People, well some people, like to push themselves to the extreme – sky diving, bungee jumps and really spicy curries. I must admit I’m probably not one of them. I like staying fit definitely, but not to the fringes of what is humanly possible; think nice little runner rather than high-performance sports car. On a miserable Tuesday evening I’d prefer Netflix and a pasta bake to rigorous hill training for my upcoming ultra-marathon.
However, the subject did intrigue me and I don’t think I’m alone. After not very much time at all (on a popular internet search engine) I discovered a whole world of lengthy desert foot races, alpine super challenges and ultimate rainforest pursuits. The distances, altitudes and temperatures being thrown around are ridiculous. How can a running race be over 100 miles long? Blows that 2010 Eastbourne Half Marathon you did out of the water.
As this is The Outdoor Edition, and our first, let’s go global on this one – push the boat out. We wanted to put together the most harrowing sounding races we could find and let you grimace and gurn at what some people get up to. The combination of amazing locations, climate challenges and almost unfathomable fitness levels makes for a fascinating topic. Based on some office chats about what fits our “completely unappealing” event criteria, we came up with a short list.
Billed as ‘the toughest footrace on earth,’ the Marathon des Sables is the ideal choice to kick off our little list. Fancy running a little over a marathon per day through the Sahara Desert for five to six days straight? Apparently some people do. Started in 1986 by Patrick Bauer, the race is now in its 28th consecutive year and continues to grow. This gruelling multi-stager boasts barren salt pans, desert-mountains and the relentless heat of the Moroccan sun.
The Badwater brand has a punishing legacy of ultra-marathons; we went with a team event to mix it up. The Salton Sea course is ‘an unimaginable traverse of Southern California deserts and mountains.’ That’s how the website sells it. Running as part of a small team, runners face a non-stop 130km; starting at the shoreline of the Salton Sea and finishing at Palomar Mountain. A mixture of trail and road running there is an elevation gain of over 9,000 feet. Nice.
At 100% humidity your body cannot maintain its core temperature; cramps, exhaustion and fainting are common place and that’s without throwing a 230km course into the mix. Jungle Ultra, in the Peruvian rainforest, is one of the most challenging footraces in the world. A five-stage event, this gruelling Amazon trail run boasts river crossings, mountain roads and remote village tracks; as well as diverse wildlife and indigenous tribes. Don’t forget to pack insect repellent for this one.
As you can see from the pictures, it isn’t exactly flat. The Dragon’s Back is five days of mountain running; wild, trackless and remote - this is punishing stuff. Over five days, competitors will cover around 300km through 17,000m of ascent; from North to South Wales, via unforgiving terrain. ‘Running the mountainous spine of Wales’ is how it’s billed. The next one is provisionally booked in for the end of May 2017, so you have a bit of prep time.