The best running races are those where runners push themselves beyond the limits of their average fitness and endure physical pain.
The most difficult races are those with the most distance, the most elevation change, or the most technical terrain.
But it doesn’t end there; the toughest races in the World are the ones that test your mental and physical endurance.
It tests your ability to overcome fatigue, hunger, and pain. Other factors come into play, such as the weather, the competitors, the cutoff time, and more.
So, it takes more than just endurance, strength, speed, and stamina to run the most challenging race in the World.
The World’s toughest endurance races and events take place all over the World. So let’s find out which is the most challenging race of them all and what it takes to train for one such event.
1. Marathon des Sables
If an extraordinary race had a name, it would be Marathon des Sables. It is a multi-stage marathon run in one of the world’s most inhospitable environments known to man and is a test of physical and mental endurance.
Marathon des Sables is held every year in Morocco’s dry and desolate Saharan desert. And without a doubt, it is the most demanding race in the world as it covers 250 km in the hot Saharan sun, never-ending sand dunes, blistering salt plains, and rocky mountains over six days.
The runners have to carry all they need to survive on their back through the entire race. Each stage spans the whole day, and runners have to cover nearly 80 km in unforgiving conditions.
The Saharan desert is known for its dry and sweltering environment, where temperatures can hit 50℃ during the day. Still, this couldn’t stop runners worldwide from competing in the Marathon des Sables each year.
This ultra marathon dates back to 1984 when Patrick Bauer, a French man, set out on an epic walk of 200 Km in 12 days self-sufficient.
Later in 1986, the first Marathon des Sables was run with only 23 competitors. Now this marathon has over 1000 competitors each year.
2. Badwater Ultramarathon
Badwater Ultramarathon is also considered one of the toughest endurance races in the world due to the extreme heat and 20,700 feet of elevation change.
There are many reasons why this race has been called “the toughest footrace in the world.” The course runs from Death Valley to Mount Whitney in California, and it takes place during the hottest time of the year, when temperatures can hit 110℉.
The race’s starting point is Badwater Basin in Death Valley, California, which is 282 feet below sea level and is bone dry.
It carries on through three mountain ranges, and the finish line is 135 miles away at Mount Whitney.
Runners have to encounter 14,600 feet of ascent and 6100 feet of descent. It doesn’t end there because runners have a cutoff time of 48 hours.
A seasoned runner, Karnazes shared his training experience for this ultra marathon.
He said he had to train for the heat inside a sauna to do push-ups and sit-ups, wear a snow jacket in the middle of summer, and drive a car with windows rolled up and heater on full speed. It indeed is a race not for the faint-hearted.
3. Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run
The Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance run takes place annually in the month of July. The race takes place in Silverton, Colorado, where runners have to endure 66,000 feet of elevation change.
Runners have to run the course in a clockwise loop. The race has a cutoff time of 48 hours, and therefore runners have to run through the night using flashlights.
Not only is Hardrock 100 one of the toughest endurance races in the world, but participation is also a challenge in itself because a limited number of runners are selected through a lottery system.
The running trail consists of extremely rugged terrain, river crossings, steep climbs, descents, and boulder fields.
They also have to encounter extreme, unpredictable weather. The nighttime temperatures can plunge below zero, and severe thunderstorms can roll in out of nowhere, bringing rain, hail and lightning.
Runners have to carry additional clothing and survival food in their backpacks. Francois D’Haene holds the fastest finish time with 21:45:50 on the clock.
4. Jungle Ultra Marathon
Jungle Ultra Marathon is one of the toughest endurance races held annually in the Amazon rainforest.This ultramarathon is run mostly downhill, where runners have to go through 10,500 feet of elevation change.
Runners must complete a 230 Km race in 5 stages across jungle trails, mountain roads, and tracks where the conditions are highly humid and sweltering.
Not only that, but runners have to go through deep mud, rain, river crossings, and even running in the dark using their torches.
The Jungle Ultra is a self-sufficient race, meaning runners have to carry life-saving equipment in their backpacks.
They have to carry food and safety equipment and a minimum of 2.5 liters of water. Still, drinking water is provided at each checkpoint.
Runners have to wear specialist gear such as the best running shoes for muddy trails and more to tackle the jungle terrain.
5. Western States Endurance Run
The Western States endurance run is one of those types of running races that are held annually with a limited number of participants.
The participants have to run 100.2 miles each year in July. The Western States 100 starts at Olympic Valley and ends in Auburn, California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range.
This race is a mix of rugged and elevated terrain. Runners have to encounter daytime extreme heat of the canyons, snow on the high passes, 18000 feet of climb, and 23000 feet decent near the finish line.
These harsh conditions put runners to their limits, and only a few can run 100 miles per day.
The Western States Endurance Run is limited to 369 runners only. Participants are selected through a lottery and a waiting list.
The runners who complete the race before 30 hours of cutoff time receive a bronze belt buckle. Those finishing under 24 hours are awarded a silver belt buckle.
In the men’s category, the fastest time record is held by Jim Walmsley with 14:09:28 on the clock, and the women’s record holder is Elle Greenwood with 16:47:19 on the clock.
6. Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB)
The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc or UTMB is one of the craziest races in the world and is held annually in the Alps.
It is a single-stage race and follows the route in France, Italy, Switzerland, and back to France again.
Runners have to cover a distance of nearly 171 Km, where some runners in 20 hours while others may take 30-40 hours.
Some runners may be running for two nights to complete the race, but nearly half of the participants cannot finish the race due to its extreme ascents and descents.
This race is a test of runners’ endurance as they have to pass high altitudes in extreme weather conditions as temperatures can be freezing.
As the trail runs around Mont Blanc, it gains significant ascents and descents throughout the race.The runners gain around 32,940 feet of elevation change and run across ridges and valleys with stunning views.
Unlike other limited participant ultra marathons, the UTMB allows over 2500 race starters making it one of the largest races.
This Marathon gained so much popularity that it was decided for participants to qualify for races before the main event.Even these strict qualifying criteria didn’t stop runners from applying for participation which later led to a lottery system for selecting participants.
What does it take to run a marathon?
Before you attempt to run a marathon, you need to know what you’re getting into, especially if you haven’t been active for a while. So many people come in with little or no training under their belt but have high expectations, and That’s why most people fail to reach their goals. If you want to get motivated for a marathon, you can read running novels or watch running documentaries.
There are many different training methods out there. Still, running is the only proven method that improves endurance and is consistent. You can start running regularly and slowly increase the distance, frequency, or speed if you are a beginner. Start with a 5K (3.1 miles) or run a 10K run (6.2 miles) once a week.
Running three times per week for 15 minutes will add up to about 60 miles in a month. Don’t overdo it, and try to run for 30 minutes at least three days a week. Don’t forget to take care of yourself while you’re training. Eat well and drink plenty of water. Get some sleep and relax too.
So to sum it up, know your limits, start small, build up your mileage, build your speed in intervals, eat good, take plenty of rest, and run a marathon using this training regimen.
Frequently Asked Questions
The Marathon des Sables has to be the world’s toughest endurance race due to its extreme desert conditions and self-sustaining race nature.
Runners can encounter chaffed nipples when running long distances as the sweat and constant friction against the shirt makes the nipple tender. Therefore runners nipple solutions are required for protection.
it can take around 10-20 weeks to train for a marathon. You need to build your stamina gradually by increasing your distance and preparing yourself mentally.
There are a lot of endurance races held worldwide, and each is different due to its distance and running conditions.
The hardest race in the world puts the runners to their limits both physically and mentally. Sometimes it is due to the terrain, weather conditions, altitude, distance, or it may be the cutoff time of a race that keeps the runners going on for hours.
So it is up to you to decide which is the toughest endurance race of them all and get motivated to train for it.