YOU’VE FOUGHT THROUGH blistered heels running the Portland Marathon. You endured tendonitis and hallucinations to get a respectable finish soloing the 24-Hours of Moab. You vomited energy bars at the Ironman in Kona. And you loved every minute of it. Now you’re looking for a real challenge. You want– no, need–a race that will set you apart from all of the people who call themselves endurance racers. Something that will set you firmly into the endurance “Hall of Shit-Crazy.” Look no further. Here are seven hyper-endurance races that will set you straight, and, if you finish one, it will place you into the pantheon of total badasses.
1. Barkley Marathons
Designed not just to challenge competitors, the organizers of the Barkley Marathons seem hell-bent on making runners want to quit. Since the first race in 1986, only 10 out of 700 racers have finished the 100 miles before the 60-hour cut-off. (As a comparison, the record for the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon is 22 hours 51 minutes, and the Hardrock 100 is 23 hours and 23 minutes.) After just one lap, one Barkely competitor was known to have said, “This is not a race, this is a colonoscopy gone wrong.”
The race consists of a 20-mile loop run five times, in both directions with a total of 105,800 feet of elevation gained and lost. There is no trail. The route just requires a map and compass. Everyone gets lost on the course, so be prepared to hold it together while traipsing through patches of sawbriers.
On the upside, the first racer able to complete the 100-mile race in under 24-hours will get a shiny bronze “Barkley 100” belt-buckle.
Ideal competitor: Trail-runners who hate themselves.
Next start: Every April Fool’s Day weekend (surprised?)
Fastest time: 55:42:27
2. Great Divide Race
Ever finish a mountain bike race and wish it was longer? How about 2,475 miles longer? The Great Divide Race spans the distance between the Canadian and Mexican borders, starting in Roosville, Montana and ending in Antelope Wells, New Mexico. As the name implies, the route follows the spine of the Rocky Mountains, crossing the continental divide several times.
This route takes “solo” adventure to a whole new level. There is no race support, a point the website makes clear with this statement: “You are responsible for yourself and your own safety. Please have an emergency plan in place…” — making this race a true adventure. You will see race officials at the start and at the end. Your only other contact with them will be during the check-in calls at set points to monitor your progress. There will be stretches where you won’t see another human being for days.
Ideal competitor: Mountain bike fanatic who prefers grizzly bear to human contact
Next start: June 15, 2012
Fastest time: 15 days, 1 hour, and 26 minutes
3. Iditarod Trail Invitational (formerly Iditasport)
An endurance race where the dogs do all of the work? Forget it. You want to experience the crushing solitude and unlivable conditions of the Iditarod, but under your own power. That’s the idea of the Iditarod Trail Invitational, which follows the 1,100-mile route of the classic Alaska dog-sled race, but is snowshoed, skied or biked.
The list of possible dangers is long, including all of the things one would normally expect in Alaska in February: sub-zero temperatures, fifty-plus mile-per-hour winds, deep snow, and long periods of darkness. After speaking to Mike Curiak, the current record holder for the 1,100 miler, I learned there are a few unforeseen hazards, including getting buzzed by bush pilots so close that you feel the prop-wash blow over you.
Ideal competitor: Cold-weather adventurers not afraid of the dark.
Next start: February 26, 2012
Fastest time: 15 days, 1 hour, and 15 minutes.
4. Dakar Motor Rally
If not the most prestigious on the list, then the Dakar Motor Rally is certainly the most dangerous. More people have been injured or killed competing on the Dakar than all of the races listed here combined. 5,625 bone jarring miles through Argentina’s canyons, across the sands of Chile’s Atacama Desert, and over the Peruvian Andes, covered in just over two weeks, make this brutal, both physically and mentally. On top of getting bruised by the terrain, drivers must deal with the constant threat of crashing, mechanical failure and getting lost. The upside? You don’t have to do it alone, your navigator will be there to help you roll the truck back over (unless you’re in the motorcycle or quad classes).
Ideal competitor: Pedal-to-the-metal speed junkies who don’t like being alone.
Next start: January 15, 2012
5. The Tough Guy Race
Don’t have time for multiple stages, but still want to suffer big-time? The Tough Guy Race, aka the “Death Race,” is a one-day tribute to pain and injury. Events are run both in summer and winter, but legend has it that no one has ever completed the winter course to the specifications set by race creator Billy “Mr. Mouse” Wilson.
The course starts out easy enough, with a six-mile cross-country run. The jaunt is merely a warm-up. Things go downhill fast. From wading through mud pits with vacuums attempting to suck you in, to crawling under barbed wire while course marshals dressed as commandos fire machine guns with blank rounds overhead, to crawling through dark tunnels with live electric wires, this race gets ugly. Don’t let signing the “death warrant” disclaimer deter you, only two people have died running the course.
Ideal competitor: Mega-athletes who never grew out of playing soldier as kids.
Next start: January 29, 2012
2011 winning time: 1:18:53
6. Vendée Globe
If your idea of a big race is one that spans the whole world, it’s time to hit the open ocean for this circumnavigational mega-race. Starting and ending in Les Sables d’Olonne, France, the Vendée Globe covers 24,840 miles following the route of the old clipper ships south of Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, Australia’s southern beaches, and South America’s Cape Horn. The race can take upwards of three months and is non-stop. Even pulling up along-side another vessel is illegal.
As if circumnavigation weren’t adventure enough, Vendée Globe is a solo event, so a stable mind is as important as a steady hand on the tiller.
Ideal competitor: Over-achiever with a Sartre-esque view of being with other people.
Next start: November 11, 2012
Course record: 84 days, 03:09:08
7. Texas Water Safari
Perhaps circling the world is too much of a time commitment, or you prefer to sail with 6-9 of your friends, well, the Texas Water Safari may be the sport to push you to your breaking point. Floating a canoe down south Texas rivers sounds more relaxing than epic. Don’t be fooled. The 262-mile race has plenty to get your adrenaline flowing: rapids, gator infested lakes, portages over dams and thick underbrush, and being harassed by poisonous water moccasins and toothy, prehistoric fish called Alligator Gar, which can grow up to ten feet long.
In a race that has up to 96% dropout rate, the real challenge isn’t the ‘gators or gar, it’s the river and the time cut-offs. Log jams ensnare and splinter boats. Rapids crack hulls and toss participants out of canoes. The 100 hour cut-off time forces racers to skip sleep, in some cases leading to severe hallucinations. Hey, is that the guy from Deliverance in the back of the boat, or am I dreaming?!
Ideal competitor: Insomniac with massive biceps.
Next start: June 9, 2012
Course record: Unlimited: 29:46:00. Solo: 36:03:00
Feature image by Paul Clark Images.