The hardest adventure races
Marathon? Ironman? Piece of piss mate. These are the hardest adventure races out there. Earn serious bragging rights by completing one of the most extreme fitness challenges in Europe – or just gawp at the nutters who take part and stick to parkrun instead.
1. Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon
6 August 2016
Consistently ranked among the world’s toughest triathlons, this Ironman distance, double-hard tri is not for the faint hearted. Participants start with a four-metre plunge from a car ferry into an icy fjord, where they swim 3.85km to shore. If that doesn’t qualify this to be one of the hardest adventure races, well, we don’t know what does.
Then it’s on the bike for 180kms through the mountains, with 40kms of quad-burning, lung-busting, uphill climbing to start. The scenery is stunning, but don’t count on it taking your mind off things, the weather is notoriously changeable, so one minute it could be glorious sunshine, the next a full-on blizzard.
And the last leg? Well it’s just your standard marathon – only the last 17kms are straight up a mountain. Ouch.
In one final, cruel, Nordic twist, not everyone finishes. The first 160 who make it are rewarded with a black t-shirt and the right to call themselves ‘norsemen’, the rest are sent down a different path 5km from the finish and receive a conciliatory white t-shirt. The wusses, eh?
On the face of it, the Swedish swimrun championship event sounds pretty pleasant. Swim between the islands of an archipelago and trail run across each one. Lovely. That is until you realise there are 26 islands in total and around 10kms of open-water swimming and 65km of tough and rocky trail running to complete.
You have between dawn and dusk to finish the race and, as you’re in and out of the water, you’re going to need to run in a specially designed wetsuit and swim in your trainers. One of the toughest endurance races going, the ÖTILLÖ originally started as a drunken bet between a hotel owner and two of his staff – they said the last of them to swimrun the islands had to pay for drinks. It took them over 24 hours – no one fancied drinking afterwards.
Owing to the extreme nature of the challenge and the level of interest there’s a strict selection process for participants. For safety you have to swim in teams of two – no more than 10 metres apart – and carry a compass, map, first aid bandage and whistles… just in case. Hardest adventure race? Well it’s hard but there’s harder…
3. Dragon’s Back Race
22-27 May 2017 (tbc)
Why would you want to do an event that’s over in a few hours, when you could run for a whole working week instead? A massive five-day beast of a race, the Dragon’s Back holds legendary status among mountain and trail runners across the globe. The reason? It’s f**king, ridiculously tough!
Held every two years, the route is around 300km in length and takes you along the backbone of Wales – basically the mountains. The terrain is wild, trackless, mountainous and remote. At points you may find yourself running alone with no one else in sight – but at least there’s 16,000 metres of ascent and a map to keep you company.
The organisers say that faster runners will be on their feet for 8-9 hours a day while others can be run walking for up to 15. It’s alright though, you’ve got a nice comfy tent to lay your head in each night. Don’t mind sharing with strangers do you?
4. Alpine Brevet
27 August 2016
Hate your legs? Punish them with this cruel-ass cycling challenge over the Swiss Alps, show them who’s boss. We wouldn’t normally add a cycling challenge to a hardest adventure races feature but this one is tough with a capital T.
Brevet is the name for a certificate earned by completing a long-distance bike ride within a set time limit – and the Alpine Brevet is the toughest in Europe. There are three challenges to choose from in this one-day race against the clock, but anyone who’s anyone goes for the longest and toughest – the Platinum Tour. Pedal your way round 276km of some of the highest roads in the continent, and try not to let your legs cry as you cycle up alpine passes with more than 7,000 metres of climbing.
Looking forward to the downhills? As someone who has cycled in the Alps, I’d say, don’t be. They’re fricking terrifying. Hairpin bends and sharp descents will curdle your stomach with fear. But the views are awesome and you get to see palm trees in Ticino so it’s okay really.
10-12 June 2016
You’ve got to give it to the Swiss, they certainly come up with exhausting ways to use their mountains. This weekend-long event combines five disciplines – swimming, running, cycling, mountain biking and, rather randomly, inline skating. Individual entrants (only pussies split it up between a team) do each of these five disciplines on the Saturday and Sunday – with a short run/bike warm-up on Friday.
The course and location change from year to year, but 2015’s Saturday itinerary should give you the gist: 39km mountain biking, 9km swimming, 31km inline skating, 18km running, 96km road cycle.
Then you go and kip in a tent and do it all again the next day. Madness.