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The World’s Most Extreme Marathons


Looking for the ultimate challenge? Whether you find satisfaction in pushing you mind and body to the limits or are simply a chronic masochist,  the world’s most extreme marathons will guarantee hours of grueling punishment. Marathons have an official fixed length of 26 miles and 385 yards (42.196 kilometers), but all sorts of environmental variables can increase the event’s difficulty exponentially. As if running 26 miles weren’t challenging enough, some marathons crank up the pain by forcing participants to endure harsh environments, sending runners into the some of the least desirable corners of the earth. For those of you who are either a) superhuman or b) insane, here is a brief list of the world’s most extreme marathons.

North Pole Marathon

Looking for misery? How does a 26.2-mile jaunt across arctic ice floes sound? The North Pole Marathon is the only marathon to take place entirely on a sheet of ice. The only thing separating you from 12,000 feet of Arctic Ocean is 6-12 feet of frozen water. Temperatures are guaranteed to be freezing, and the threat of man-eating polar bears is very real. I hear Mrs. Claus provides refreshments, though.

Siberian Ice Marathon

Perhaps it doesn’t have the glam and glitz of the North Pole. but the Siberian Ice Marathon is the coldest marathon in the world. In 2001, temperatures reached -39° F during the race. Frostbite is always a danger, and many participants only attempt a half-marathon. To counteract the extremely difficult and dangerous weather conditions, the event has plenty of costumes, shows and festive activities to keep participants and spectators cheerful.

The Great Wall Marathon

Though it is by far one of the world’s most scenic marathons, running atop the Great Wall of China is no cakewalk. The elevation changes, which include over 5,000 steps, make the marathon take 50% longer than most. This isn’t the place to set your personal marathon time record. Expect it to take much, much longer than your typical marathon. Few races offer such views of natural and historic sites.

Pike’s Peak Marathon

Referred to by some as “America’s Ultimate Challenge,” the Pike’s Peak Marathon in Colorado prides itself on wreaking havoc on runners’ lungs, legs and hearts. Over the course of the race, participants ascend nearly 6,000 vertical feet. At the top, the air is so thin trees have trouble growing. Going up is only half the battle. The trek downward is hardly any easier. Slippery rocks and roots are ready to trip up runners and send them hurling into a painful downward slide.

Everest Marathon

Pike’s Peak may be a harsh ascent, but the course doesn’t compare to the sheer altitude of the Everest Marathon. The events begins at 17,000 feet above sea level. To help runners adjust to the height, participants are asked to gather for a 26-day stay in Nepal. During the stay, runners will partake in sightseeing and training activities. Though the course is mostly downhill, there are sharp ascensions and harsh, mountainous terrain. This is easily one of the most beautiful marathons in the world.

Badwater Ultramarathon 

The Badwater Ultramarathon is perhaps the most extreme and challenging race on our list. First off, it’s an “ultramarathon,” which means it doesn’t adhere to the standard 26.2-mile marathon length. No, it’s over FIVE TIMES as long at 135 miles. It begins in Death Valley at the lowest elevation in the Western Hemisphere. Runners traverse three mountain ranges, ascending a total of 4,700 feet. The race has a 48-hour time limit. If you can finish this race, you can finish any.

Marathon des Sables

This is another ultramarathon with a total length of 151 miles. As an endurance race across the Sahara Desert in Morocco, the Marathon des Sables is the hottest marathon in the world. The event lasts six days with temperatures reaching up to 120°F. So far, the marathon has claimed only two lives. In 1994, one participant got lost during a sandstorm and wandered the desert for 9 days, losing 30lbs in body weight. Sounds fun, right?