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But if you truly want to stand with the global running elite, ultra-marathons or ultras are an indispensable part of your running CV. Here are our 8 picks, in no particular order, for the toughest ultra runs out there today.
Seen the movie The Martian? Picture the barren and desert landscape as far as the eye can see, and now imagine you are to run for six days as far as you can with the winner being the one who covered the most distance, and you are pretty close to a description of this race.
Thousands of participants gather every April, bringing all their supplies and food with them before they start the race. Only water and medical assistance are available for participants, and these have been described for their excellent quality. However, no more than 2 IV drips are allowed before disqualification heads your way.
Fortunately, boasting a 94% completion rate, the run is perhaps not as intimidating as some of the others below. Oh, and you don't need to make your own oxygen and water, nor farm in your own excrement like Matt Damon did either!
If you thought climbing Everest is as high as you can climb, think again! This 103-mile mountain marathon covers more cumulative ascent than Everest itself with 9,600 metres worth of climbing to be had (Everest is 8,848m). Widely regarded as the toughest footrace in Europe, this run is so popular that qualifying for it requires points from previous ultra-marathons. 1 in 3 runners ends up not completing the race or not meeting the 46-hour cut off.
This run describes itself as the Toughest, Coldest and Windiest Extreme Ultra Marathon on the Planet, and with good reason. So how tough is tough?
Well, in the words of Mike Likey, the founder of this race, It is flipping tough. I mean really tough. No seriously, I really do mean it. Here's why.
Only 11 people have completed the 350-mile race in its history. Even the noob 120-mile version of the run is enough to test the mettle of the toughest endurance athletes. Running through sub-zero temperatures for almost all of the journey at a latitude of 66 degrees and 33 minutes (how it got its name), perhaps it is not so surprising why so few have completed this race. Add your name to this small list and you will be a legend amongst runners!
After deserts and mountains and sub-zero temperatures, what next? How about the dense rainforests of the Amazon? With every insect a giant replica of its relatives in other tropical rainforests, and having a collection of the most poisonous and lethal creatures known to man, your athleticism is not the only thing that's tested in this corner of the world.
This is a relatively new race, but rapidly gaining popularity amongst endurance athletes. Participants start the race at an altitude of 10,500 feet and are expected to complete 230km. With a decent 80% finishing rate and a route that covers many villages of indigenous tribes, a unique cultural experience is also gained by the runner, apart from very sore legs.
The land of the rising sun, known for its cuisine, bullet trains and anime, also features in this category. Our only Asian participant in this write-up, this run is seen as the sister event to the Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc featured above. In many aspects, they have similar features: cumulative altitude gain (9,500m) and cut-off time for the race (46 hours). Started in 2012, this race is set to be a viable alternative challenge to the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc.
As the name suggests, this is the longest certified footrace in the world. Sri Chinmoy, an Indian spiritual master based in New York, introduced the run as a way for runners to understand their limits and further push them. Think of running from Singapore to Beijing and add another 400 miles to it!
Interestingly enough, this run is negotiated around a very small route in Queens, New York for a total of 5649 laps. The actual lap distance is only slightly more than half a mile long. Runners are given 52 days to complete the run, with the current world record held by a Finnish runner Asprihanal Aalto with a record time of 40 days, 9 hours, 6 minutes and 21 seconds. This race is perhaps the truest test of endurance regarding pure distance and time.
If you truly want to stand with the global running elite, ultra-marathons or ultras are an indispensable part of your running CV.
Located in the cradle of civilisation, it is not surprising that The Comrades Marathon is the oldest (1921) and largest (23,000 runners) ultra-marathon in the world. While much shorter than the other runs featured here, the 89km marathon is by no means a walk in the park (well you might cross some parks as you run through the majestic Kwala-Zulu Natal area, but you get the point). Some intense rugged terrain, including the Big Five hills that lie between the start and the finish line.
Intriguingly, this ultra-marathon is based on the story of Pheidippides, an Athenian long distance runner in 490 BC who ran 240km to seek help from Sparta in the war between the Greeks and the Persians. Now, you can retrace his footsteps and have a glimpse of what he might have experienced. Minus an impending attack by the Persian army, of course.
To make matters more interesting, one is required to complete the run in 36 hours or less, similar to the time it took Pheidippides to deliver his message to the Spartans. So you will have to really do it like how Pheidippides has achieved his herculean feat, making this race a challenge for even the toughest athletes in the world.
So here you go, a list of 8 ultras we deem will put any hard-core endurance runner to the test. Perhaps it is time to pump up that running CV of yours with one of these?
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