The World’s Most Extreme Races

Article by Ben Winston
Monday 6th April 2009

Ever fancied running in almost 50 degree heat? With polar bears, snakes and scorpions? How about competing in a blizzard on an iceberg? Or contracting rare fungal diseases in the depths of the world’s greatest rainforest?

Deep in Patagonia's Darwin Range during the 2007 Patagonia Expedition Race. Photo: copyright Nathan Ward (

Well, if you’re finding home grown adventure racing isn’t sufficiently taxing any more, then it might be time to look abroad for some of the more extreme challenges man has yet devised. Here, planetFear brings you the thigh quivering guide to some of the world’s most outrageous races…

The most northerly: The Polar Challenge

If you’ve ever been tempted by a jaunt to the magnetic north pole, then the Polar Challenge will get you 'as near as damn it!'. Starting in Nunavut, Canada, the race covers around 280 miles of frozen wasteland in around ten days, but you have to lug a 90kg sled across the pack ice, stopping at two check points for re-supply with food and fuel. Frost bite is a distinct possibility, as are polar bears, but with plenty of warm clothing, determination and firearms, you should make it to the magnetic pole (or at least to where it was a few years ago - before it headed far out into the Arctic Ocean) before being airlifted out.


The start-line of the 2004 Polar Challenge

The race is for teams of three (although if you can’t find friends willing to stump up the £10,200 entry each, teams will be assembled by the organisers) and you receive full survival training. For more details check out

If you really want to go to the Extreme North, check out the North Pole Marathon.  Although you will be running in circles, you will literally be at the top of the world! 


The driest – Atacama Desert

There are parts of the Atacama Desert that have never recorded rainfall, so expect seven days of harsh salt flats, canyons, active volcanoes, thermal springs, geysers and a lunaresque terrain. Altitudes range from 2,300m (7,600ft) to 4,100m (13,500ft), so strong lungs and a penchant for acclimatisation is a bonus. Then you’ll have to deal with temperatures reaching the high thirties on the salt flats during the day, plus the glare of a high altitude sun.

Stage 4 of the Atacama Crossing : Photo by Derek Kwik

The race itself is 150 miles over six stages and organisers provide water and a tent to sleep in at the end of the day. Otherwise you’ll have to carry everything you need for the duration. There are also generous cut-off times should you decide to walk. Costs are $2600 US dollars for individuals and $7500 US dollars for teams of three.

For more details check out


Derek Kwik on the salt flats - Atacama Crossing


The highest: The Everest Marathon

If running at extreme altitude is your thing then this is the race to beat all others: it starts at 5184m (17,000ft) and descends to 3446m (11,300ft). And although it runs on paths, they’re rough, steep and sometimes exposed, so tripping and falling off isn’t recommended. You can also expect snow and ice at the start of the route, plus two killer ascents to test your lung capacity.


Everest Marathon - Photo by Ben Winston

The race is preceded by a 16 day trek to Kala Pattar, just beneath Everest Base Camp, which allows everyone to get a feel for the course and acclimatise. It’s also a great social and to make you feel even better, all profits are ploughed into the Everest Marathon Fund supporting local development projects. Costs are in the region of £2,100 from the UK or £1,550 from Kathmandu.

See for more details.


The hottest: Marathon des Sables

The 'Marathon of the Sands' is one of the most famous extreme running challenges in the world, a massive behemoth of a race covering 150 miles – or 5.5 regular marathons over 6 days – through the Moroccan desert, of which 15 - 20% will be over strength sapping sand dunes. Then, factor in temperatures that can almost reach 50 deg Celcius, sand storms, having to carry everything for the week excepting water and a tent and you have a seriously gruelling challenge. Are you really up to it?


Photo Courtesy of Lowe Alpine / Ben Winston

Entry to what is billed as “The Toughest Footrace on Earth” is €2,600per person and the 2005 race is scheduled to run from the 8th to the 18th April.

For more information check out


The coldest: Yukon Arctic Ultra

Although there’s not much in it between this and the Polar Challenge in terms of temperature, this is billed as the toughest race on the planet as it follows the Yukon Quest trail. There are three options to choose from: the marathon, the 100 mile race and the 300 mile race, and competitors have the choice of competing on foot, skis or mountain bike. Average minimum daily temperatures hover around -20 to -30 deg C, but it’s not unknown for the mercury to drop to nearly -60 deg C, so frostbite is not uncommon. Places are limited to 35 athletes on each of the 100 and 300 mile races and entry is from €100 for the marathon, €650for the 100 mile race and €1050for the 300. Check out for details.



It’s not unknown for the mercury to drop to nearly -60 deg C
Photo courtesy of


The most humid: Jungle Marathon

If you prefer spiders, snakes and desperate humidity to frozen extremities and burning deserts then check out Brazil's epic Jungle Marathon. 120 miles of rainforest and rivers with competitors required to carry everything but water and hammocks for the duration of the seven day event. You can expect to get very wet and stay that way, to contract possible exotic diseases and fungal infections, and face the sheer challenge of running through fetid, steaming jungle. Merely breathing in this kind of humidity is a challenge. Racing for a week is a struggle.

The Jungle Marathon costs £2000 from the UK and £1500 from other parts of the globe and the 2004 race is scheduled to run between 15th and 24th September.

See for details.

A Jungle Marathon competitor - undercove - photo courtesy of


PlanetFear media is exclusively funded by our online store. Consider shopping with us for your latest outdoor gear: visit the planetFear shop here.

Bookmark: Add to Favourites Add to Google Bookamrks Add to Delicious Digg this Add to Myspace Add to Facebook Add to furl Add to Yahoo Review on StumbeUpon Add to reddit Add to Newsvine Add to Windows Live Favourites
Subscribe to RSS Feed Add to Technorati Add to Twitter Add to Yahoo Bookmarks Add to Aol Favourites Add to Ask Add to FARK Add to Slashdot Add to Mixx Add to Multiply Add to Simpy Add to Blogmarks


Tony G - 09/04/2009
The best reference book that profiles the above races (with fantastic photos/info) and others on each continent is called Extreme Running (Anova Books)

Add a Comment

Security Code:

Please enter the security code in the text box below.