“Britain’s toughest event”, “World’s most demanding course” and perhaps my favourite, “a hardcore race to challenge the toughest of the tough”. There seem to be plenty of tough races out there, each one claiming to be tougher than the last. Some can be completed in a morning with a quick dunk in a muddy pond and climbing a few walls; others take much longer. But surely they can’t all be tougher than each other in a never ending circle of toughness?
Well the circle of toughness must end somewhere, and it does. Badwater, UTMB and Marathon des Sables are some races to check out, but what other brutal races are there out there? Here’s my podium list:
1. Spine Race
This spine chillingly brutal race runs along the entire length of the Pennine way, the grandfather of all UK national trails, starting in Edale in the Peak District then snaking 268 miles to the Scottish border at Kirk Yetholm. Sounds like a bit of a long way doesn’t it? As if the distance isn’t hard enough, the race also takes place in January, a month of long dark nights, horizontal blizzards and howling gales.
It will often take hikers 14 days to tramp along the Pennine way so imagine doing it all in one hit, non-stop. This year, the weather was slightly kinder to those foolish enough to set out, making for boggy conditions instead of the icy cruel winds seen in previous years. The race record stands at 99 hours and 17 minutes. That’s pretty fast when you consider the challenges thrown at the competitors: hypothermia, sleep deprivation, wind blindness and simple exhaustion all take their toll.
More information at http://thespinerace.com/
2. Barkley marathon
There are some difficult races, and there are some crazily difficult races. But then there’s this race, which is just crazy. Simply bonkers. It starts with its unorthodox entry process where you submit an essay on why you should be let in, and the route changes year on year with no-one quite sure how far it is. It has actually previously taken years for someone to finish the race. The entry fee is a license plate from your home state or country and you must rip out a page from a book at each of the checkpoints to prove you’ve done it. Only 14 people have ever finished this race with many editions of the race ending with not a single finisher.
Want to learn more? Watch “The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young”
3. 24 hour track race
Navigation, easy. Elevation, none. Mental stimulation, somewhat lacking. Running tracks are boring. Anything more than 20 minutes is enough to make me wish I was anywhere else. So imagine running round one for an entire day. The same 400 metres, round and round you go. Sometimes they change the direction just to give your legs a change of direction. They’re easy races to prepare for logistically, often easy to drive to, and you’ll be passing your car every lap. But the views can be mundane to start with and after 24 hours of seeing the same thing you may start to question your sanity – if you hadn’t already. Tempted?
4. Tour de geants
330km is a long way, and 24,000 metres is a lot of climbing and 70 hours is a long time to go without sleeping a wink. You don’t need to forgo sleep to finish, but if you want to win this race you’ll need to keep going no matter what. Competitors have a week to finish but more than a third won’t reach the end. The refuges dotted along the route dish out plenty of food and heavy banter, but you’ll need more than spectator support to get you to the end. Got four minutes to spare? Watch this beautiful race video:
If any of these races have whetted your appetite but you’re not quite sure where to start, there are some brilliant resources out there designed to bring all the ultra races together. You don’t need to start big or fast.
If you want to be running by mile 30, start walking at mile 3. For international races and some pricey domestic ones: http://www.runultra.co.uk/ and for a range of races, mostly UK based: http://www.ultramarathonrunning.com/races/uk.html
*disclaimer: these have not been completed by the author…yet