s course will be in a counter-clockwise direction.
Instead of crossing a finish line, participants have to kiss the ‘Hardrock’ in order to complete the event. This course is designed in a way that provides steepness, altitude, river crossings, snow packs, and boulder fields. The cut-off time for completing the run is 48 hours. Due to the high elevations, some runners may experience altitude sickness or edema.
5. UTMB 100miles
A race that lets you traverse through France, Italy and Switzerland, Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) is one of a kind. The race course covers a distance of a 171km loop that circles around the intersection of the three countries and includes an elevation gain of 10,000 meters. UTMB is a single stage race, which means the race is not broken down into stages and it clocks continuously from start to finish with no pre-defined rest periods. The cut-off time for finishing is 46 hours 30 mins and the course starts from Chamonix, France.
UTMB is an event under which several events are organised and they differ based on their distance and cut-off times. Around 2,300 runners participate in this mountain race and registration is based on a certain number of points collected in qualifying races. The race must be completed in semi-autonomy, which means participants must have enough supplies in terms of food, clothing and equipment between two aid stations.
6. Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race
When you think of the hardest races in the world, you imagine steep climbs, descents, rocky roads, and harsh weather. But the Self-Transcendence 3100-mile race is a different ball game.
To put things into perspective, 3,100 miles — which is 4,989km — is roughly equivalent to the distance between New York and Scotland. Now imagine covering this distance in 52 days. In order to cover the distance of 4,989 Km, runners must log in on an average 95.9 Km daily, which is a little over running two full marathons.
The race course is set in Queens, New York and runners can run for extended periods throughout the day and take as many breaks as needed. As the world’s longest certified road race, the selected few participants run the same route for 52 days. It is conceived as a both physical and spiritual journey and unlike any other ultramarathon.
7. Western States 100 Miles Endurance Run
Western States is the world’s oldest 100-mile (160km) trail race that starts in Olympic Valley and ends in Auburn, in California. The race course climbs more than 18,000 cumulative feet in elevation and descends more than 23,000 feet. It is recommended to have basic knowledge of the race course as nearly half of the trail will be traveled at night.
During the run, the temperatures can vary greatly, from -6°C to 45°C. Participants have a cut-off time of 30 hours to complete the course that spans rugged canyons and river crossings that makes it one of the ultimate endurance tests in the world.
8. Iditarod Trail Invitational
Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) is termed as the world’s longest running winter ultra-marathon. In this annual event, participants tackle the extreme physical and environmental conditions of Alaska as they traverse along the Iditarod trail either on bicycle, foot or skis. Given the challenging nature of the trail, participants may face temperatures as low as -45°C, rain, blizzards, mud, and deep snow. The trail is known for its inhospitable conditions and participants are required to carry their own supplies that would last till the end of the trail. This race can be run over a distance of 350 miles (563 Km) or 1000 miles (1609 Km) — to be eligible for the ITI 1000 trail, participants must complete the ITI 350 at least once to demonstrate self-reliance and survival skills in the harsh conditions.
9. 6633 Ultra
If you want to experience something tough and beautiful, 6633 Ultra ticks all the boxes. Regarded as the toughest, coldest and windiest footrace, it is an adventure that ends on the Arctic Ocean, which offers one of the most extreme landscapes. This is a non-stop, self-sufficient race that can be run over a distance of 120 miles (193 Km) or 380 miles (611 Km), and cross the line of the Arctic Circle. Both the distances start at Eagle Plains, Yukon. The 120-mile race finishes at the First Nations Hamlet of Fort McPherson, and the 380-mile race continues to the banks of the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk. Being a self-sufficient race, runners are supposed to pull sleds of their supplies that include food, clothing, equipment, and sleeping gear.
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