Some people just need to compete. Marathons, road races, Tough Mudders … anything to prove their physical and mental endurance. But, for many, even punishing their bodies with 26.2 grueling miles of running on asphalt isn’t enough. For those crazy few, here are four of the world’s toughest races:
Polar Circle Marathon (Greenland)
Contrary to what its name might promise, Greenland is not green. In fact, it’s covered in some of the world’s largest glaciers and boasts some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet. All of which makes it the perfect location to run a marathon, right? The Polar Circle Marathon is an elite annual race for some of the world’s toughest marathoners. Most of the race is run on snow-covered gravel roads while stretches of it cover the country’s vast ice cap. Runners finish north of the Polar Circle in the tiny settlement of Kangerlussuaq where muskoxen outnumber people.
Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic (Alaska, USA)
The Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic may be the most thankless race on earth. Forget the usual media glamor, the photo opportunities, and the fancy sponsorships, this race is all about purity of endurance. There are few rules, except that runners must:
- Be entirely self-reliant and self-supported
- Carry all their own food and equipment
- Rely solely on human power (bikes and kayaks are allowed)
- Leave no trace
- Arrange their own rescue
What started in 1982 as a straightforward footrace through the Alaska wilderness has evolved from its original 150-mile course to more elaborate routes of more than 250 miles. Not surprisingly, fewer than 50 people enter annually, and it’s been two decades since every entrant finished.
Antarctic Ice Marathon (South Pole)
Runners and avid adventurists love setting arbitrary goals. For some marathoners, the ability to claim they’ve run a marathon on every continent is just too enticing. Enter the annual Antarctic Ice Marathon. Every November, the world’s southernmost footrace takes place a few hundred miles off the South Pole. Entrants start from a glacier camp and cross the Ellsworth Mountains. Over the five-day course, runners face steady 10 to 25 mph winds and temperatures that never rise above 10°F. Races and start times are frequently delayed due to the continent’s dangerously unpredictable weather.
Jungle Marathon (Amazon Rainforest, Brazil)
If the frigid Antarctic climate isn’t tough enough for you, Brazil’s Jungle Marathon offers racers the opportunity to test their survival mettle in the wilds of the Amazon Rainforest. Entrants choose between two tracks — either 63 miles in four stages or 150 miles in six stages. Of course, the real challenge is not merely to reach the finish line. It’s to survive the massive anacondas, deadly spiders, and every other critter that’s trying to kill you before you get there. It’s a bit like Man vs. Wild, minus the sleeping in Holiday Inns during the commercial breaks.