If you have mastered the basics of running and are looking for a challenge that really pushes you, then you are in the right place: here are eight of the toughest races around the world – if you dare to tackle them!
There are several types of races, and each requires a different amount of training and preparation. Races vary in distance, heat, elevation, and energy consumption.
The Barkley Marathon (Tennessee)
This race has been called “the most difficult footrace on Earth ” by Runner’s World magazine, and it’s easy to see why.
It covers 100 miles and a bold effort to cover 65,000 feet of vertical change, across an impressive 20-mile loop.
You can expect to be heading straight uphill under the Tennessee sunshine – and to make things even trickier, you will need to have completed the course within the allocated 60-hour time limit to be considered an official finisher.
This added later challenge means that there are just 16 official winners on record since the race was established in 1986.
The Badwater 135 Ultra-Marathon (California)
Badwater is one of the hottest events on the ultra-running calendar.
Held over 135 miles and 3500 feet of elevation gain, this race takes runners through Death Valley National Park, where temperatures regularly top 50 degrees Celsius.
It’s not all about the heat though – the course also includes some of the most challenging terrains in the US, including sand dunes and rocky trails, and includes a total of 4450m of cumulative vertical ascent, combined with 1859m of descent altogether.
The race is held annually in July, but check out our tips on how to prepare for the event.
The Comrades Marathon (South Africa)
A favorite amongst ultramarathoners, the Comrades Marathon is South Africa’s largest annual marathon.
With a total distance of 211 km, the race starts in Durban and finishes in Pietermaritzburg, passing through many of South Africa’s most scenic landscapes.
The route follows the same path as the old Natal Railway line, which used to transport goods to and from the mines; today, runners follow the route along the Umgeni River, which winds its way through the mountains.
The race attracts thousands of participants, making it one of the biggest urban ultramarathons in the world.
The Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run (Colorado)
The Hardrock 100 is one of the USA’s oldest endurance events, having first been run back in 1974.
The race is now held every year in June, and features a total of 100 miles and 14,500 feet of climbing, with 66,000 feet of elevation in total.
The race passes through the heartland of America, starting in Silverton and finishing in Moab.
The trail is made up of single-track mountain roads and jeep tracks, and you will need to watch your footing every step of the way.
Berghaus Dragon’s Back (Wales)
Any race named the “Dragon’s Back” is sure to be a challenge, and this is one marathon that you will need to be seriously tough to defeat.
The route contains five days of trail running, and is set in the heart of rural Wales, covering the north to the south of the country, with a climb of around 15,500 meters and covering the ground of roughly 315 kilometers in total.
The toughness of the trail is attested to by the completion rate; 2015 saw 85 people set out at the start line, but just 32 made it over the finish line at the other end.
Mount Washington Road Race (New Hampshire)
This New England classic is held each August and is one of the toughest races on the ultra circuit.
Starting near the base of Mount Washington, the race climbs the side of the volcano before heading into the White Mountains.
There are 20,000ft peaks to scale and more than 1000 meters of elevation change, plus there are plenty of steep descents to test even the best of runners!
Grandma’s Marathon (Minnesota)
Grandma’s Marathon has quickly become one of the most popular ultras in North America. This is due to its unique location – taking place in Duluth, Minnesota, right next to Lake Superior – as well as its beauty, beating any views you might find elsewhere in the States.
The half marathon is held in October, while the full marathon takes place in November.
The Western States 100 (California)
The Western States 100 is perhaps the toughest footrace in California, and certainly one of the hardest in the whole of the United States.
The 100-mile event covers some rough terrain coming down from Mt Lassen and up towards Shasta, but the real tests begin once again after crossing the border into Nevada.
The course kicks off in Susanville, and after completing 95 miles, runners can either head straight for Carson City or take a shortcut via Lake Tahoe.
The Bottom Line
In ultramarathons, runners seek their limits and a sense of community. It is about enjoying the tranquility while running in the mountains and deserts day and night and getting into the runner’s high flow state.
All marathon runners share the desire to conquer the most challenging races. This need to succeed can drive athletes to run out their first 100K – but are you tough enough to tackle one of the challenges above?
If these ultramarathons are too challenging, you can look for traditional big city marathons as a starting point.