These ultrarunning events are not for the faint of heart, mind, or body. Some traverse deserts, while others cross mountains and entire countries, but all are a challenge for even the most fit and mentally tough runners.
REI’s “The Masochist’s Ultrarunning Bucket List” calls Badwater 135 “the world’s toughest footrace.” Starting at the Death Valley, the lowest point in North America, this 135-mile race challenges runners to bear 17,000 feet of climbing and extreme heat up to 115 degrees to end at Mount Whitney. In order to train, 2016 winner Paul Kostelnick told REI he ran 50 to 60 miles a day and wore a hoodie in the summer to prepare for the heat.
6633 Ultra is the “toughest, coldest, and widest extreme ultra marathon on the planet,” according to Active. Runners usually take eight days to cross through the Yukon Territory for up to 380 miles, dragging along a sled full of supplies. One highlight is “Hurricane Alley,” where the winds are so fierce that runners often are forced to crawl. Temperatures have dipped to negative 70 degrees, but if runners can stand the cold, they’re rewarded with the satisfaction of conquering a race in the Arctic Circle.
Competitors in the Spartathlon embrace their inner Spartans as they compete in this 153-mile race from Athens to Sparta, Greece. Following in the footsteps of Pheidippides, who allegedly ran this distance before the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE, runners have 36 hours to complete the trek. According to Red Bull, the terrain is rough, muddy, and only a third of the 390 participants finish each year.
Every finish at Hardrock 100 is sealed with a kiss. After trekking 100.5 miles and climbing and descending 33,000 feet in each direction, runners must finish the race by giving a peck to the infamous “Hardrock.” All jokes aside, elite runners have fallen and gotten lost on the course.
The 2016 winner Jason Schlarb told REI, “It’s so remote, there’s a feeling of true wilderness, and it has this culture of being small and intimate despite its massive reputation.”
Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc (UTMB)
Contestants begin the UTMB in Chamonix, France, and cross not one but three international borders in Italy, Switzerland, and France. This punishing race is around 106 miles of continuous running featuring 30,000 feet of positive altitude change and unbeatable mountain views.
D.C. Half and Half Marathon
Though not as lengthy as some other ultra running events, the D.C. Half and Half Marathon makes up for that with a punishing prize midway through the race. As runners make their way from Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River towards U Street (about 6.5 miles), every contestant must stop for a meal of potato chips and a half-smoke (a quarter-pound sausage topped with homemade beef chili) from Ben’s Chili Bowl before turning back to Arlington. Participants show volunteers their clear plates before they are able to finish the remaining 6.5 miles in the race.
The Hawaiian Ultra Running Team’s acronym seems to be no mistake. The HURT100 race features 100 miles of trails with obstacles including wild pigs and 20 stream crossings.
Women’s record holder and three-time winner Tracy Garneau told REI, “You have to be strong on your feet and watch for the stuff that’s constantly trying to grab you.”
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