It is complicated to make a list with “the toughest races in the world” because when evaluating them there is a very important subjective component that can make, what for one is a hell, for another it can be little less than paradise.
In addition, the amount of options that currently exist for races that lead the human body and mind to their limits or even beyond is immense, so if it could be done, it would be a list that is practically endless.
Yes, oddly enough, it seems that the term “ultra marathon”, coined to call all the distance races over the legendary 42 kilometers, is almost too short because, what would we call a race of almost 5,000 kilometers, a 6-day run around an athletic track, …? Yes, “bestiality” is a term we usually use but, be careful, always say it with affection because there are many who dare with this type of race and feel offended.
Therefore, what we have done in this article has been to compile some races that, whether or not “the hardest”, deserve by right to be candidates for that award and that also have some added value, essence or particularity that can draw attention and stand out from the rest.
Surely you miss some of the ones that are usually named in this type of list (e.g. the Ultra Trail of Montblanc) but I hope that, after going through the list of ten proposals, some of them have surprised you and that, even if it’s something less media-oriented, it has caught your attention and that, who knows, encourages you to plate them.
The Spartathlon is one of those races in which everything is special and stands out not only for its toughness and its spectacular route but also for its particular philosophy based on the classic values of classic Olympism since, for example, they do not allow certain types of advertising as it is done in the Olympic Games.
It has been carried out since 1983 and tries to recall the mythical story about the marathon and Philypides that most of us know wrongly because the above-mentioned Athenian did not travel 42 kilometers but the 246 kilometers between Athens and Sparta and, not only that, but it seems that he did it in just a day and a half.
Taking this story (or legend?) as a reference, the last Friday of September, a maximum of 390 participants (selected by country quotas and with previous classification by own sporting merits) leave at seven in the morning with the aim of arriving to Sparta before in less than 36 hours. But there is not the thing because there are 75 points of control with times out of control, very demanding, which force you to go at a sustained pace throughout the race.
However, no matter how hard it is, you can run through Eleusis, Megara, Cineta, the Corinth Canal, Nemea, climb Mount Partenio with illumination reminiscent of those ancient times and, if you’re lucky, get to Sparta and get to kiss the feet of Leonidas’ statue, which is what marks the finish line, must be something indescribable.
Official site: Spartathlon
It is possible that your name does not ring a bell with you first but I tell you to remember that race that at the end of March or the beginning of April appears in the news for being a bit mysterious, with courses and conditions that are not revealed until shortly before the exit, which does not have an official website. Extremely hard in spite of being “only” 100 miles approximately and that is also characterized because, since it began to be celebrated back in 1986, only 15 runners have been able to finish it (two of them have been able to repeat more than one completion and 55% of the editions have not had any finisher).
The mystery that surrounds this race is incredible, everything is peculiar and, for those of us who do not know it closely, it seems almost impossible to be five laps that theoretically makes it easier to finish because you get to know the route, so few finishers in fact, this could be one of the races that yes that would justify that phrase of “the important thing is to finish“.
It takes place in Frozen Head State Park, near Wartburg (Tennessee), is inspired by the escape of Martin Luther King Jr. assassin, allows 60 hours to finish them and the participation quota is very restricted, only 40 participants. The dates and details for the entries are secret and, in fact, applicants must write an essay stating why they should deserve the honor of participating in the Barkley and pay the symbolic amount of $ 1.60 (there are more requirements but these they are frankly private).
The route is not marked, there are no refreshments except water in two points, two of the five loops are made in the opposite direction, 16,500 meters of altitude are accumulated, … the said thing: it lasts like few but, above all, peculiar, special, mysterious, … suitable only for the most intrepid adventurers.
Official site: It does not have an official website.
Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race
The Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race is the longest certified race in the world. It was initially created in 1996 as a 2,700-mile race but at the end they decided to extend it and round the figure to the current 3,100 miles that equate to almost 5,000 kilometers.
It takes place in Queens (New York) between June and August and the good thing is not only the brutality of the distance but the one that must be done by giving 5,649 laps to an urban circuit of 883 meters. There is a maximum of 52 days, which means traveling almost 100 kilometers every day.
Official site: Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race
6 Jours de France
Although there are “enough” six-day events the best known and most established, is probably the 6 Jours de France that take place in Privas, with a participation of around 140 runners in the middle- At the end of August they begin to run around a 1,025 meter homologated circuit around an athletics track to see who is capable of traveling the most distance in those six days.
You have free rein to run, walk, sleep, … and at certain pre-established hours they serve you breakfast, lunch and dinner, a luxury, right?
Official site: 6 Jours de France
Marathon des Sables
Also known as the Marathon of the Sands, it is a race that runs through the deserts of Morocco, in almost total self-sufficiency since you have to charge from the first day with everything you will need to run 250 kilometers in six stages.
Its similarity with the Dakar Rally is very great because, despite its harshness, it is tremendously mediatic and, in fact, it is increasingly crowded and the 800 available seats that fill up year after year without exception, since it began to be done back in 1986.
Official site: Marathon des Sables
4 Deserts is not a race but a circuit or annual series of races made up of four races of 255 kilometers through four of the best known and most demanding deserts in the world.
You start in the Gobi Desert with the Gobi March, the second is the Atacama Desert in Chile, complete the triplet with the mythical Sahara desert in Egypt and the fourth and last, hence its name of “The Last Desert” is made in Antarctica. To participate in the latter, at least two of the other three must have been completed.
Official site: 4 Deserts
Tor des Geants
For lovers of the mountainous mountain, the Tor des Geants is nothing short of an object of desire and a dream that is simply known as “El Tor“.
330 kilometers to travel in less than 150 hours, passing through 43 refreshment points and 7 base camps that become little more than essential to overcome that distance and the no less than 24,000 meters of accumulated altitude. The probability of finishing, according to the statistics, is 50%.
The first edition took place in 2010 and, although it has suffered several cancellations and suspensions and now has given the odd lurch, it is not expected to disappear.
Official site: Tor des Geants
Dragon’s Back Race
The Dragon’s Back Race had a first edition in 1992 but they considered it so hard that it took 20 years until in 2012 it was carried out again.
300 kilometers with 15,000 meters of altitude difference, typical British weather while traveling through its mountains, guided simply by compass and map, by an unmarked route, … pure adventure worthy of authentic explorers.
It is not just a race or competition but it has a lot of legend, spiritual as many of those who have participated in some of its editions stand out.
Official site: Dragon’s Back Race
The Grand Union Canal Race
Possibly the least known of this list but I find it extremely curious and peculiar because it travels the 233 kilometers that go from Birmingham to central London running through the Grand Union Canal that we have seen so many times in movies and that allows us to go on a somewhat peculiar sightseeing tour.
It must be completed in less than 45 hours, obviously, the entire route is marked and only 90 participants are allowed. It is a seemingly simple test, without great fuss, not too well known but it has its own and, as I heard him say to a colleague, it is “the British Spartathlon”.
Official site: The Grand Union Canal Race
It is the long-distance race for couples par excellence and just that “two” requirement is what most fall in love with, as is not surprising, the landscape that is covered as it passes through some of the most beautiful areas of the Alps.
It began to be realized in 2005, varies the sense of its route and some parts of this one every year but, in essence they are 7 days, almost 260 kilometers through three countries with more than 16,000 meters of unevenness to cross in the first / second week of September.
By the way, that of couples is literal and it is not only about finishing as two but it is not possible to reach a certain distance or time between the two participants. The end of day stays in the camp are mythical. It is a whole experience that marks those who participate in it forever.
Official site: Transalpine Run