For most of us, completing a marathon in itself is an accomplishment to feel pretty proud of. But there are some who aren’t’ satisfied with the 26.2-mile feat, no matter how rough the conditions. These are the “freak” athletes who compete in some of the most physically taxing endurance races on the planet: adventure races. Through all kinds of extreme weather, these athletes trek across rocky terrain, summit mountains, wade through deep jungle swamps and more, testing their physical and mental strength just because they can.
If you’re feeling up to the challenge, here are the six toughest:
Translating to “Marathon of the Sands,” the Marathon des Sables bills itself as one of the toughest footraces on Earth. And chances are they’re not wrong: this 6-day trek through some of the most inhospitable conditions on the planet is not for the weak of heart. Besides the 100-degree heat keeping even your sweat from cooling you (since it evaporates immediately in the intense heat) and the added difficulty of running through sand, the landscape does little to help with your mental anguish since you will see nothing but rolling sand dunes for miles. A total distance of 156 miles, you basically have to run a full marathon each day of the race.
Imagine running 135 miles nonstop on pavement from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, California in temperatures reaching up to 130 degrees. Oh, and don’t forget the elevation climb of over 8,500 feet. Sound miserable? That’s why the Badwater Ultramarathon is also widely recognized as one of the world’s hardest footraces. And be sure to pack an extra pair of shoes (or two), because it is not uncommon to completely burn through your shoes during the race in the grueling mid-July heat.
Here’s a few questions organizers of the Jungle Marathon suggest you ask yourself before even thinking of attempting the race: 1) Can you handle 104-degree heat in 99 percent humidity? 2) In Primary Jungle with a dense canopy and not even a peek of sunlight? 3) Anaconda-infested swamp crossings? 4) River crossing with caiman and piranhas? 5) Huge elevation gains on muddy, often slippery, slopes? 6) The only sleep you get is accompanied by the sounds of howler monkeys and jaguars? 7) All of this for 150+ miles? If you answered yes to all of these questions you may very well be insane, but you might also be able to manage completing the Jungle Marathon. Well done, you.
Organizers of the Coastal Challenge race up Costa Rica suggest racers “be ready for anything.” That’s pretty good advice, considering racers—either solo or in teams of up to four—will likely encounter reptiles, getting completely lost in the jungle and huge cliff drop-offs. The 6-day race covers up to 155 miles includes rainforest and mountain trails, single track across ridgelines, coastal ranges, beach reefs, rocky outcroppings and more. Oh, and be prepared to run into a few crocodiles.
In the Godzone Adventure Race, teams of four navigate, trek, mountain bike and canoe across a 310-mile route over the course of 6–7 days. Oh, and the race is unsupported, meaning each team has to fend for themselves and there are no daily check-ins with food, water or other provisions. Which means there’s no designated time for sleep, forcing teams to choose whether it’s more important to push forward and attempt a win, or get some sleep to sustain energy—a tough call.
Known by some as the “Race to the End of the World,” the Patagonia Expedition Race has also been called, “The Last Wild Race” because of its challenging terrain and is unofficially considered the Ironman of adventure races. Both a physical and mental challenge, the 10-day race involves trekking, mountain biking, kayaking, climbing, roping and more across more than 300 miles of Southern Patagonia territory including glaciers, rivers, swampland, mountains and more. Basically, if your team of four finishes this race you can say you’ve completed the toughest adventure race on the planet. And you’ll have supported a great message while doing so, since one of the reasons the organizers started the Patagonia Expedition Race was to help raise awareness and conserve the fragile environment in the region.