There are tough races, and then there are oh-my-god-will-I-make-it-through-this-alive? races. These races, brave runners, are most certainly the latter. And if you think we’re exaggerating, think again. These journeys have taken everything from toenails to the lives of their participants, so they’re not to be taken lightly. In fact, they probably shouldn’t be taken at all… but that won’t stop you, will it?
Merely hiking through the Amazon comes with a boatload of challenges — it’s hot as hell, there are bugs the size of your fist buzzing around your face, and the terrain begs you to trip at every step. But the Jungle Ultra takes this challenge to a new level. Like, a 142.6-mile level. If you’ve ever wondered what it’d be like to run 142.6 miles in 100% humidity across 70 rivers and through the deep Amazon, then the Jungle Ultra is for you.
This race is so tough, it has taken the lives of more than a few talented sailors. It’s a 38,739-mile boat race, the longest sporting event in the world, and every three years it challenges teams of eight (or 11, if it’s an all-women team) to race against one another for a non-stop sail between ports. Not only are there weather, fatigue, and skill-level challenges, but in 2011, the threat of pirates (yes, pirates) made it so the boats needed to be lifted onto armed ships and dropped at a safe port.
This might sound like the American dream, but in reality it’s the stuff of nightmares. Dubbed “the world’s toughest bike race,” Race Across America is a 3,000-mile(!) bike race across 12 states and climbing over 170,000 vertical feet. And in case that’s not tough enough, racers must finish within the 12-day time limit, which means the winners are averaging about 22 hours, and 250-350 miles, per day on their bikes. So if you’re interested and start training now, you’ll probably be ready by about 2050.
Don’t let the fact that this race goes from castle to castle in the Welsh wilderness fool you into thinking it’s all fun and games. Because it’s hard. Really hard. Runners who finish the race will have covered 186 miles of largely untouched “trails” and climbed over 51,000 feet. If you’re super quick on your feet, you can expect to be running for eight hours a day. And if you run at a mild pace, then expect to be traversing for 18 hours each day. But no matter your speed, you’ll be navigating in rain, low visibility, and a whole lot of rough terrain.
If the fact that it’s called the Brutal Extreme Triathlon isn’t enough to convince you that it’s one of the toughest races around, then the logistics of the race certainly will. That’s because it consists of an 11.4-kilometer swim in a near-freezing lake, a 540-kilometer bike ride across a whole bunch of hills, and finishes up with a 126-kilometer run that forces participants up Mount Snowdon, the tallest peak in Wales (what’s with the Welsh?). In other words, it’s really damn difficult.
Not only does this race require participants to run 100 miles on foot across rocky trails and forest service roads through the Cascade Mountains in Washington, but they’re required to do it without support. That means no aid stations, no pacers, and if you drop out—and you probably will because only 100 people have finished the race in its 30 years of action—you have to find your own way back to civilization. If you decide to take this on, we hope you have a good sense of direction, the endurance of a horse, and the sanity of Charles Manson.
If you’re brave enough to take on The Tour Divide, then you better be brave enough to ride your bike from Banff (that’s in Canada, folks) to New Mexico —an easy-peasy 2,745 miles. Easy, that is, if crazy-high altitudes, extreme heat, and rocky roads are your thing. Racers clock an average of 170 miles on the road per day and will climb 200,000 feet over the race’s course. But the challenge doesn’t stop there. The race is entirely self-supported, which means you’ll be paying your own way. The 2014 winner, Jefe Branham, said, “I probably spent $1,200 on food. And I was doing it cheap.”
What’s toughest about this race isn’t that it’s a 100-mile footrace through California, which includes a 30-mile stretch of ultra hilly descents and climbs. No, the toughest part of this race is that participants are more than likely to take on that mileage in temperatures that regularly exceed 100 degrees. That’s probably why only the most elite athletes venture to take it on, sacrificing comfort, their bodies general sense of well-being, and, oftentimes, most of your toenails.
This is 10 days (maximum) and 400+ miles of straight up difficulty. One of the things that makes this race so challenging is the fact that no two editions are the same, so no amount of research on Chilean topography will adequately prepare you for the entirely unique journey that awaits. No matter your route, though, you can expect to encounter plains, mountains, glaciers, swampland, rivers, and lakes, all of which you have to traverse with very little equipment or guidance. The challenge is real, y’all.
Around 15 brave souls have attempted this challenge each year for the past few decades, and one person lost their life to it in recent years. (We told you these challenges don’t mess around.) In fact, to call it a challenge doesn’t even do it justice. This is a grueling trek across more than 100 miles of Alaskan terrain with no set route and, definitely, no GPS. If participants want to make it out alive, they need to be well-versed in self-rescue techniques and carry a SAT phone in their back pocket. Needless to say, it’s not for the faint of heart.
Since this race’s inception in 1986, only 18 runners out of near 1000 have completed it. This makes sense when you consider that it stretches over 100 miles of rough terrain with nearly 60,000 feet of climbing and descent in Tennessee’s Frozen Head State Park. Oh, and there are no switchbacks to take the edge off. Instead, runners are heading straight uphill to their misery or downhill through thornbushes while they attempt to finish the race in the 60 required hours it calls for.
How can running around one block in Queens make our list of the toughest races in the world? By requiring runners to round that block—wait for it—5,649 times in only 52 days. The course’s lack of obstacles is actually what makes it among the toughest races on this list. Not only do runners’ bodies have to battle close to 3,100 miles, but their minds have to deal with the fact that they’re seeing the same block. Over and over and over. 5,649 times. Fitt Tip: Change up the playlist at the very least.
This is a bike race, but of course, it’s not your ordinary bike race. Oh, no. This is a killer, four-stage course that sees bikers traverse the deep Costa Rican jungle, then make their way to peak altitudes where they’ll wind up and down volcanoes, drag their wheels through knee-deep mud, and do their very best to avoid poison dart frogs. About 450 people attempt the ride each year, which follows the path of 16th-century Spanish conquistadors. Only, the conquistadors took 20 years to do it, while participants in this race are expected to do it in three days.
This 1,000-mile race through the Alaskan wild is so difficult that you can choose to take it on by foot, bike, or ski. But no matter which method you go with, you’d be wise to think you won’t finish, because most people don’t. That’s probably due to the fact that the trail stretches across miles of uneven and uninhabited terrain that only the very skilled and self-sufficient adventurers can hope to cross. Did we mention that there are no GPS devices allowed?
Oh, y’know… this is just a super-casual 350-mile jaunt through the Arctic Circle. No big deal. Just kidding — the 6633 Ultra is a huge deal, partly because participants need to drag pounds of gear on sleds while they cross mountainous terrain. And partly because the temperatures average out at a balmy 25 degrees below zero. Oh, and all 350 miles have to be completed in 191 hours, which is probably why only 11 people have completed the event in its history.
Welcome to hell! Well, Death Valley — close enough. Starting in Badwater Basin, the lowest elevation point in North America, you’ll claw your way out of the scorching heat just to climb a mountain. The non-stop race ends 135 miles later at Whitney Portal, the trailhead to California’s Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. Needless to say, only the craziest of ultrarunners need apply.
If you’ve really picked up a knack for desert running, you’ll absolutely love the dream-like run of Marathon des Sables in Morocco. We’re being sarcastic, of course, because you’ll be running the equivalent of five and a half marathons is as many days through 122-degree heat. This race isn’t without precaution though: You’re required to carry 14,000 calories of food, you need to have a pre-race EKG and blood test, and your traditional Berber tent you’ll be crashing in might make it feel a few degrees cooler.
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