The Alternative ‘Race Bucketlist’

David Kennedy at the Commonwealth champs in Wales - winning a Silver medal
David Kennedy at the Commonwealth champs in Wales – winning a Silver medal

David Kennedy, one of Australia’s 24hr track representatives and silver medalist at the Commonwealth Games a few years back recently approached us with an idea for a story that looked at races around the world that were impossible or rather hard to get into and what the appeal about them was. The ones that we dream of doing.Some of us are lucky to get into these races, others not so.

We thought this was a good idea. But instead of wallowing in self-pity at the thought of never being able to do them, he also suggests a few other options that we might not know about that are more easily accessible in terms of actually getting in and racing them. While not an exhaustive list by any means, we hope it offers some thoughts to some alternatives, and please feel free to give a mention to any races you feel need an airing too! Take it away Dave…

Too hard to get into?

1.) UTMB

This race is a classic with registrations restricted to 2,500 runners in the 100 mile event. Around about 8,000 people apply for this race each year but getting in isn’t simply a lottery or 1st come 1st served. Prospective runners need to qualify through certified races. Qualification is currently set at eight points or the equivalent of two hilly 100 mile races during the 18 month qualifying period.

What are you missing? A tour of Mt Blanc the largest mountain in the French alps. The race passes through three countries (France, Switzerland and Italy) and each town or mountain village the race passes through celebrates the event with gusto.

2.) Western States

With only 370-odd spots available, the race that started the 100 mile craze gives you about a 3-10% of getting a start. Set in the Sierra Nevada range the race has a net downhill but a lot of mountain climbs along the way.

What are you missing? An iconic American event that has been run for over 30 years. Temperatures can hit 40C in the valleys but coming from Australia, you’d like to think that those Aussies that do get in should be OK!

Nick Clark at last year's Western States (credit: Photo/ Glenn Tachiyama)
Nick Clark at last year’s Western States (credit: Photo/ Glenn Tachiyama)

3.) Marathon des Sables

It isn’t that hard to get in or qualify for this race but the cost of it is the major factor here. It would be great to race the local Moroccans who dominate this race but is it worth throwing away 10kms to run in a desert, or would you go to the mountains instead?

What are you missing? A 6-7 day stage race of about 240K total through the Sahara Desert. Doesn’t sound all that inspiring when you look at it that way but the sheer challenge of this race attracts people. I forgot to mention you need to carry all you food for the week whilst you run!

4.) Hardrock

The chances of getting in are about 1.8% I hear, but this race also has a requirement of at least one mountainous 100 mile race before you start. Adding to the difficulty of getting in is the fact the majority of the races eligible are difficult to get into themselves!

What are you missing? Another crazy difficult race in the mountains, Hardrock is limited to only 140 runners, so getting some time alone is a strong possibility over the 24-48 hours this race takes/allows.

5.) Badwater

If running across a desert over the course of a week isn’t for you perhaps you’d like to get it over and done with in 24- 60 hours. Badwater is a race across Death Valley in the US and is held during the height of summer. The race is 135miles or about 220K and includes three mountain passes, so it is far from flat. Entry into this race is by invitation after race organisers select the 50 most eligible runners from those who apply.

What are you missing? This race maybe easier to get into than many other big US races but although the entry fee is “only” US$950 the race is very costly with large crews required to follow you along the way. This usually means the hire of a RV for a few days on top of the usual accommodation, race fees and flight if coming from overseas – it’s a big logistical challenge as much as it is a running challenge.

What could you do instead?

1.) Northburn 100 

One of the most difficult 100 mile races around the world, this fairly new event doesn’t sell out at this stage. With 8,000m climbing and set in the beautiful mountains of New Zealand’s South Island, this race is a similar level of difficulty as UTMB. Although one of the driest regions in New Zealand, you can also experience four seasons on one day over this course and it will quite regularly snow above 1,000m in summer. It’s also still very much a grassroots style of event, run by passionate locals.

2.) Grand Raid Reunion Island

This race has been on my radar possibly since before I even started running ultras. I read about it in a mainstream running book and the mix of rainforest, lava deserts, mountain passes over 2,000m and 2,500 runners had a huge appeal.

3.) Mt Solitary Ultra

As an Australian event that has huge elevation change in just a mere 45kms and with no wait list, this is one race you can enter late and therefore not have your year marked out six months’ in advance. It is getting more and more popular however. This race has it all however – some serious steep climbing, free-flowing running through some of the most beautiful forests in Australia and like Northburn, run by passionate locals who simply wish to put on a great event.

With a distinct lack of real 'mountains' in NSW, Australia - Mount Solitary is where many Aussie ultra runners go to get their vertical fixes
With a distinct lack of real ‘mountains’ in NSW, Australia – Mount Solitary is where many Aussie ultra runners go to get their vertical fixes

4.) The Spine

The Spine Race is a 268 mile, non-stop, winter mountain marathon encompassing the entire Pennine Way in England. Widely recognised as one of, if not the most demanding National Trail in Britain. The Pennine Way crosses some of the most beautiful, at times difficult and challenging terrain found in England, including; the Peak District, Cheviots, Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland National Park – finishing on the Scottish Borders.

The Spine Race is open to anyone with appropriate experience who wishes to test themselves and compete in a truly demanding race. Expect to race through extreme weather, deep snow, ice, mud, bogs, strong winds and rain in a grueling non-stop, 7 day race with 125 places up for grabs.

5.) Make up your own race

Sometimes the huge choice of ultras available is almost overwhelming. I guess it comes down to what you want from your racing experience. For some it is the chance to test yourself against the best and a popular event like TNF 100 here in Australia is a good example of a race which is a virtual national champs. If you want to see pretty views then something in the mountains will on a clear day fit the bill. If you want something to test yourself against the hills, the heat or the distance there are challenges available to meet all criteria.

On a personal level, having experienced the Sydney to Melbourne race as a 5 and 6 year old, nothing for me compares to the drama of a multi-day continuous run. I guess they’re much like a Test match in cricket where you can catch the score every few hours and still feel connected. As a passionate trail runner I would love to see something similar happen off-road. In 2016 I hope to hold a multi-day race along the Munda Biddi Mountain Bike Trail. At 1,100k the Munda Biddi is a serious undertaking but the nature of the trail makes it quite runnable for the majority.

We’d like to extend our thanks to David for his thoughts and musings… if there’s a race that you think should be on the list – a kind of one to watch – let us know about it in the comments section.

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8 thoughts on “The Alternative ‘Race Bucketlist’

    1. Hey Glenn/Martin, we mentioned that the list wasn’t exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination – just one person giving some thoughts… to be honest we could mention 50 races from around the world, we’d just need about 20 pages to cover them all 🙂 It’s not a case of ‘where are they?’… more of a case of ‘feel free as a community to add your thoughts too’… cheers guys!

  1. I was thinking, “What event/s should I do as I return to trails after 4 years running around in circles?” C2K will be my first big event. Although on road it is a unique event I’m really looking forward to. It is similar to Badwater in that the tough qualifying standards make it relatively easier to get into.
    Glenn- Having actually enjoyed a road marathon for the 1st time on the weekend Comrades has come just come up on my radar.

  2. Not a race as such, but the Bob Graham Round in the UK Lake District offers a challenge, especially if you want to beat Mark Hartell’s 17 year old record of 77 peaks over 109 miles in 23:47. Alternatively you could do the winter version.

  3. Thanks for a great blog guys.
    I’ve just watched a short video about the Barkley Marathons in Tennesee. Only 15 finishers in its 30 year history. Sounds like a cracker!

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