AP Photo/Brett Butterstein
Marathons, triathlons, and adventure races are extreme tests that force participants to push themselves in new ways physically and mentally.
But the most extreme endurance races in the world take that to another level.
These competitions test the absolute limits of the human body and mind.
In some cases, participants subject themselves to crossing more than 100 miles of desert, mountains, or ocean. In others, racers plan to go days with almost no sleep, reaching the point of hallucination and breakdown. There are even some races in which participants don’t even know when the race will start or what sorts of obstacles they’ll have to endure.
But they know it’ll be brutal.
These are the most extreme endurance competitions in the world. Finish one of these and you can say you’ve truly challenged the limits of what’s possible.
The Brutal might be the hardest triathlon in the world.
Picking a single “hardest” triathlon is almost impossible, as each present unique challenges. Competitors need to be able to swim, bike, and run under extreme conditions.
But the double-Ironman-distance Brutal is up there. Located in Wales, it involves a 4.8-mile swim, then a 224-mile bike ride, followed by a 52-mile run.
If that doesn’t sound intense enough, the “triple” Ironman version is rumored to return in 2019.
“If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough,” the race website says.
Only 15 people have finished the Barkley Marathons race since it began in 1986.
The Barkley Marathons has no website — the way to enter the ultramarathon is a secret.
The race begins an hour after a conch shell is blown by founder Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell — which can happen anytime between midnight and noon on race day. The course is said to snake 100 miles through brutal terrain in the mountains in Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee (though some say it’s closer to 130 miles long). Racers have 60 hours to finish.
The course is unknown to racers until the day before the race and is mostly off any sort of trail — many participants get lost for hours.
Up to 40 people are allowed to compete every year, though more than 200 might apply. The pool includes winners of some of the other toughest ultra-races in the world.
Yet only 15 people have ever finished the race within the time limit.
Impressively, course-record-holder Brett Maune has completed it twice (his record time is 52 hours, 3 minutes, and 8 seconds). And a racer named Jared Campbell has finished the course three times.
Fun fact: If you’ve completed the course before and want to try again, your entry fee is just a pack of Camel cigarettes.
No one who has done the Patagonia Expedition Race can tell future competitors what to expect.
Patagonia Expedition Race
Every Patagonia Expedition Race follows a unique route. Racers form teams of four and cross glaciers, rivers, mountains, forests, and plains.
They might kayak, mountain bike, or rock climb, potentially traveling hundreds of miles over multiple days.
“Why are we here time and again? What invisible force attracts all of us here?,” Race Director Stjepan Pavicic asked during the 2016 closing ceremony held in Puerto Natales, Chile.
The answer: “The place, the challenge, and the human endurance experience … sometimes we need to return to our original home in the wild, to reconnect with where we’ve come from.”