Top 5 Insanely Hard Marathons
Posted on Sep 23, 2011

5. The Marathon Des Sables

The ideal marathon would be one hosted on a day when the weather is not too hot, but not too cold; however, with the Marathon Des Sables, heat is definitely part of the challenge, as competitors must run in 120°F or higher temperatures. Because of the conditions and length of the marathon, it’s often been called the toughest on earth. It has taken place since 1986 and is run throughout the Moroccan Desert. The location has definitely wreaked havoc on some of the runners, some participants have gotten lost in sand storms while 2 have died. Translated into Marathon of the Sands, this marathon literally takes place in a desert. This type of marathon is as long as 6 marathons put together and spans over 6 days and by the end of it all, runners will have travelled about 120 miles. As if the heat and distance aren’t enough, those who participate must carry all of their food and belongings with them during the race.

4. Great Tibetan Marathon

The Great Tibetan Marathon is held each year in northern India on the Tibetan Plateau where runners are able to enjoy the surrounding view of the Himalayan Mountains. Throughout the race runners get to experience the scenery within the Indus Valley. This marathon is especially different because it takes place in Buddhist surroundings at an altitude of 3,500m. At such a high altitude, runners have to learn how to deal with low oxygen levels which makes the race even harder to run as it is definitely much more of a challenge than a marathon at a normal altitude. Participants must spend time at 3,500m to allow the body to get used to the conditions before they can compete in the race. Also a day before the race, a 3km run is put into place so that runners can really get a grasp of the change in altitude. Athletes of all types can join into the marathon as they offer a half marathon, a 10km, and then a full marathon run.

3. Polar Circle Marathon

Just by the name, you can guess that the Polar Circle Marathon is definitely a little bit chilly. In fact, in many cases, runners have to make their trek in 14 °F temperatures. The race is held in Greenland every year, in October. Runners have the option to run the half marathon or run the entire length, but no matter which race one chooses, it is most definitely not an easy one. Those who opt for the full race must finish within 7 hours and those with only half should finish in no more than 4 hours. Not only is the temperature enough to slow someone down, there is plenty of tough terrain to go over including tundras, glaciers, and of course the ice cap which really makes the course slippery. While gravel and snow often cover the ice cap, the committee that hosts the marathon warns runners to be careful. Along with a very slippery surface, runners will also come across a few slippery slopes as the ice cap has varying levels of height throughout the race and is said to be very hilly.

2. Dead Sea Ultra Marathon

If you’ve ever wanted to participate in a marathon that takes you to the lowest place on earth, than you most definitely want to try the Dead Sea Ultra Marathon. The marathon takes place each year on the first or second Friday in April starting in Amman and ending at the Dead Sea. During the run, those participating experience a 1,300m drop- from 900m above sea level to 400m below sea level. Unlike most on the list, those who run the marathon are running to raise money for neurological patients who can’t afford the costs of surgery. Since the event’s start in 1993, they have been able to help about 1150 cases. The race winners are also awarded cash prizes. The marathon is home to five different races, each suitable for a specific type of runner.

1. Great Wall Marathon

At the top of the list, the Great Wall Marathon includes a 9km run that takes all of the runners up, across, and then down the Great Wall of China. The race has been going on for close to a decade. It is said that during this part of the race, each runner has to ascend 5,000 or so steps. Not only are the steps a tough challenge, but sometimes the ascents and descents that the runners have to deal with are quite steep. Many times those participating in the marathon are urged to go slowly up and down the mountain and to walk at the highest parts of it. Even worse, if you’ve trained for the full Great Wall Marathon, you complete this course twice- those running half only have to run the Wall once. The run also takes participants through rice fields and villages. The challenges during this leg of the race aren’t as tough, and runners run on gravel and asphalt roads, which make for comfortable conditions. Although, those running the full distance are warned of the ascent around the 21km mark of the race. As crazy as it sounds, those who are trained and fully ready can finish the marathon in 5-6 hours (after 8 hours there is a cut off for those who have not finished). The most recent race was held on May 15, 2010 with about 1,800 participants. The winners were Qiang Tong from China who finished the race in 3:24:44 and Inez-Anne Haagen from the Netherlands in 3:56:38.


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