People love challenges. If we didn’t we wouldn’t be where we are now as a species. We’ve always strived to accomplish goals and aims that most of us take one look out and mutter ‘nah’ under our breath. It’s inbuilt in our collective DNA. We’re a species that loves climbing mountains, literally and metaphorically.
They come in different forms though. It’s about testing the mind, the body and the soul to varying degrees in the hope of accomplishing something that few other people can. Those people lucky enough to have that frame of mind often describe it as an addiction. If you match that description and are brave enough (or stupid, let’s be honest) to rise to the occasion, here are 5 totally unforgiving endurance challenges. Who knows, you might just find your next mountain among them, you maniac.
Just one more thing, these 5 are not in order of easiest to hardest, narrowing it down to that degree is nearly as impossible as the challenges themselves.
1. Patagonia Expedition Race
Known affectionately as the ‘race to the end of the world’ and ‘the last wild race’, the Patagonia Expedition Race is a 10-day event that pits its competitors against the brutal wilderness of Chilean Patagonia. Taking place in February every year, it contains a maximum of 20 four-person teams who must run, swim, ski, hike, climb, cycle, paddle, crawl and weep their way across a course that ranges from 350 miles to 620 depending on the year, as the same course is never used twice. Created to raise awareness for the impact of man on the environment of Patagonia, the race raises hundreds of thousands of dollars each year and is the only endurance challenge anywhere in the world to be affiliated with the Olympic Committee. The teams get minimal assistance throughout their expedition, having to carry all equipment they need as they face the altitude, freezing or soaring temperatures, vast rivers and valleys that Patagonia has to offer. This isn’t open to just anyone, you have to be as fit as they come, qualified up to the neck and have a track record of endurance challenges. If not, you’ll never make it past the application process. This could be the most rewarding to complete of the lot, thanks to the astounding scenery (see the video) and the money for conservation that is raised, that and the personal achievement of proving to be one tough cookie too. It’s also impossible to watch that video without the Lord of the Rings soundtrack playing in your head.
2. Marathon de Sables
This one is brutal, well, it would be to be on this list. The Marathon de Sables means ‘Marathon of the Sands’, inspired by the Sahara Desert in which it is held. This six day event covers a distance of about 156 miles, working out to roughly a one full length marathon every day. Over the course of the event you carry all your supplies and food along with you as you run/crawl across hundreds of miles of soul-destroying sand dunes and rock hamada that make your feet resemble something from a horror movie. Any race that disqualifies people for taking more than two IV drips during the course of the event is pretty hard core. The checkpoint water breaks are small pieces of heaven in the relentless Saharan heat as well as the lively social side to the race as you and other competitors camp under the desert moon. This race is renowned for its medical assistance and competitor care so, although this is unquestionably a difficult challenge to undertake, the support and assistance on hand is also second to none. If you need any further indication of how tough and dangerous this challenge is, look no further than the example of the participant in the 90’s who got lost in a sandstorm during the race and wandered nearly 200 miles off course, ran out of food and had to survive on eating snakes and lizards as well as drinking the blood of bats and his own urine. Grim, right? In just 10 days before he was found, he lost two and a half stone and was rescued by some native nomadic peoples. This challenge is serious.
Describing itself as the ‘toughest, coldest and windiest ultra-marathon on the planet’, 6633 Ultra sees competitors run along the Dempsey highway in Canada crossing into the arctic circle at almost exactly the latitude of 66 degrees 33 minutes, hence the name. Two versions of this course are available to its competitors; you can choose the poultry 120 mile version or the slightly tougher 350 mile. The race is self-sufficient with the only chances to sleep and rest at checkpoints, which are anywhere from 26 to 70 miles apart. So difficult and demanding is this challenge that the 350 mile version has only been completed 11 times in the race’s history, with the 120 mile version having a less than 50% completion rate. You’re battling gruelling terrain and horrendous cold and wet for this one, two things that challenge people mentally far more than distance.
4. Cape Epic
The first on our list exclusively on mountain bikes, Cape Epic sees pairs of riders travel along a bumpy, sandy and rocky road for nearly 800km of South Africa’s Western Cape. The race typically takes 8 days, and given the international accreditation of this event by certain governing bodies, you as an amateur can ride alongside professional mountain bikers, similar to the Tour de France. Camping in Western Cape vineyards is certainly the most luxurious accommodation you can find for one of these challenges, but that doesn’t take away from the brutality of the course. Be prepared for the very marrow of your bones to be shaken and vibrated to numbness for hundreds of seemingly endless miles. Given the rough terrain and speed of this race, personal injury is very high as well as injury to some very expensive mountain biking equipment. The completion rate on this one is only around 70%. If you think you’re getting out of this one without a scratch, think again.
Probably the most expensive to take part in for obvious reasons, the Antarctic 100 is the final mountain for any ultra-marathon competitor. Taking place in the height of the Antarctic summer, competitors will run a 100km ultra-marathon in just three days. It sounds impossible for sure, but remember that at that time of year in Antarctica the sun never sets, allowing the competitors to run for as many hours a day as necessary to make the cut off point. This is the crown jewel in the trophy cabinet of anyone who has wanted to run an ultra-marathon on every continent. Possibly the hardest one, not due to distance but conditions, the Antarctic 100 pits runners against ice, elevation, extremely sub-zero competitors, glare from the sun, extreme fatigue, exhaustion and even such critical risks as frost bite or hypothermia. If you complete the Antarctic 100, you really are a badass.
Self-Transcendence – A race that takes place around a single city block in America which lasts for hundreds of miles and thousands of laps of the same street.
Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc – An ultra-marathon with the accumulative height of running up and down mountains greater than the height of Everest.
Jungle Ultra – The ultra-marathon challenge in the heart of the amazon jungle, dealing with insects and humidity galore while meeting native people.
These sorts of challenges are nice to think about, even if most people won’t end up even attempting them. It’s easy to see why some people become addicted and start to ‘collect’ races and events. There is definitely something primeval about competing, even with only yourself, to see where your breaking point is. For a lot of us though, the long walk upstairs to bed seems a lot of effort.
By Guy Bezant - Online Journalism Intern
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