We all get tired of running on the roads sometimes. It can be monotonous dodging the crowds and the traffic, and the tarmac is punishing on our joints – particularly our knees.
So, what better than pulling on a pair of trail shoes and heading out into the wilderness for a while? Running off road has been around for as long as men and women have loved to run, but trail running is having a real boom at the moment. There are thousands of races and trail running challenges out there – but here, we’ve picked just a few of the very toughest on the planet to inspire you.
1. The UTMB, Switzerland
One of the most famous trail races on the planet, the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) is a single-stage mountain ultra marathon – which really is as gruelling as it sounds. It is as tough to get into as it is to run – you’ll need to have been competing in ultra marathons for a while, accumulating the necessary points (and endurance!) to enter. But if you do get in, you will enjoy a truly unique experience – a route that covers 171 kilometres (with nearly 33,000 ft of climb!) – over the Alps of France, Italy and Switzerland.
2. The Barkley Marathons, Tennessee
If you haven’t seen the Netflix documentary on this infamous race, you might want to before you even think about trying to enter. This race is a true anomaly in the world of trail racing, and is the brainchild of one man, Gary ‘Lazarus Lake’ Cantrell. The race takes place in Frozen Head State Park near Wartburg, Tennessee and is approximately 100 miles long. We say ‘approximately’ because the route changes every year and is notoriously fluid and hard to follow.
The race was inspired by the story of an escaped convicted who managed to cover just 8 miles in the woods over a period of 55 hours – the challenge for runners in the Barkley Marathons is to try and run the 100 mile route within a 60 hour cut off. Only 40 runners a year can enter – all you need to do is pay your fee, write an essay entitled ‘Why I Should be Allowed to Run in the Barkley’ and bring a license plate from your home country if you are (un)lucky enough to be chosen to race.
3. The Bob Graham Round, Cumbria
Actually more of a mountain running challenge than a set race, the Bob Graham Round is one of the toughest out there. The challenge is to run across 42 of the English Lake District’s mountains within 24 hours – something that guest house owner Bob Graham himself first achieved back in 1932.
It has been a jewel in the crown for trail and fell runners ever since, with professional trail runner Killian Jornet holding the current record. If you can beat his incredible time of 12hr 52m, then your place in trail running history is all but assured.
We hope these races inspire you to try running off road for yourself. While these incredibly tough races might be out of reach for most of us, taking the time to leave the tarmac behind and enjoy the wilderness is something we can all enjoy.
Jürg Widmer Probst