Many people consider your run of the mill marathons, triathlons, and general adventure sport competitions to be a challenge. Others, however, need a little more pain, grit, and suffering to make any race worth their time. These athletes seek nothing but the hardest and most rewarding races to test their limits.
If you fall under this masochist category of athletes – or just want to witness the carnage – here are the top 12 toughest events in the world to try.
Where: Alaska, USA
For those who love to go back to the basics, there’s no better adventure event than the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic. This 400 km wilderness race traverses through some of Alaska’s most treacherous backcountry. Grizzly bears, frigid rivers, and extreme temperatures are constant obstacles to get through.
The game is simple: finish the route without any outside support and using only your own manpower. Some competitors opt to raft while others cycle, cross country ski, or even paraglide. There is no official organization – it’s run by previous competitors who are passionate about keeping the event alive.
To many endurance athletes who’ve braved sprawling deserts, lush jungles, and urban cities, the remote harshness of Antarctica’s terrain is considered the ultimate challenge. Every year, the world’s most southern marathon and 100 km race take place on the ice fields of Antarctica. Runners contend with frosty winds, up to -20 degree Celsius temperatures, and unstable footing
Next Event: November 21-27, 2017
Official Site: Ice Marathon
Where: Peru, Namibia, Nepal, Sweden
Beyond the Ultimate is a series of four races that take competitors to opposite types of extreme conditions around the globe. The Jungle Ultra has athletes jump over tree vines in blistering heat, the Desert Ultra of Namibia will test the endurance of athletes racing through knee-deep sand, the Mountain Ultra is a knee-pounding ascent and descent in Nepal, and finally, the Ice Ultra demands athletes to push through some of the coldest conditions in Sweden. Complete all four, and you’ll be one of the select few who can join the Ultimate Club or the Ultimate Hall of Fame.
Official Site: Beyond The Ultimate
Where: Llanberis, North Wales
There are triathlons… and then there is the Brutal Extreme Triple Triathlon. With a name like that, how can you expect to keep your sanity? The BETT takes place in North Wales and weaves through the mountain of Snowdon, around Lake Padam. You can do the triathlon once, twice, or thrice in a row if you’re crazy.
Next Event: September 16, 2017
Official Site: Brutal Events
Where: Quebec, Canada
This challenge is in the style of a classic Nordic skiing expedition. Over the course of two days, athletes will traverse over 160 km from Lachute to Gatineau in Quebec. To go for the gold challenge, skiers must first have successfully completed the silver and bronze level events that get progressively harder with each level. The gold level requires skiers to support themselves by carrying all provisions for an overnight frosty camp.
Is it really that much of a challenge if the race takes place in some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet? The Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon still thinks so. This triathlon starts at an iconic fjord and leads its participants through all types of freezing waters and variable terrain. To make it a true challenge, of course, the end is at the top of a steep mountain, over 1800 m above sea level. Incredibly, friends and family are the main support crew for each contender – making the even just a little bit more special.
Next Event: August 2-7, 2017
Official Site: Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon
Where: Sahara Desert, Morocco
Marathon de Sables tightly clings to the reputation of being the “toughest footrace on earth.” Why do they feel so entitled to this fact? Guided by nothing except for flags in the distance for six days, athletes run through sun-scorched, lifeless, sand dunes for hours on end. In all directions, there is nothing to offer respite from the rolling golden hills.
Next Event: April 7-17, 2017
Official Site: Marathon Des Sables
Where: Patagonia, Chile
Teams of four will be put to the ultimate test as they find a way to race through the Patagonian landscape. They’ll have to find a way to cooperate, navigate, and use finely tuned survival skills to be successful. These skills often include climbing, trekking, biking, and even kayaking – anything that will help them manage whatever features come their way. Every year, the route changes so even if you’ve successfully done the race before, you’ll still be in a new world when you try again.
Where: New York, USA
Unlike many of the other tough events, the Self-Transcendence 3100 doesn’t take place in anywhere postcard worthy, and doesn’t include any fancy support systems. What’s tough about this race is that it requires athletes to run nearly 100 km per day for 52 straight days, making it the longest footrace in the world at 4,989 km long. Athletes have to combat boredom (the setting is urban) alongside the physical challenge, making it mentally hard in more ways than one.
Where: Purni Bore, South Australia
Over five days and covering nearly 600 km, mountain bikers will cross through the heart of the Simpson Desert in South Australia. The riders will face hundreds of sand dunes, blazing heat, and Australia’s worst enemy, flies. The route changes every year but always ends with a cold drink at the Birdsville Pub in Queensland.
Next Event: September 26-30, 2017
Where: East Timor
East Timor (Timor Leste) is one of the least traveled to places on the planet. This young country has only been established for a little over ten years, and has been recovering from decades of war and occupation. Now, East Timor is happy to welcome athletes from all over the globe and show them the challenging yet beautiful terrain that the island has to offer. The Tour de Timor has grueling climbs, gravel roads, and heat to contend with to keep it challenging.
Next Event: September 19-24, 2017
Official Site: Tour De Timor
Where: Yukon Territory, Canada
Cold, windy, long… and did we say cold? The 6633 Ultra is a foot race where athletes pull their provisions behind them by a harness and sled. There are two races, both grueling, one is s breezy 193 km while the other is 566 km. The full race spans across the Yukon from Eagle Plain to Tuktoyaktuk.
Next Event: March 10, 2017
Official Site: 6633 Ultra
Feature Image credit: Carlos MillanLast updated on Oct 11, 2019