Top Five Long Distance Races
This is my first ever Top Five.. my Top Five Long Distance Races! These are the races around the world that over the next few years I most want to take part in. They are a variety of disciplines but are all seriously tough, endurance events. More than anything though, they inspire me, fire my imagination and desperately make me want to see if I have what it takes! They are in no particular order and I’m sure many people will have come across them before, but that doesn’t detract from how awesome they look.
- Marathon Des Sables
Not a particularly surprising start, the Marathon Des Sables is rapidly growing in popularity. This is an approximately 150 mile multi-day ultra-run, through the Sahara Desert! It was founded in 1984 and is often described as the hardest foot-race on Earth. The course threads through the northern Sahara with a variety of different length stages and the infamous “long day”, which is usually over 50 miles in length. If this doesn’t sound tough enough already, you have to carry all of you supplies and kit except water and a tent. This is an event to test every level of athlete.
This is the only purely running event on my list and makes it mainly because of the sheer difficulty and willpower required to succeed. It requires fitness, survival skills and an ability to manage your body that I really hope to develop in the next few years. A blister that might be an annoyance in the UK can be crippling in the MdS. And feeling a bit thirsty? Well that could prove fatal.
- L’Étape du Tour
The 22nd edition of the Étape du Tour took place just three days ago. It is a chance for amateur cyclists to tackle one of the most gruelling stages from that years’ Tour de France. This year, that stage was 148km from Pau to Hautacam, in the South of France. There were two fearsome Hors category climbs, the infamous Col du Tourmalet, followed by the ascent of the Hautacam itself. Earlier this year, I attempted the Grand Depart stage in North Yorkshire, and managed to complete it in around 9 hours. This Étape du Tour stage is an entirely different level of difficulty (and it is just as hard every year).It’s something I’m dying to try. Despite the adventure I’m setting off on in September, I’m never going to be a great climber on a bike. I weigh around 90kg; there aren’t any of the guys in the TdF even close to this weight, so this is the closest I’m going to get to finding out whether I could cut it as a professional cyclist! One day I’m going to give it a try.
- Ironman/Norseman Triathlon
I’m cheating slightly here by putting in an Ironman triathlon category. This is because there are two ironman races that I want to take part in above any others. The first is the Ironman World Championships at Kona in Hawaii. This is slightly less about the race itself, and more about the tests required to get there. The only way to take part at Kona, other than with a massive stroke of luck in the Kona lottery, is to complete a full Ironman event in a quick enough time to grab one of the highly sought after qualifying spots. You can’t buy your way in, and you can’t fluke it. The only way to get there is by being good enough. I’m determined to find out whether I am.
The other race in this section is the Norseman Triathlon. This is an ironman distance event but is not part of the official series. The race begins with a mass start to the swim in a deep, dark and extremely cold Norwegian fjord. You have to jump off the back of a ferry, just as the sun is rising; knowing that ahead of you is staggeringly tough day. The bike leg is through the mountains. There is no flat, fast time trial here. It is almost like a stage of the Tour de France, but with a marathon to follow. As you might have guessed, this is no ordinary marathon either. The first 25km are on relatively flat, tarmac roads, but from this stage the route takes you straight up Mount Gaustatoppen, a huge, menacing pile of rock. Only the first 160 competitors will be allowed to continue from the 37.5km checkpoint to the top of the mountain. These finishers will be awarded to highly prized black t-shirts. The other finishers head to a slightly lower level, receiving a white t-shirt. This race takes place in a stunning location, is ridiculously tough, and you might not even get to finish at the top of the mountain. Sounds wonderful!
- Yukon River Quest
This is the longest kayak/canoe race in the world, running 715 km from Whitehorse to Dawson in the Canadian Yukon. When I first started planning my adventures, I read a detailed race report from this event, and knew immediately that it was something I wanted to do. It runs through stunning wilderness, taking in lakes, meandering streams and exhilarating rapids and is highly competitive. Earlier this year, I began learning how to white-water kayak at the Olympic park, and it was utterly brilliant. I had done a little paddling before, but nothing could prepare me for just how much I was going to enjoy this. The idea of doing this for up to four days straight, planning where and when to stop on islands and riverbanks, carrying most of your provisions and taking on one of the world’s great rivers, excites more than I can describe.
Ok, I lied. There is a ranking among these races; GodZone and then the rest. GodZone is a multi-day adventure race across New Zealand, combining running and hiking, mountain biking and kayaking. This is no walk in the park. In a recent article for the Telegraph, Tobias Mews (journalist and professional nutcase), described it as possibly the hardest race on the planet. And he should know.
I watched a film about this event and if there is one race on this list that I want to do it’s this one. The route isn’t announced until you arrive at the event and then it’s up to you and your team to plan your strategy, route and equipment. Each team has to have an experienced navigator because the course goes through treacherous and technical mountain terrain and each day you have to reach certain checkpoints. On foot, by bike or on the water, this race takes you through stunning landscapes presenting physical and mental challenges at every turn. Professional athletes fail to finish; experienced adventure racers get lost; all of them praise this unbelievable event. If I one day finish this race, I will be truly happy. It combines elements of all of the others and to complete it requires you to push yourself beyond anything else you may have done. At the end, I may have finally found out what I’m capable of!