So you ran a 10k, you wore that serial number sticker on your shirt and uploaded a picture on Facebook, and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. You are, as they say in that old pop culture cliche and GTA games, “tough shit”.
But sometimes, mainly on account of our general boredom in life, we like to swoop in like Spiderman, on your day of Jubilee and (how do we put it delicately!) destroy it. Here’s a list of the toughest, grittiest, most gruelling races you have a relatively low probability of surviving.
- Marathon des Sables:
Where: Sahara Desert.
Aptly referred to as the ‘stuff of legends’ and the ‘toughest footrace on earth’, this extraordinary race spans 150 – 156 miles – the distance varying year on year. We know what you’re thinking – why would anyone want to run 250 Kms over 6 days, in the Sahara Desert, during summers, with temperature reaching 50 degrees frequently? The answer is a low regard for your personal safety and an almost clinical need for glory. Not only are you expected to be self-sufficient and carry your food and equipment, you’re also allotted a time penalty if you exceed your ration of water – yes, you heart it right! Add endless dunes, White-hot salt plains and rocky jebels to the mix – and you’re set for an adventure of a life-time.
- Hardrock 100-Mile Endurance Run:
Where: Mountainous areas of Colorado.
This race is not for the faint-hearted (just like all the others on this list!). You’re looking at a distance of 100 miles (160.93 Kms) run, and 33,050 feet of climb + descent – that is consistently about 7,700-14,000+ feet above sea level. This means you’ll be going through several climate zones, spruce forests, mountain terrain with formidable weather, and you might run into elks, bears and possibly mountain lions. This terrain is supposed to be a tribute to the hard-rock miners who have worked here.
- The Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon:
Where: Kathmandu, Nepal.
There’s no good story that begins with, “This one time I ran a marathon in the Everest..” – so, this sounds scary just from the get go! Claiming to be World’s Highest Marathon, this run spans a distance of 26.2 miles (42.195 Kms), starting at the Everest Expedition Base Camp (18,000 feet) and finishing at Namche Bazaar (11,306 feet). During the course of the run, you’ll be passing through several sherpa towns, Everest National Park, Khumbu Icefall, and Buddhist monasteries of Pangboche. For company, you’ll have a breath-taking view of Himalayan ranges, snowcapped peaks, and glaciers.
- Jungle Ultra:
This 142.6 miles (230 Kms) haul will take you through the Peruvian jungles of Manu National Park (Peru), across 70 rivers and streams – involving a 10k mile feet drop to the jungle floor. While the temperature is about 30-40 degrees Celsius, you can expect more humidity than Mumbai in August, and if that’s not enough to dissuade you, you’ll encounter… wait for it…a lot of bugs. The Jungle Ultra challenges you run, fight and scramble through your journey from the cloud forest (running from the Andes mountains to the Madre de Dios River) to Amazon basin. Saddle up, because this is as close as you will ever get to the famous Amazon rainforests.
- Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc:
This 106 mile loop starts in France and gives you the pleasant opportunity to run in three different countries in the same race – and when we say “pleasant” we actually mean,”This will probably cause you excruciating pain”. Hitting 10,000 feet of elevation several times along the way, and facing difficult weather conditions (night, wind, cold, rain or snow), you will circle around the intersection of France, Italy, and Switzerland. You’ll be putting up with tremendous fatigue, and pushing physical boundaries.Sure, the mountain passage views are breathtaking, but it’s totally not something you can’t also see in a Euro Rail – so, the decision is yours. Just kidding!
- The Patagonian Expedition Race:
How would you like to cover hundreds of kilometers by hiking, kayaking, walking, running and mountain biking, with minimal assistance, in a setting where it will be days before you see another human being? Signing up for this “Adventure to the End of the World” means you will encounter mountains, rivers, plains, forests, swampland, glaciers, streams and channels, along your journey through one of the most isolated and untouched places across the globe. The race is a tribute to the native Patagonians who would take this route for migration, guided by mind, spirit, physical stamina and sheer will power.
- Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run:
Where: Squaw Valley, California.
This race prides itself on being the world’s first 100-mile race. Starting in Squaw Valley, California and ending in Auburn, California, the total circuit spans 100.6 miles, including a 18,000 feet climb and nearly 23,000 feet descent. If you complete it in under 24 hour, you get the prized silver belt buckle. On you way, you’ll experience the majestic high country beauty, the crucible of the canyons, a memorable crossing of the ice-cold waters, the historic reddish-brown-colored trails and much more.
- La Ruta de los Conquistadores:
Where: Costa Rica, Central America
La Ruta de los Conquistadores(translates to: “the route of the conquerors”), is a mark of prestige and stature in Costa Rica and is regarded as one of the most intense mountain bike races in the world. Every year, hundreds of cyclists flock to the location to try their (hard) luck. “The Route crosses 5 mountain ranges, 161 miles, and forces the cyclist to climb 29,000 feet. The terrain is so uneven and difficult that half a millennium ago, it took the Spanish Conquistadores led by Juan de Cavallón, 20 years to cross Costa Rica from coast to coast. Today, following almost the same steps as the Conquerors, adventurers on their mountain bikes will do so in three days.” – Source.Since Costa Rica is known for “the country with the most biodiversity of the planet”, you’ll be encountering 5% of the flora and fauna on the planet along the way. “The route goes through the humid tropical forest, climbs volcanoes and runs banana plantations: freezing, soaking and sweating all the participants. Cyclists are faced with all types of terrain imaginable, single track, ballast, dirt, pavement, knee-deep mud, sand, volcanic ash and more.”
- Self-Transcendence 3,100 Mile:
Where: Queens, NY
Called ‘The Mount Everest of ultramarathons‘ by The New York Times, this is the longest certified footrace in the world. Breakdown is that you have to complete 3100 miles of journey in 52 days, effectively logging almost 60 miles a day. The runners begin at 6 AM and run for extended periods throughout the day, taking breaks as needed. If they want to, they can continue as late as 12 AM when the course closes for the night. This test is for endurance – of basically,waking up at 6 AM and walk 60 miles for the whole day in formidable terrain, and then say, ‘yeah, I guess I’ll do the same thing tomorrow.
- Plain 100:
Where: Plain, Eastern Washington
The plain 100 Race is 100K miler, with a hard time limit of 36 hours. There will be search and rescue points at regular intervals where you will have to identify yourself and obtain your password. One quote from a potential participant sums it up pretty well: “I’m glad my toenails are going to fall off soon, so that I can finally clean out all the dirt that is under them.”
The Plain 100 is commonly described as “plain tough”, where you receive no aid in the form of; pacers, course markings or aid stations.