Eight Of The Toughest Runs In The World

This article is like opening a can of worms. Let me state now, we’re not going to get this 100% right, so before you put fingers to keyboard in the comments section below with a look of  disgust on your face :), we accept that the word ‘tough’ is all rather subjective. Heck a 5km road race can be tough if you go all balls out!

However, for the purposes of this article we’re going to define ‘tough run’ as follows:

A race or run (FatAss is fine), pure in nature, non-nonsense and that simply makes you go…

“WOW. Somewhat perversely, I’m tempted by it”

The idea for this came having run a Fatass style of event just this weekend past. The Unofficial Mount Solitary half-marathon, or rather 19.5kms. When compared to some of these races below, it looks like a bit of a pussy cat, but with 1,400m (or 4,600ft) of elevation and the same coming back down, my quads were pretty trashed by Sunday lunchtime. It sparked a thought in me to write this little feature and to see what I could find (along with the help of some of our very astute Facebook followers too).

You may also be thinking, why just eight? Well to be frank, while doing research for this article, I did plan on including ten. It’s a nice round number that is typically followed for this kind of thing, but I honestly couldn’t find ten that made me go ‘WOW’. Any list I came across that included running in some random terrain with a few thousand dollars price tag latched to it was immediately dismissed.

We want this little wonder on the web to be a source of reference for some of the toughest runs and races in the world and we promise that there won’t be a big fat corporate desert race in sight 🙂

#8 The Baldwin Street Gutbuster

With a gradient of 38%, Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand, is the steepest public street in the world. Unlike most roads in the area, it is made of concrete—that’s because asphalt would literally melt and run down the street on a hot enough day.

It's kind of steep
Baldwin Street – It’s kind of steep

Every September, one thousand runners partake in the race, which involves going both up and down the hill.

The current record, set in 1994, is one minute and 56 seconds.

#7 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic

What appeals about this race is its purity. Started in 1982 as a 150-mile (240 km) wilderness footrace, the Classic has crossed various mountain ranges throughout Alaska with some routes covering nearly 250 miles (400 km). Traditionally, the same route has been used for three years in a row.

The rules are simple: start to finish with no outside support, requiring that racers carry all food and equipment; human-powered; leave no trace; and rescue is up to the individual to resolve. The most common form of transportation is by foot and packraft, although bicycles, skis, and paragliders have been used by intrepid racers. Beginning in 2004, racers have been required to carry satellite phones to facilitate emergency rescues.

The organization of the race is grass-roots, having no affiliation to any organization or group, while generally fewer than 50 people enter in any one year.

#6 Hardrock 100

Perhaps one of the better known races in this list, but also quite possibly the Grandaddy of the ‘toughest’ ultras in the world. Everyone wants to run it, and no more evident is this point proven when you look at the field starting for the race in 2014. Kilian, Dakota Jones, Chorier, Seb, Tim Olson, and Joe Grant. Does it get any better? I don’t think so, and what’s great about this race is that it doesn’t care who you are. Some races will throw sponsors a number of places for their elites, this one throws two fingers up and says join the back of the queue.

#5 Iditarod Invitational

Most people are familiar with the popular dog-sledding side of this race. But fewer know that you can run the Iditarod without the help of a pack of huskies. Those prepared to face the Alaskan wilderness on foot will have to brave the 1600-kilometre trek from Anchorage to Nome. It’s a challenge so demanding that since its start in 2000, only 42 people have successfully completed it.


Day 36 of the Self-Transcendence 3100... kind of like Day 35, and 34 etc... Seriously though... RESEPCT
Day 36 of the Self-Transcendence 3100… kind of like Day 35, and 34 etc… Seriously though… RESPECT.

#4 Self-Transcendence 3100

Forget desert running, or following a white line along the road that happens to be a little bit hot. This is the daddy of the flats and here’s why. I have a lot of respect for people who can run around in rings. Personally it doesn’t float my boat, but I can see why people do it and this race is no finer example. Runners in the Self-Transcendence 3100, smash out 5,649 laps of an extended city block in Queens over a 52-day period, averaging 60-plus miles each day. They start in June, and finish, if they finish, in August. The course record is a slightly less-mind-numbing 41 days, 8 hours.

#3 Avalanche 50k

Another FatAss style of event that over the course of just 50 measly kilometres, contains more climbing than the infamous Hardrock. Admittedly you’d have to be clinically insane to want to try this, but get this for a stat… 11,500m of climbing (and the same descent too) over just 50kms. That’s just under a 50% gradient, which is just pure crazy. The good news however is that you have 48 hours to finish it. Well that’s OK then… sign me up!

#2 The Barkley Marathons

Until a few months ago, this was my ultimate. The race I dream about and marvel at how crazy it is – I love everything about it. From the mystic of its entry process, through to the simple act of lighting a cigarette to denote the start of this epic. It’s zero web presence and unknown start-times. It’s simplicity and chaos all thrown together in an absolute bitch of a race. All you need to know are these facts:

  • 100 miles and 60 hours to do it in
  • 16,500m of climbing
  • 1% finish rate

I hope one day to ‘have a crack’ if the appetite is still there.

One of the entry requirements, a number plate from your home State or Country
One of the entry requirements, a number plate from your home State or Country

#1 Sennichi Kaihogyo

You’re probably sat there thinking, what the hell is this run? Well this little beauty for us ranks as the toughest run going. I never thought I’d see the day when my beloved dream, Barkley was ever knocked off the top spot for ‘world’s toughest run’, but this is the ultimate – although I’m not sure I want to compete in it – and here’s why.

See the thing is, if you DNF this race. You die. It’s that simple, but let us explain some more… The Sennichi Kaihogyo is an epic trek through the mountains surrounding the temple of some Japanese monks in Enryaku. It involves walking increasing distances over 1,000 days, divided into 100-day chunks, during a period of seven years. The distances gradually increase so that, in the seventh and final year, devotees are walking 51 miles (two marathons) each day. If for any reason – from blister to boar attack – they should fail to complete a day, the traditional requirement is suicide. And that’s it… no ifs or buts. You pull out a knife and you’re done with yourself. If you want to know more, check out this dude here. He completed this challenge, twice. RESPECT.





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Dan on Twitter
I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

13 thoughts on “Eight Of The Toughest Runs In The World

    1. You know what Joel, I was really tempted to put it in… honestly, but despite its reputation and climbing, it’s a little bit like the MDS on steriods, and for that reason I refrained. Seriously though, it would have been included if I was looking for ten races. Appreciate that its a stunning beauty though… maybe I was wrong.

      1. Although I haven’t run Tor des Geants, I’ve crewed three times and hiked about a dozen of the cols on the course. I’d characterize it as Hardrock x 3. It’s pretty much nothing like MDS. But fun list all the same.

      2. Dan, I think it’s a weighty task to compile any list of toughest races, so I think you did a great job. I would say that it is FAR tougher than the MDS. I’ve done 3 of the 4 Deserts races, and each is harder than MDS. The self-supported nature makes it a different bird all together. TDG being only one huge stage makes it different as well. As one person noted, the PTL race is even a step beyond TDG, due to the fact that it’s self-supported AND self-navigated. Crazy stuff. I primarily race internationals, so I think that many North Americans are unfamiliar with the complexity and enormity of these races. As far as the “premiere” US races, only Hardrock comes close. I would put Hardrock on the same par as UTMB. The footing is a bit sketchier at Hardrock, but not by much. I think that the hardest thing about most US races is the damn lotteries! Great blog and keep ’em coming, man!

      3. Cheers Joel… Nice input mate, appreciate it. What’s the time limit on TDG? I know its a toughie… but am I correct in saying that you can pretty much have breaks along the way should you so choose? That was my main comparison to the MDS (although it was rather flippant I appreciate!)… The MDS is an absolute picnic in the park to be honest 🙂

  1. Definitely for the list: PTL aka. La Petite Trotte a Leon. UTMB’s evil twin which many people have never heard of. It’s off-the-charts badass and a bazillion times harder than UTMB. Evidently, it’s significantly more challenging than Tor des Geants, which kicked my ass in 2010. Best. DNF. Ever. Oh, the things we do for fun!! 🙂

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