7 of the Toughest Marathons and Ultras in the World: How Far Would You Go?

7 of the Toughest Marathons and Ultras in the World: How Far Would You Go?

July 18, 2017


They say that running is addictive…that once you get a taste of a race you’ve got to have more.

While some of us are content with fast and intense 5ks from time to time – there’s a lot to be said for this – others are always searching for more.

But, after you’ve mastered the 5k, the 10k, the half and the full…then what? PR’s? Fun travel locations? Some special grab-bag swag? Sure. Running opens a variety of doors and introduces participants to a community that’s unlike many others; for many, this alone is enough. Running is a past time that keeps us moving, keeps us striving for more and adds a little variety to life.

For some though, a special few, the best swag in the world isn’t enough motivation. Sometimes, the need for an adrenaline rush can only be quenched by something that can only be classified as “extreme.”

If you fall into this category…or you just want to take a look at what some athletes are willing to put themselves through…this list might be of particular interest.

Take a look at some of the toughest marathons and ultras this world has to offer.

Pikes Peak Marathon - World's Toughest Marathons
North Pole Marathon - World's Toughest Marathons
The Sparathon - World's Toughest Marathons
The Everest Marathon - World's Toughest Marathons
The Jungle Ultra - World's Toughest Marathons
The Great Wall of China Marathon - World's Toughest Marathons
Marathon des Sables - World's Toughest Marathons

1. Pikes Peak Marathon

Ready for a climb? The Pikes Peak Marathon starts at the base of Pikes Peak and takes runners through a climb of over 7,800 feet, all the way to the summit. Consider it trail running at its best, as the course is largely made of dirt, rock and other seemingly unnavigable obstacles.

Considering an entry? It might be a good idea to take altitude training seriously. The marathon is considered “America’s Greatest Challenge,” and takes place in August each year.

Registration information: http://www.pikespeakmarathon.org/

2. North Pole Marathon

The race organizers behind the North Pole Marathon take the “World’s Coolest Marathon” title seriously.

Runners who sign up for this event must endure temperatures around -40 degrees Fahrenheit, pure snow “trails,” wind and running over iced expanses of the Arctic Ocean. Rated the World’s Northernmost Marathon, few are up to this challenge; the race attracts around 50 – or fewer – runners each year. 2016 set the record with 56 entrants. Freezing temperatures? Ice? Unpredictability? This one has it all.

Registration information: http://www.npmarathon.com/

3. The Spartathlon

Ever felt the need to shout the iconic line, “THIS IS SPARTA”? As a competitor in Greece’s Spartathlon, you may very well earn that right.

Founded in 1984 with the goal of recreating the original marathon carried out by Pheidippides in 490 BC, the race takes participants through olive groves, vineyards and over a 4,000-foot-tall mountain, ending in Sparta itself. Each of the 75 aid stations have a strict time limit, meaning only 1/3 of those who enter actually finish the race. Ready to experience history while testing your limits? This might be the stage for your greatest feat.

Registration information: http://www.spartathlon.gr/en/

4. The Everest Marathon

Pikes Peak not enough for you? Why not enter the highest marathon in the world?

While many people scoff at the idea of climbing Everest, to us, the idea of running around it is extra intriguing. Held every 2 years, the Everest Marathon starts near Everest’s base camp (17,000 feet above sea level), ending in a local Sherpa town around 11,000 feet above sea level. Better yet? It includes a 26-day marathon festival including a 15 day trek to acclimate to the altitude before the starting gun.

Registration information: http://www.everestmarathon.org.uk/

5. The Jungle Ultra

This 230 km ultra takes runners straight through the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Beginning 10,000 feet above sea level in Peru’s Cloud Forest and continuing through the jungle, the event (consisting of 5 stages) goes through tribal villages, mountains and non-existent trails.

Think the terrain is the challenge? Think again. Running through the heart of the rainforest means enduring 100% humidity while facing the real risk of jaguars and other notoriously unpredictable animals. Runners are required to carry their own hammocks, sleeping gear and food for the race – but don’t worry, water is provided. Challenge? Risk? Your choice.

Registration information: http://beyondtheultimate.co.uk/ultra/jungle-ultra/#!/2018/06/03

6. The Great Wall of China Marathon

Ever experience that burn that comes after a really great step workout? Imagine what would happen after incorporating 5,165 stairs into a 26.2 mile course. Crazy…right?

Since its inaugural run in 1999, the Great Wall of China Marathon has attracted sell-out crowds willing to run on a serious piece of history. For those looking for something a little less extreme, a half marathon and 8.5 km fun run are optional additional distances available for racers.

Registration information: http://great-wall-marathon.com/

7. Marathon des Sables

This ultra presents more than a standard marathon; 156 miles and 6 days of extreme conditions to be exact. But, for those looking for the utmost physical challenge, this is probably it.

Imagine running across the Sahara desert, through sand storms, without a trail and over the world’s most unpredictable terrain, all for the ultimate finish. The route for the race changes each year, and competitors are matched with local teams who become their lifelong friends, supporting them each step of the race. Sounds incredible…right?

Registration information: http://marathondessables.co.uk/

Ready to risk – or brave – it all? Ready to run through the most extreme conditions and courses in the world? Maybe it’s time to add one of the races above to your running bucket list.

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