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12 of the World's Most Hardcore Endurance Races

by Chris Barstow Apr 21, 2015

So, you’ve mastered the marathon, triumphed in the triathlon and kicked ass in the CrossFit Games. But what does an endurance sports adrenaline junkie do next? Here are 12 of the world’s most hardcore endurance races to test your bones, brains and bodily fluids to their absolute limits and earn you bragging rights for the rest of your life…

Marathon de Sables (Morocco)

The expansive wilderness of the Sahara desert provides a hardcore route for Marathon de Sables adventurers who must complete the equivalent of six marathons over six consecutive days. As well as the punishing under-foot conditions, the extreme desert heat can cause even the best-prepared runners to dehydrate and hallucinate as they traverse one of Earth’s most desolate and unforgiving terrains. 71-year old British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, a conqueror of some of the world’s toughest mountain climbs and polar expeditions, completed the 2015 race and described it as “more hellish than hell”.

Coureurs des Bois (Canada)

Held in the depths of the Canadian winter, the Coureur des Bois challenges Nordic skiers to slide over lung-busting trails in freezing temperatures as they navigate a 160km route between the outskirts of Montreal and Ottawa. Risking frostbite and fractures during ten grueling stages held over two days, the cross-country skiers must use a combination of muscle and mental stamina to complete the testing course.

Tour de Timor (Timor-Leste)

Whilst the Tour de France is exclusively for professional athletes, The Tour de Timor allows pedaling journeymen to compete for the coveted yellow jersey. A five-day exploration of one of the world’s newest and least explored countries, the race covers several hundred kilometers of tarmac, dirt and gravel tracks with more than a few potholes to keep riders alert. With steep climbs and sultry temperatures, the event is enough to make even the most experienced rider calf-cramped and saddle-sore.

Brutal Extreme Triathlon (Wales)

The Ironman is often regarded as the zenith of physical endurance challenges, testing strength, speed and sheer willpower. However, the Brutal Extreme Triple Triathlon makes the Kona Ironman race in Hawaii look like a school sports day. The race consists of an 11.4km swim in a freezing lake, a 540km bike ride on rolling Welsh hills and a 126km run which forces competitors to scale Mount Snowdon, the tallest peak in Wales. For those who prefer their triathlons to be slightly less brutal, the event also contains half, full and double Ironman distance events and the opportunity to compete in the triple distance as a team.

Comrades Marathon (South Africa)

For anyone who sees a plain old marathon as a walk in the park, the Comrades Marathon in South Africa offers a hardcore test for runners who are more likely to end up with blisters rather than diamonds on the soles of their shoes. The event is one of the most popular ultra-marathons in the world with up to 18,000 competitors braving the lung-sapping uphills and knee-crunching downhills of the 90km route between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in temperatures approaching 30 degrees. It’s also one of the toughest foot races in the world. As a competitor once joked, “Comrades is a great 5km. The problem is the two marathons you have to run to get to the starting line.”

The Simpson Desert Bike Challenge (Australia)

The Simpson Desert Bike Challenge sees brave cyclists tackle a route of 590km over five days in the sparse Australian outback. With 700 strength-sapping sand dunes to negotiate and vast empty plains to cross without as much as a koala or kangaroo in sight, entrants use thick-tired ‘fat bikes’ to help them overcome the mentally and physically exhausting terrain.

Antarctic 100km (Antarctica)

In what is metaphorically and literally the coolest running race in the world, the Antarctic 100km tests endurance and willpower at the end of the earth. Competitors pound the ice alongside the penguins in the notoriously mercurial weather conditions of the Antarctic where hostile snowstorms, blizzard winds and freezing temperatures combine to make the course one of the toughest ultra-marathons on the planet. For anyone who fancies a bit more of a sprint, there is also a marathon distance race available to run.

Isklar Norseman Xtreme (Norway)

The Isklar Norseman Xtreme is one of dozens of Ironman-distance triathlons that have sprung up in the wake of the infamous Kona race in Hawaii. However, what makes this the Thor of Ironman races is the barbaric course that sees athletes swim a freezing fjord, ride a bike up punishing hills before a marathon run which includes a spirit-crushing ascent of nearly 2000m up Mount Gaustatoppen. The treacherous route is regarded as the world’s toughest Ironman race, although does come with the added incentive of seeing porpoises and reindeer en route.

Ötillö (Sweden)

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The Ötillö race is a hardcore duathlon in which teams of two combine swimming and running as they explore the Swedish archipelago. Ötillö competitors have to run, clamber and scramble across twenty-six rocky islands, swimming glacial stretches of the Baltic Sea between each one. With strict cut-off times, teams have to don wetsuits and shoes for the whole event as they battle with the brisk Scandinavian elements to complete nearly 10km of tricep-trembling swimming and 65km of calf-busting running. Most entries are secured through qualifying races, although there are some limited ballot places available to adventurous thrill-seekers.

Jungle Marathon (Brazil)

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The Jungle Marathon takes brave runners deep into the heart of the Amazon, where they face steep trails and thick forest as they cover 254km across six stages. With searing tropical heat, swamps and rivers to traverse and potentially deadly wildlife such as piranhas and anacondas en route, this is the ultimate blood-pumping, adrenaline-surging adventure for anyone looking to test their mental and physical limits. A shorter 4-stage 127km race and standard marathon distance is also available for the slightly less hardcore.

Yukon 1000 (Canada)

Sitting in a boat might not sound like the basis of a particularly hardcore endurance challenge. However, competitors in the biennial Yukon 1000 race have to cover an impressive 1600km by canoe, spending up to 12 days soaked to the bone as they paddle through waves and currents on the Yukon River. With the risk of overnight bear attacks thrown into the mix, this exhausting event is not for the faint-hearted.

Patagonian Expedition Race (Chile)

Combining navigation skills, bravery and teamwork, the Patagonian Expedition Race sees mixed teams of four traverse the unspoiled southern Chilean plains and fjords using a combination of kayaks, ropes, bikes and a bucket-load of willpower. This wild adventure sees teams set out on a unique course each year, each providing jaw-dropping vistas to numb the pain of the fatigue-inducing route of up to 800km.

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