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4 of the Most Extreme Running Events in the World

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A marathon is a marathon, right? And having completed one rightfully gives you bragging rights for life, not so? While this may be the way it works in practice, all marathons are, in fact, not created equal. And the same goes for any other race distance. Because covering a specific distance on foot over a fast, flat and sheltered course certainly takes less effort than doing so in the snow-covered Arctic Circle. Or the jungles of Peru.

And while this certainly doesn’t take away from the courage required to get off the couch, follow a training program and complete a race (any race!), completing one of the following events automatically bestows extreme hardcore status on you. Here’s a list of four of the most extreme races in the world.

Braving the Elements: The Marathon des Sables Maroc

Regarded by some as the toughest foot race on earth, the Marathon des Sables Maroc is a six-day event that covers 251 km of relentless terrain across the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert. During this time, participants face daily temperatures of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, combined with strong winds and zero cover. Participants are also required to carry their own food, sleeping gear and other compulsory items over the entire course distance, and water is only supplied according to a pre-determined schedule.

And while simply completing this race certainly qualifies as a life-time high, a handful of individuals have gone above and beyond:

  • Italian trail running specialist, Marco Olmo, successfully completed every, single edition of the race between 1996 and 2013. Which means that he started this feat when he was 47 years old and completed the 2013 edition at the ripe age of 64.
  • In 2016, Gavin Sandford completed the equivalent of two back-to-back Marathon des Sables events. First off, he completed the 2011 course on his own, before joining the rest of the field for the official 2016 event immediately after.
  • In 2017, Afganisthan veteran, Duncan Slater, became the first double leg amputee ever to successfully complete the event.

Tackling the Unknown: The Barkley Marathons 100 Mile Race

And if being prepared for the unknown is your thing, then the Barkley Marathons 100 Mile Race is for you. This ultra-marathon, which boasts the tagline “humility awaits”, is not your average running event. Only 15 runners out of approximately 1 000 participants have purportedly completed the event since its inception in 1986. And, apart from the fact that the route measures approximately 100 miles, including 67 000 feet of climbing and descending, everything else about the race is pretty much a mystery. Entry procedure? It’s a secret. Starting time? “One hour after the cone shell is blown in camp.” Race location? Somewhere in the Frozen Head State Park of Tennessee.

So if this sounds like your idea of fun, email the race director on a specific day of the year to try and secure an entry. Who is he and on which day exactly, you ask? No one knows. Figuring it out is all part of the race’s charm.

Confronting the Critters: Escape from the Jungle

Or perhaps you prefer your running adventures with a side of survival training? If so, the brand new “Escape from the Jungle” event is for you. Dubbed the “world’s most terrifying adventure” by race organizers, the inaugural 2019 event is sure to awaken your inner beast. After six days of intensive survival training, race participants will be dropped, in the dark, at a secret location deep within the jungles of Belize. From there, competitors will use a map, compass and their newly acquired survival skills to make their way to the finish line. Oh, and did we mention that the finish line is 200 km away? Race participants are given six days to complete the challenge.

One more thing: Anacondas and piranhas are on the list of potential animal encounters for this event. So yes, it would be a good idea to pack a few pairs of extra, clean underwear.

Mastering Monotony: The Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race

But don’t be fooled into thinking that extreme challenges can only be brought on by extreme terrain. In fact, the exact opposite is also true. Case in point: The Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race which takes place annually in Queens, New York. In this event, participants are challenged to complete 5,649 laps of a 0.5488 mile course over the course of 52 days in order to cover a total of 3100 miles. Which implies that entrants should run or walk in excess of two marathons every day for 52 days in order to successfully complete the challenge.

And if you think that that sounds impossible, think again. Not only has numerous runners met the challenge, but some have also exceeded it. In 2016, Ashprihanal Aalto smashed the previous event record by clocking 3 100 miles in 40 days, 9 hours, 6 minutes and 21 seconds, averaging 76.776 miles (123.559 km) per day. The ladies’ record was also broken in 2016, with Surasa Mairer, aged 56, clocking 3 100 miles in 49 days, 7 hours, 52 minutes and 1 second. Which means that Mairer clocked an average of 62.848 miles (or 101.144 km) per day during this time. Talk about unleashing that inner beast!

Are You up for the Challenge?

So are you up for the challenge? Are you ready to elevate your bragging rights from suburban marathon finisher to tamer of the elements? Master of the monotonous? Confronter of the creepy-crawlies? Then enter if you dare!


  1. Kevin Loria, 9 of the most extreme endurance challenges in the world, Online publication
  2. McGee Nall, These are the toughest races in the world, Online publication
  3. ITV Staff, Duncan Slater makes history as first double amputee to complete world's toughest race, Online publication
  4. Matt Mahoney, The Barkley Marathons 100 Mile Run, Online publication
  5. Rupantar LaRusso, History of the 3100 Mile Race, Online publication

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