Written By Jamie Sparks
Jamie is one of the Ultra X Co-Founders. He enjoys rambling on about a variety of topics; motorbikes, cycling, adventure, and, of course, ultra running.
Gunning for a challenge? Well, these races have your name on them…
Now is the perfect time to be lining up an epic challenge for 2018, and an ultra marathon firmly ticks this box. Red Bull have compiled some of the best ultra marathons around the world for you to consider. Ultras are not only a challenge for your mind and body, they’re also a perfect excuse to take you off to a far flung corner of the world you otherwise probably would never go. Not only that, you’ll be running along trails and be in remote wildernesses well off the beaten path.
Below is a list of races you can still get entry into. There are many other epic races such as the Badwater 135, Western States 100, Barkley Marathons, the Comrades Marathon which are either already full, or you’ll have a very slim chance of securing a place. So get your diaries out for these…
1. Transgrancanaria 125km
Where: Gran Canaria, Canary Islands
When: 23-25 February
Cost: 180€ (£161) for the 125km race
Get your 2018 ultra calendar off to a flying start with this triple marathon epic. You’ll cross the start at 11pm on a Friday night and have just 29 hours to cover 125km and 7,500m of positive elevation gain. Sound a bit much? You’ve also got 64km, 42km and 30km options running over the same weekend. Now with around 1,400 runners taking part, this will be the event’s 15th year also forms part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour, so you’ll’ be rubbing shoulders with running royalty!
2. The Ice Ultra
Where: Lapland, Arctic, Sweden
When: 20-25 February
The Ice Ultra is a 230km self-supported footrace in one of the most remote places in the world – Swedish Lapland – a UNESCO world heritage area above the Arctic Circle famed for its unspoilt nature and untouched pine forests. It’s a five-day five-stage event – one of which sees you crossing a 21km long frozen lake.
If you’re into your gear this is an event for you as you’ll need to be be prepared for extreme cold with temperatures as low as -30 degrees. There are checkpoints every 10km to re-supply with water, and each night’s accommodation is provided by way of remote huts, teepee tents with open fires for warmth. For everything else, you’ll be self-reliant, carrying your own kit in your rucksack – supplies, sleeping bag, equipment. There will be no more than 35 competitors, with around half being expected to complete this testing event.
3. 6633 Arctic Ultra
Where: Yukon, Canada
When: 9 March
Cost: £1,000 for the 130 mile race, £3,100 for the 350 mile race
This is probably one of the toughest and most mind-blowing ultra marathons in the world. Set in the Yukon, it’s a non-stop and self-sufficient foot race covering 350 miles which will see you cross the Arctic Circle and time zones. The quickest complete it in just six days, but most cross the line within 12 hours of the eight-day cut off. There is a shorter 120 mile version, but the majority of the 30 entrants in each year’s race opt for the longer version, and this year’s brand new route promises to be more remote than ever before.
There are checkpoints, albeit less frequently than normal at around 30 to 50 miles apart, and here you’ll be provided with hot and cold water. You’ll be dragging a pulk behind you with all your supplies stowed. Some nights competitors bivvy out, but mostly choose to take shelter in the checkpoint locations particularly when temperatures reach -52 degrees, the coldest recorded during the event (-70 degrees with windchill).
4. 4Deserts Sahara Race
Where: Skeleton Coast National Park, Namibia
When: 29 April to 5 May
Cost: $3,800 (£2,869)
Set in Namibia’s Skeleton Coast National Park – part of the Namib Desert – you’ll be running 250km over seven days through the oldest desert in the world stretching for some 2,000km along the Atlantic coast. Be prepared to traverse seal colonies, salt pans, salt lakes, dunes, dry riverbeds, past deserted oil and diamond mines. This diverse scenery should help distract you whilst you also endure temperatures from 0-35 degrees.
It’s self-supported, so you’ll be carrying all your equipment for the week (eight to 10 kilogram backpack when fully loaded), but your tent will be provided as will water at checkpoints every 10km along the route. It’s a more medium-sized race with around 150 to 200 other runners taking part, so you’ll likely have someone to run with, or to push yourself against most of the time. You’ll need to get yourself to Johannesburg in South Africa, then hop on a short flight up to Walvis Bay where you’ll then be just half an hour’s drive from the host town of Swakopmund.
5. Trans Atlas Marathon, Morocco
Where: High Atlas, Morocco
When: 4-14 May
Cost: 1,690€ (£1,512)
An intimate event of around 50 competitors – including some phenomenally talented local Moroccan runners – the Trans Atlas Marathon is set in the dramatic and beautiful High Atlas Mountains by special permission of the King, and in ultra marathons terms you’ll be treated like royalty. Breakfast and hot dinner are served each day, and accommodation is an extensive Berber-style camp complete with shower. The entry fee also covers everything else including 5* hotels before and after the event.
This 280km six-day ultra is a supported race and you’ll only need to carry what you need for the day, but that’s not to say it isn’t challenging, far from it. Race Director Mohamad Ahansal, five-time winner of the Marathon des Sables and 10-time runner up, brings all his supreme running and ultramarathon experience as well as local knowledge to this event. Traversing the stunning yet brutal mountain range with arduous terrain, you’ll get an insight into the Berber way of life and be tested to your limits. With huge daily ascents and descents – the 2017 race clocked up a staggering 24,000m – you’ll also be at altitude, regularly at 2,000m above sea level, with some peaks as high as 3,000m.
6. Desert Rats Kokopelli 150 Stage Race
Where: Moab Colorado, USA
When: 17-23 June
Cost: $1,650 (£1,260)
Set in the adventurer’s dream playground, this supported six-day 240km event starts in Grand Junction Colorado and takes you through some of America’s most rural and beautiful deep backcountry deserts, finishing up in Moab, Utah. You’ll be provided with a breakfast and hot meal at camp each day, which will be set in the Colorado river where you can bathe and take some respite from the day’s running and the heat of up to 45 degrees.
7. Big Red Run
Where: Birdsville, Simpson Desert, Australia
When: 27th June – 2nd July 2018
If you’re looking for an experience in the truest sense and thinking about a trip Down Under next year, be sure to consider adding on this six-day 250km ultra marathon onto your itinerary. It’s Australia’s first, and only, multi-day ultra marathon, and you won’t be surprised to hear it starts and finishes at a pub, the Birdsville! You’ll be running through stunning red sand landscapes in the remotest outback, sand dunes, open plains, clay flats, salt lakes, and camping underneath the stars and the clearest skies around a campfire (it’s a supported event so all your gear and food will be transported from camp to camp). Getting to Birdsville is a mini adventure and cool road trip in itself, being in the heart of Australia, it’s a three day 1,900km drive.
8. Trail Verbier St-Bernard
Where: Verbier, Switzerland
When: 7-8 July 2018
Cost: 147 Swiss Francs (£113)
A special 10th Anniversary edition, the X-Alpine starts in Verbier town centre early Saturday morning at 1am and is a non-stop 111km with a huge 8,600m of elevation gain across peaks of up to 2,800m above sea level. If you manage to cross the line within the 36 hours cut-off time you’ll enter an elite group of runners. If you were looking for something slightly less intimidating, there is also a 29km, 43km and 73km version of the race over the same weekend, so something for the whole family!
9. La Ultra – The High
Where: Ladakh, India
When: 23-26 August
Cost: £2,000 (excluding flights)
A race that asks you to cover 333km, in 72 hours, touching altitudes of 5,300m above sea level in temperatures of up to 40 degrees. Yes this does exist, and it’s La Ultra – The High set in the Ladakh Region in the Indian Himalayas – and it’s on another level. In its seven year existence, 76 runners from 24 different countries have participated and 41 have finished. The entry requirements are, quite understandably, strict and you’ll need to have some other ultra marathon running experience under your belt to be in with a shot at an approved application. There is always the 222km and the 111km version if you fancy the same atmosphere in this amazing Himalayan landscape. Registration opens on 1st December and closes mid Feb.
Where: Athens, Greece
When: September 2018
Cost: 520€ (£467)
In its 34th annual year and described as the world’s most gruelling race, this iconic event requires competitors to cover a totally brutal 246km in just 36 hours. You’ll start on a Friday evening in Athens, from where you’ll run south west along the coast for around 70km, then inland towards Sparta where the race finishes.
Terrain is rough tracks and muddy paths (it often rains during the race), crossing vineyards and olive groves, climbing steep hillsides with a cheeky 1,200m ascent and descent of Mount Parthenio in the dead of night. The race is capped at 390 runners, and applications open in the January 2018 – so set yourself a diary reminder – but remember you’ll have to have completed some other recent 100km+ races in order to be eligible to apply. Only one third make it to the finish…
11. Wadi Rum Ultra
Where: Wadi Rum Desert, Jordan
When: 6-14 October
Set in Jordan’s stunning red-sand Wadi Rum Desert, this breathtaking five-day 260km ultra is ideal for both experienced and newcomers to multi-day events. Now in its third year, this is fast becoming one of the best ultra marathons out there. What’s more it’s probably the best value multi-day supported ultra you’ll find anywhere at just £780 for the full nine-day trip, including a visit around Petra after the event.
As you run across this sublime Mars-like landscape, there are checkpoints every 10km with water and medical assistance should you need, and being a ‘supported’ event, you’ll only carrying what you need for each day (which you’ll be pleased for on the fourth day when you have an 70km stage). As the camp relocates around the desert to yet another Hollywood movie-esque backdrop, your kit bags and physios will be waiting for you at the end of each day.
12. Everest Trail Race
Where: Himalayas, Nepal
When: 5-17 November
Cost: £3,100 (including flights from London)
An ultra marathon with Everest as the backdrop? What more needs to be said. It might not be the longest in distance at 153km, with the longest stage being 31km, but over the six days you’ll wind your way through the stunning Nepalese Himalayas, at times following in Sir Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tenzing’s footsteps.
You’ll experience a range in altitude of around 29,000m, and at times be running at 4,100m above sea level. It’s for this reason it’s still deemed as one of the world’s toughest ultras. The race is self sufficient in terms of kit but all your food is provided for you which is pretty neat. The race is limited to about 50 runners. £3,100. Undoubtedly an experience of a lifetime.
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