the world’s most violent ultramarathons
All distances which are above the usual marathon of 26 miles are counted as ultramarathons and there are hardly any upward limits. But it’s not only the distance that can make this the hardest run of your life. Around the world there are races that are notorious for their violent climatic conditions and merciless terrain.
The 6633 Ultra is held in Canada’s Yukon Territory and is 350 miles to its end at Tuktoyaktuk on the shore of the Arctic Ocean. In eight years only 25 runners have made it to the finish line; the rest either threw in the towel or chose the lighter 120 mile race. It’s not just about running: in this wasteland, the temperature is constantly below freezing, the icy wind batters against you and there’s the added challenge of transporting a sled with all the provisions you need to survive.
What is important: Mental preparation is everything. The endless snowy plains make it seem like you’re not even making any progress, and the sections where you have to cross mountains and rivers will leave you on the edge of giving up. That’s when you need to call upon the mental strategies you have prepared in advance to silence your inner demons.
MARATHON DES SABLES
Since 1986 the 156 mile Marathon des Sables has been pushing runners to breaking point. The route changes every year but always takes place under the sweltering Moroccan sun in the Sahara desert. The sand is so fine that it’s almost impossible to jog, and your sweat immediately evaporates in the scorching 40 degree Celsius heat during the day. At night that drops to a chilling 41°F. Food for thought: in 1994 a sandstorm caused Mauro Prosperi to stray off course by 181 miles, and he was found after being lost for nine days, having shed 13 miles in weight
What is important: Hydration is vital, so you need to make sure you find the right method of carrying it on your person. Some transport their water in a hydration pack while others prefer a hydration belt onto which they can attach a bottle.
DRAGON’S BACK RACE
The Dragon’s Back Race is a gruelling 186 miles and follows the mountainous spine of Wales. It’s one of the toughest ultramarathons in the world because of it’s 16,000 metres of ascent across remote, wild and trackless terrain. You’ll have to find your own way during the five-day journey and survive with only what you’re carrying on your back. The race was first held in 1992, then whispered about for years with a mixture of respect and apprehension, until a second race took place in 2012, and then another in 2015. The next one is in 2017.
What is important: You need to find your way, but that doesn’t mean you can’t measure up the other competitors and find out who has excellent navigation skills – it will do you no harm to discreetly follow them.
It’s 30 degrees Celsius, humidity levels are nearly a merciless 100 per cent, bugs want you for dinner and the unforgiving route is 143 miles through dense jungle trails, village tracks, 70 tropical rivers and mountain roads: this is Jungle Ultra. The course is mostly downhill and descends 10,500 feet into the Amazon, whilst all of your supplies weigh on your back. Sure there will be breathtaking views along the way, but this is all about making it to the end.
What is important: Going downhill doesn’t make the race any easier. You need to be prepared for the steep slopes – take on similar conditions during training, on adjusted treadmills, nearby hills or whatever you can find, because you’ll need that experience for this ultimate challenge.
The 153 mile course of the Spartathlon in Greece follows the same route, from Athens to Sparta, that the Athenian messenger Pheidippedes took when he was sent to get help for the Battle of Marathon. Legend has it he covered the distance in just 36 hours, and it is the re-enactment of this gruelling feat that gave birth to the Spartathlon in 1982. Yes, the conditions are tolerable, but the problem is that you’ll have to complete that same distance within the same time too. If you don’t reach one of the 75 checkpoints on schedule, you’re out.
What is important: This is not about speed but running with maximum efficiency. Don’t stress. There’s little point panicking to reach the first checkpoint, risking injury. If you’ve expended too much energy too soon, you’ve already lost.