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Are You Tough Enough? America’s 10 Most Extreme Marathons

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Are You Tough Enough? America's 10 Most Extreme Marathons Are You Tough Enough? America’s 10 Most Extreme Marathons www.runnerclick.com

You may have considered running a marathon or maybe you’ve already tackled the marathon distance.

After you’ve run a few marathons, you might start to think that you are ready to take things to the next level and tackle an even greater challenge.

So how hard is it to run a marathon?

Running a marathon (26.2 miles) is an amazing and incredibly challenging feat in and of itself. But would you run an extreme marathon?

Are you tough enough to try an extreme marathon?

What is an extreme marathon?

An extreme marathon is a marathon with extreme conditions. Extreme marathons are harder than typical marathons. They usually contain extreme temperatures (hot or cold), extreme terrain, or extreme conditions. Sometimes all at once!

These races can be incredibly difficult and contain treacherous conditions that very few dare to take on. These races challenge their runners both physically and mentally.

Only the bravest and most adventurous runners dare to complete an extreme marathon.

What is the hardest marathon in the world?

Kead Adventure

Determining the hardest run in the world can be difficult since there are many that are hard and grueling in different ways. But there is one race that seems to stand out above the rest when it comes to the hardest run in the world.

That race is the Inca Pensisula Marathon. Many agree that the Inca Peninsula Marathon is the hardest marathon in the world.

This marathon takes place on 500-year-old Inca irregular-shaped stone, much of which is only 4-6 feet wide. The race ends at Machu Picchu – one of the seven wonders of the world.

inca marathon elevation profile
Erik’s Adventures

According to the Inca Peninsula Marathon website, this marathon is “Marathon in Distance. Ultra in effort.” The trail surface is very rocky and uneven and can become quite slippery when wet.

The Inca Peninsula Marathon only opens to a limited number of participants per year, so if you’re willing to take on the challenge, sign up early to ensure that you can secure a spot!

Top 10 extreme marathons in the USA

Here is a list of the 10 most extreme marathons in the USA. You’re going to need all the marathon running tips to complete one of these races!

1. Pikes Peak Marathon

The Pikes Peak Marathon located in Colorado is known as America’s most challenging marathon. This is a notoriously difficult marathon. This race contains a 7,800 vertical climb.

This race also has a narrow and winding course with steep hills, gravel, rock, or dirt, and sharp turns.

The Pikes Peak Marathon was selected by the World Golden Trail Series as the North American race for the Champion Series.

2. Equinox Trail Marathon

The Equinox Trail Marathon is a marathon located in Fairbanks, Alaska. It is a very challenging marathon that consists mostly of trails and a steep climb up the Ester Dome, twice!

There is a 10 hour cutoff time for the race which allows the racers plenty of time to complete the race and walk if needed.

This race contains a net elevation gain of 3,300 feet with some incredibly difficult terrain.

3. Kauai Marathon

The Kauai Marathon, located on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, is also called one of the most beautiful marathons. The scenery on this racecourse is amazing and you will also encounter hula dancers and drums as race entertainment!

The thing that makes this race so hard is the hilly terrain and the humid island temperatures.

This race also ends on the beach, and can make for an excellent destination race!

4. Black Mountain Marathon

The Black Mountain Marathon is located in Black Mountain, North Carolina. This trail race starts at dawn at the foot of the Black Mountain.

The Black Mountain Marathon is an extremely demanding course over rugged mountain terrain and potentially life-threatening weather conditions.


Only the bravest and most adventurous marathoners will take on this race event!

5. Whiskey Row Marathon

The Whiskey Row Marathon is located in Prescott, Arizona. The slogan for this race is “Are YOU Tough Enough?”.

This racecourse starts with an uphill trajectory and then is followed by a rough and tumble race. This race contains high altitudes and steep hills.

Severe weather can also occasionally plague the Whiskey Row Marathon.

6. Catalina Island Marathon

The Catalina Island Marathon is California’s oldest trail marathon. This race has a net elevation gain of 4300 feet and contains spectacular scenic views of vistas and the ocean.

The course of this race consists of trails and dirt roads. It is definitely a hilly and challenging course!

7. Hatfield McCoy Marathon

“Runners come from everywhere to experience Hatfield McCoy Marathon and the extreme conditions that follow. This race has no time limit, but we do have the best water stop volunteers in the world to keep you hydrated and motivated towards the finish line. Once you experience this journey, you will come back each year.” – Alexis Batausa, Race Director, Hatfield McCoy Marathon

The Hatfield McCoy Marathon was ranked by the Weather Channel as one of the toughest marathons. This race begins in Kentucky and ends up in West Virginia.

This race goes along some fun historic sites that document the notorious Hatfield McCoy feud.

The thing that makes this race difficult isn’t the terrain, but the extreme weather that the racers will endure throughout the race. You’ll need to make sure you have the right marathon clothing for the weather if you run this race.

This is a very hot and humid race and runners should be sure to stock up on plenty of water on this race.

8. Grandfather Mountain Marathon

Grandfather Mountain Marathon, touted as One of America’s Toughest Marathons takes place in the mountains of Boone, North Carolina.

The racecourse is very scenic and mountainous, and the elevation gain is what gives this race the reputation of being a tough marathon.

The exciting this about this marathon is that you will finish in front of 10,000+ spectators cheering you on!

9. Blue Ridge Marathon

Blue Ridge Marathon is also known as America’s toughest road marathon.

This race, which takes place in Roanoke, Virginia, includes over 7,430 ft. in elevation change.

Something fun about this race is that there is live music and local craft beer at the festival-like finish!

10. Red Rock Canyon Marathon

The Red Rock Canyon Marathon is located in Red Rock Canyon right outside of Las Vegas. This race takes place throughout the Mojave desert and includes some absolutely stunning views!

While it may be pretty, it is also a very difficult marathon. This marathon takes place in the desert and includes many long, steep climbs and downhills.

Don’t expect to PR on this racecourse, but many people call this marathon the prettiest marathon they’ve ever done.

The Most Extreme Ultramarathons Located in the US

1. HURT 100 Trail Run

The HURT 100 Trail Run is a 100-mile ultramarathon that takes place on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.  The HURT 100 Trail Run is an extremely different ultramarathon designed for adventurous and well-prepared ultra-runners.

Only a limited number of slots are open each year.  The course is a very technical trail consisting of mud, rocks, roots, hairpin turns, and incredibly steep inclines.

Very little of the trail can actually be run because of the difficulty of the terrain.

2. The Barkley Marathons

The Barkley Marathons is a 100-mile trail race located in Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee. Some call this race “the craziest and hardest ultra race in the world”. There is a long history behind this race that includes a jailbreak and manhunt.

In 1977, the man that assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. escaped from the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Morgan County, Tennessee.  A manhunt took place to find him, and he ended up only making it about 8 miles deep into the woods that surrounded the penitentiary.

Gary Cantrell, the race’s founder, believed he could make it 100 miles around the penitentiary, and the official race was born in 1986.

The total elevation of the race is 60,000 feet, and finishing all 5 loops of the racecourse is the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest.

3. Grand to Grand Ultra

The Grand to Grand Ultra is located at the Grand Canyon, one of the seven wonders of the world. This is a 147 mile, self-supported ultra-marathon that winds from the rim of the Grand Canyon to the summit of the Grand Staircase.

During this extreme test of endurance, you will travel through the desert of Utah and Arizona and you will be forced to dig deep to find your inner strength.

In this race, you will encounter sand dunes, red rock slot canyons, mesas, and you will experience one of the most remote locations in continental America.

*About the Author:

Lauren Sheu, RunnerClick Pro member, is an RRCA Certified Running Coach and the Owner and Founder of Running for Wellness.

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