World’s 10 toughest endurance challenges

World’s 10 toughest endurance challenges

Jungle marathons, desert rallies and “The Brutal” -- wimps and weaklings look away now

Think you’re tough? Fit? Tenacious?

If you’re the outdoorsy sort, addicted to high-octane pursuits and like the thought of challenging yourself amid spectacular scenery, you might want to lace up your trainers, pick up your paddle, get on your bike, climb into the saddle, step into those skis -- and more -- for one of these grueling endurance events.


1. Jungle marathon, Brazil

Jungle MarathonWhen a regular 26 miles just isn't painful enough.  

If you’re a glutton for punishment, this footrace will be pure delight: it takes place deep in Brazil’s Amazonian rainforest and runners must carry their own supplies, covering a distance of 240 kilometers over six days.

Competitors can expect to clamber over hills and through swamps, mangrove, and thick jungle foliage, all while trying not to fall prey to the local wildlife: jaguars, deadly snakes, scorpions, ticks, electric eels.

As if that isn’t stomach-churning enough, there’s also the risk of heat stroke. Fortunately there’s a crack medical team on hand, with donkeys on stand-by for emergency evacuations.

Entry fee is around US$3,185;

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2. Yukon River Quest, Canada

Yukon River Quest, CanadaTen paddles, and this creek will likely still get the better of you.  

This, the world’s most spectacular paddle race, winds its way through the rugged wilderness that is the Yukon River. It’s open to team or solo paddlers (presumably with Popeye-like biceps), who can maneuver a kayak along a 705-kilometer course that hugs the shoreline from Whitehorse to Dawson City.

Participants race around-the-clock with rest stops, negotiating freezing waters and -- occasionally -- bears. As the event takes place in summer, over a period of five days, expect 24 hours of daylight ­­-- which is why more poetic types call it the Race of the Midnight Sun. 

Entry from around US$1,174, plus extra for accommodation and food;

3. The Brutal, Wales

The Brutal, WalesEven if you make it to the finish, your ego won't.  

The inaugural Brutal Double Iron Triathlon, to be held next September in the stunning setting of Snowdonia National Park in North Wales, looks set to be a killer.

The toughest of its kind in Britain, the course kicks off with a 7.7-kilometer swim in icy Lake Padam, a 360-kilometer bike ride over calf-busting hills, followed by a 83-kilometer run -- oh, and a little hike up and down Snowdon, at 1,085 meters the highest mountain in Wales.

Competitors can expect to be on the move for around 42 hours. Gulp. They don’t call it The Brutal for nothing. 

Solo entry US$494, team entry US$653 plus support vehicle required;

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4. Mongol Derby, Mongolia

Mongol Rally, MongoliaTake your pictures at a distance, that way no one will see you cry. 

Riders set off on small, hardy, semi-wild and unpredictable horses for a staggering 1,000 kilometers, to hurtle across the Mongolian Steppe. It’s not for the faint-hearted: in last year’s race, all but two competitors fell off their horses.

Equine welfare is paramount so the route is divided up into stations, 40 kilometers apart, and at each station riders change horses. Nights are spent with nomadic herding families in traditional yurts.

Race organizers, the Adventurists, have their hearts in the right place -- in order to enter each rider has to raise at least US$1,590 for the official charity Mercy Corps, to fund economic development projects in rural Mongolia.  

5. The Arctic Circle Ski Race, Greenland

Arctic Circle RaceThe prettiest ones are always the most dangerous.

Greenland’s west coast, just north of the Artic Circle is the home of this, the ultimate endurance race for cross-country skiers: 160 kilometers of energetic gliding through crisp, frost-framed landscapes.

It lasts three days and nights are spent in tents. With supporters accompanying skiers on dogsled, the challenge lies in the sub-zero weather conditions or conversely, global warming. 

Keen to enter? Get those skis waxed, pray for snow, and hope that the hurricanes or rain which have threatened -- but happily not derailed -- races held in previous years don’t put in an appearance.

From US$1,849 for a basic entry package, including transfers and accommodation; 

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6. Yak Attack, Nepal

Yak Attack, NepalActually, aggressive yaks are the least of your worries.  

You want hardcore? You’ll need two wheels and iron lungs for this, the highest mountain bike race on earth, set amid the magnificent Himalayan peaks of Nepal’s Annapurna region.

Covering a distance of 400 kilometers and at its highest point, reaching an altitude of 5,416 meters, it’s a punishing event. If the thin air and cold -- temperatures dip to an eyelash-freezing minus 15C -- don’t wear you down, the rough descents and ascents, not to mention mud, landslides, rickety suspension bridges and snow might do.

Cost for entry and a package, including accommodation, transfers meals and more is around US$2,539;

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7. Vendée Globe, Worldwide

Vendée Globe, WorldwideIf you're going to grow a beard, may as well see the world while doing so. 

It takes pluck, physical and mental strength and an ability to get by on precious little sleep to tackle the annual Vendée Globe race. Seasoned sailors must sail solo, in monohulled yachts, around the world, starting in France -- without any stopover or assistance.

The course involves sailing down the North and South Atlantic, circling Antarctica, and climbing back up the Atlantic Ocean. Battling severe wind and wave conditions, far from help, is it any wonder competitors return sporting a grizzled, sunburned appearance -- along with a grin a mile wide?

No entry fee but, as you’d expect, with a race of this caliber, a string of qualifications is required;

8. The Marathon des Sables, Morocco

Marathon des Sables, MoroccoGetting sand in your eye probably won't cut it as an excuse to stop.  

Yes, the Daddy of endurance races and one of the toughest and most popular of them all is still going strong.

The six-day, 225-kilometer ultra-marathon across the Sahara desert in Morocco -- the equivalent of five and a half marathons -- takes places under sweltering skies, attracts vast numbers of competitors from around the globe, and guarantees blisters, sunstroke and dehydration.

Runners stride, or hobble, through barren wilderness as well as sand dunes. It’s not all bad though; organizers have been known to lay on an orchestra to serenade the weary.

Cost for the 2012 race has yet to be set, but reckon on coughing up around US$2,550. Sponsorship is encouraged;

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9. Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, United States

Iditarod Trail Sled Dog RaceAt Iditarod, "the call of the wild" is actually grown men weeping.  

The Alaskan dogsled race, pits man -- called "mushers" in the local lingo --  and canine teams against nature, as they cross 1,850 kilometers of Alaskan mountain ranges, forests, frozen rivers and bleak tundra.

It’s a fast, furious, exhilarating race like no other and attracts teams from all walks of life. Gale-force winds, blizzards, bitingly cold temperatures, and long hours of darkness are some of the hazards faced by competitors, who fly into the start at Anchorage, before crossing the finish line on the West Bering coast nine or 10 days later. 

The race is a serious commitment, and teams should expect to budget US$14,000;

10. Dakar Rally, South America

Dakar RallyStock the trunk with beer, let's go! 

It used to be the Paris to Dakar Rally, but owing to security threats in Mauritania, the race, which is open to professional and amateur car, truck and quad bike drivers and motorcylists has in the past few years shifted to South America.

Tougher than a conventional rally, arduous off-road terrain mean those taking part need to have Jedi-like powers of concentration. It is an epic coast to coast journey through Argentina, Chile and Peru.

Factor in the Andes Mountains, the Atacama Desert and the shores of both Atlantic and Pacific, and you’ve got a race that’s as much for travelers -- with deep pockets -- as it is for rally enthusiasts. 

Entry fees start from a whopping US$20,000; 

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Jini Reddy is a London-based freelance journalist, writing on independent travel, personal development, wellbeing and lifestyle, for assorted newspapers, magazines and online media.

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