Volcano Adventure Race Running: Etna Super Marathon
Are you the type of person who likes to challenge themselves in a unique and extreme way? Maybe you like traveling or seeing unbelievable mother nature while pushing your body to its limits. Have you ever wanted to run up to the top of a volcano? Because there is a race for that! The Etna Super Marathon takes place in early June on the island of Sicily, Italy and gives you the opportunity to run, hike, climb, walk, and crawl your way from sea level to the volcanic elevation peak of 3000 meters/10,000 feet on Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe.
This unique race began in 2004, as a successful attempt to break a Guinness Book of World Record, with three participants racing a single track with the highest vertical climb over the course of a marathon distance that was ultimately achieved in 4 hours 12 minutes and 17 seconds. Thanks to Mario Tosi Sports Union of Tarvisio in collaboration with other local enterprises, the Etna 2004 “0 to 3000” race has now become the Etna Super Marathon, a registered race within the Italian Athletic Federation (FIDAL) and now organized by the Etna Trail ASD Society, and is the largest ascending race in the world.
The race with the highest elevation in the world, also known as “0 to 3000”, departs at sea level at the Ionian Sea from the beautiful beach of Marina di Cottone which is between the villages of Catania and Taormina on the Sicilian Island. As you begin making your way up through the smaller villages of Fiumefreddo di Sicilia, Piedimonte Etneo, and Linguaglossa within the Catania Province, you will ultimately follow the Mareneve Regional Road to Piano Provenzana at 1800 m after a total of 33.5 km, where the asphalt road turns to lava dirt for the remaining 9.5 km. The finish line is at Pizzi de Neri on the North East crater of Mount Etna on Europe’s highest active volcano at 3000 m.
Runners will have covered 3000 m in height change over a distance covering 43 kilometers in total. Due to the slightly longer distance than a true marathon at 42.195 km, this race along with its extreme conditions and altitude change certainly qualifies it as an ultra-marathon. From departure at sea with often sunny and summer-like temperatures in the 20’s C/70’s F, the difficult path can vary in weather throughout its course and can end in winter-like conditions with fog, snow and below zero temperatures. Adding another varying layer to the list for the aspiring athlete.
While of course, the route is challenging, the race provides an initial epic and scenic landscapes from beaches to vineyards. About halfway up you will experience amazing panoramic views of the sea and the surrounding environment starts to turn into a breathtaking forest. As the ascent climbs, the air gets cooler and the lush trees begin to disappear as the road transitions to black, powder from volcanic lava. Here the climb really starts to challenge many runners who may turn to walk on the moonlike dirt and snowy earth with incredible steepness and thinning air, up until the very last moment of crossing the finish line.
Outside the extreme conditions, there are also time limit restraints in completing the Etna Super Marathon. One needs to reach the Piano Provenzana by 4 hours and 30 minutes from departure. While the finish must be accomplished in 7 hours.
One positive note on these smaller and extremely challenging races is the marathon finish medal. The medal is, in fact, made of lava rock, weighing approximately 1 kilogram and gives you a lasting lifetime memory of achievement.
The return and descent of 1200 m back to Piano Provenzana is by walk, but you can get a jeep to drive you back if you reserve your spot early enough. If you are not feeling up to the extreme nature of this race, the Etna Trail ASD Society has two additional race alternatives: the Super Mareneve which is the race on just asphalt for 33.5 km or the Super Round Trip which is the up and down race on dirt from the Piano Provenzana to summit and back for 9.5 km. With three race options open, you allow yourself to experience the journey towards an active volcano with varying levels of intensity.
If you are looking for a race that is different, challenging, and defies the parameters of a regular marathon and crosses into the realms of ultra-marathons, the Etna Super Marathon may be your best bet. Plus you could be one of only a few thousand to say, “I ran up an active volcano and all I got was this lava rock medal”.
All joking aside, this small and intimate race can provide an interesting alternative to ultra racing while providing beautiful and unique scenery all throughout the climb. are interested in the next edition of the Etna Super Marathon registration usually opens in January and can be made online at the website www.etnatrail.it