With events cancelled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent international travel restrictions, many racers will be raring to find the next exciting challenge to sink their teeth into.
What makes a race challenging is subjective. With long distances, unforgiving temperatures and terrain, and precipitous ascents and descents, we review a selection of the most taxing endurance races on Earth.
1. Jungle Marathon — Amazon Rainforest, Brazil
Providing athletes with a unique opportunity to test their endurance skills deep in the Amazon rainforest, Brazil’s Jungle Marathon presents competitors with a choice of two tracks, with participants either completing 150 miles in six stages, or 63 miles in four stages. Of course, the distance is taxing, but with poisonous spiders and gargantuan anacondas to contend with, enduring the jungle is the real challenge.
The course covers swamps, trails, river crossings, and beaches, the scorching temperatures intensified by high humidity. All participants must be self-sufficient, bringing compulsory kit including water, food, and a hammock and mosquito net, as well as a first aid kit.
2. HURT 100 Trail Run — Honolulu, Hawaii
Staged by the Hawaiian Ultra Running Team (HURT), the HURT 100 Trail Run sees racers compete for 36 hours. They negotiate a course that is 99 percent single-track trails that loop through semi-tropical rainforest and include 20 separate stream crossings.
Covering 100 miles in total, participants must negotiate moderately packed soil interspersed with puddles, rocks, tree roots, and mud wallows; following narrow trails through forests, past embankments, and along exposed ridges.
3. Everest Marathon — Mount Everest Base Camp
Known as the Roof of the World, the Himalayas stretch across five separate countries: India, Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan. In order to participate in the Everest Marathon, competitors must arrive in Nepal three weeks prior to the event in order to acclimatize themselves to the altitude. Participants get to go on a tour of Kathmandu, as well as trek to Kala Patthar, enjoying some stunning views along the way.
Covering the traditional marathon distance of 26.2 miles, the race starts at the Everest Expedition Base Camp, 18,000 feet above sea level. The route is nearly all downhill, but does incorporate two steep uphill sections. Finishing at Namache Bazaar at more than 11,300 feet, it is the combination of high altitude and the incredibly cold climate that makes the Everest Marathon one of the most taxing races on the planet.
4. Badwater 135 — Death Valley, California
This race starts at the lowest elevation in North America: Badwater Basin in Death Valley. The 135-mile race spans three mountain ranges, finishing on Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental United States. National Geographic has recognized Badwater 135 as the world’s toughest race.
The event organizers, AdventureCORPS, is an athlete-run brand that was founded by Chris Kostman in 1984. Kostman, who still serves as the organization’s Chief Adventure Officer, was a keen ultra-sports competitor from a young age. He established world records in cycling in 1984 and 1985, while still studying at high school. Through AdventureCORPS, Chris Kostman helped to create some of the world’s toughest endurance races.
5. Andes Race Chaski Challenge — Cusco, Peru
This ultramarathon pays homage to the ancient Incas, who once ran incredible distances in Peru’s Sacred Valley in order to deliver messages to neighboring villages.
Covering approximately 63 miles, the modern-day challenge stretches competitors seeking a tough, vertical challenge. At an elevation of over 11,000 feet, competitors are as punished by the effects of oxygen deprivation as they are by the harsh mountain terrain. For this reason, the Andes Race Chaski Challenge is limited to 100 elite runners every year.
6. Marathon des Sables — Sahara Desert, Morocco
With minimal vegetation and just 3 inches of annual rainfall, the sweltering Sahara Desert is one of the most inhospitable environments on earth. This makes it the perfect setting for one of the world’s most challenging ultramarathons.
Carrying all of their own equipment, competitors must complete the 150-mile multi-stage endurance race in just seven days, with only one day off for rest and recovery. The event’s founder, Patrick Bauer, created one of the world’s most popular ultramarathons in 1986, inspired by his own experience of walking 217 miles through the Sahara.
7. 6633 Arctic Ultra — Yukon Territory, Canada
With both 120-mile and 380-mile races available, the 6633 Ultra starts in Canada’s Yukon Territory, continuing through the Northwest Territories. Participants must be prepared to battle against heavy winds and temperatures as low as -40 degrees Celsius, although they are afforded some truly spectacular views.
The 6633 Arctic Ultra is more than just a race. It is an expedition and an adventure that ends on the Arctic Ocean, providing a unique opportunity to experience some of the most extreme yet beautiful landscapes on the planet.
Traversing the frozen landscape of the Canadian Arctic, competitors in both the 120-mile and 380-mile events cross into the Arctic Circle. This non-stop, self-sufficient foot race has been in existence for 12 years now. The event was the brainchild of Welshman, Martin Like, an experienced ultra-distance racer who has competed ultramarathons across Alaska and Yukon, as well as tackling endurance races in some of the world’s most inhospitable deserts and jungles.