Up for a challenge? Look no further. Test your speedwork on the sand or your endurance in the jungle with our pick of the world’s most devilishly difficult races
Desert Race: Marathon des Sables
The 700 runners who wake up one March morning in Southern Morocco for the Marathon des Sables (MdS) are faced with vast expanses of wind-swept flatland, strength-sapping sand dunes and the prospect of six days spent battling against a crippling, hostile landscape.
The Marathon des Sables is a 151-mile endurance race across the Sahara Desert - equivalent to 5½ marathons in less than a week. Competitors are required to carry all their clothes, food, first aid kit and sleeping bag on their backs with rationed water handed out at each checkpoint.
During the following six days, MdS runners might face conditions from scorching 49°C temperatures to sandstorms whipped up seemingly out of nowhere. Large doses of mental strength and stamina are crucial for any attempt to finish this epic race.
Although each year is slightly different, previous years have looked like this:
Day 1: 25K; Day 2: 34K; Day 3: 38K; Day 4: 82K; Day 5: 42K; Day 6: 22K.
And if the MdS seemed extreme enough already, bear in mind that the back markers of the race are two (unfriendly) camels - if at any point they overtake you, you are immediately disqualified.
Train in the UK:
It's possible that no amount of UK-based training could completely prepare you for the heat, sand and intensity of the MdS, but smart training will get you as close as possible. Nail down a long-term training plan and sign up for an ultra or two (there are a growing number of multi-day stage races on our events listings). For a pre-race multi-marathon event, enter the Atlantic Coast Challenge in October and attempt to complete three marathons in three days.
Spend time in the sauna to try to get used to the level of heat. Watch out for hot spells and go for long runs at the hottest part of the day. Train in layers of thick black clothing (hats, scarves, duffel coats) as this absorbs more heat than light colours. Go running with 15K in your rucksack and get used to drinking from a bladder.
Date: 31 March - 11 April
Place: Ouarzazate, Morocco
Cost: £3,130 inc. flights
Get involved: www.saharamarathon.co.uk
Ice race: Antarctic Ice Marathon
Imagine what it would be like to not only visit the South Pole, but to run an ultra-marathon on it. Adventure athletes can sign up for the challenge of a race that meanders along a route through long stretches of open white landscape at the foot of the Ellsworth Mountains. The 100K distance - which can take athletes anything between 13 and 30 hours to complete - is an endless run across expanses of solid ice, under a brilliant sun that never sets.
Described by former Runner's World Editor Steven Seaton as "the world's coldest 100K", the Antartic Ice Marathon is reserved for the toughest of endurance athletes. It presents a truly fearsome challenge - the icy terrain, an average temperature of -20°C, and the Katabatic winds blowing at a steady 10-25 knots.
Train in the UK:
Get used to being cold by running outside through the winter months. Don't catch a chill though - you want to be fighting fit for the race itself. In fact, it would be more useful to run wearing most of the kit and equipment. For pre-race competitions your best bet is the Newcastle Town Moor Marathon in chilly mid-November.
Date: 10-18 December
Place: Patriot Hills, Antarctica
Get involved: icemarathon.com
Jungle race: The Jungle Marathon
This seven-day uber-ultra-marathon (so extreme we had to make up a word just to describe it) takes place in the heart of the Brazilian jungle. You'll cover 222K of muddy tracks, seemingly impassable trails, river crossings and unceasing dips and climbs. Runners are required to carry all food and provisions during the race, though bottled water will be given out at designated checkpoints.
You will also need to provide and carry your own hammocks - which will become your riverside lodging when night falls. But even this basic accommodation will seem luxurious during the overnight stage, as you forego sleep to race through the darkened jungle.
Jungle Marathon entrants need exceptional fitness and mental strength to deal with the challenging course and 98% humidity. If you don't believe how challenging - or how worthwhile - it can be, why not check out this video clip at sportpost.com.
Train in the UK:
Check out the website for more information. Don't underestimate the task ahead - organise a training schedule of at least 80-90K per week.
The organisers of the Jungle Marathon lay on two jungle-training boot camps for the run up to the race. One takes place in the UK and the second is in Brazil for runners who can arrive a few days early - a good idea anyway as you will want to acclimatise. Get used to running with a backpack - you will need a rucksack with a snug fit to stop it getting caught in the bush. And if you can't swim, you probably want to think about learning to avoid joining the piranhas on the race's river crossings...
Date: 7-17 October
Place: Para, Brazil
Get involved: junglemarathon.com
Mountain race: Original Mountain Marathon
If you enjoy getting back to nature on the run, this could be the perfect race for you. Runners are totally self-reliant in the wild mountain landscape, with all your equipment, clothing, tents and food on your back - and no GPS or mobile phones.
A test of teamwork and self-reliance as well as endurance and speed, your first source of help will be your partner and you are completely responsible for getting yourselves back to base safely. Runners in the two-day event sleep outdoors overnight, with other competitors if you reach camp, or simply on the side of the mountain if you don't.
Fundamentally an orienteering race - you will be navigating the route with a specially produced photogrammetric map - the OMM is widely recognised as one of the world's toughest tests of endurance and navigation. Famous past competitors include mountaineer Alan Hinkes and explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
There are plenty of race classes to choose from, so there's an option for everyone. However, the blue riband class is the 'elite' double marathon run (52 miles) over two days with up to 9,800 feet of ascent.
Train in the UK:
If you aren't already a convert to fell or trail running you soon will be! Complete novices could start off with one of the Salomon Trail race series on our event pages. Runners with more experience of fell racing could get up to speed by entering the Borrowdale Fell Race in August which climbs 7,000 feet during a 17-mile course. If you really want to challenge yourself before the race, try Ramsay's Round in Scotland - runners have to climb 24 peaks in 24 hours.
Date: 30-31 October
Place: South-west UK
Cost: £98 per team
Get involved: www.theomm.com
Beach race: Te Houtaewa Challenge
Leave the rest of the world behind on an an eternal stretch of soft sand under a clear New Zealand sky. The Te Houtaewa challenge is a 60K ultra-marathon along the white sand of 90-mile beach, held in memory of Maori legend and athlete Te Houtaewa.
The legend goes that Te Houtaewa was the fastest runner of his day and played many pranks on his tribe's enemies. The swiftness of his feet saved him from being caught by rival tribesmen time and again. Now in its 17th year, the event is organised by the local Maori tribe and attracts competitors from around the world.
Apart from the full 60K challenge, runners can opt to complete a marathon, half-marathon or five-person relay. While you're in the area, you could try a little cross-training: head down to the beach a week earlier and you'll find the unique Waka Ama Surf Challenge.
Train in the UK:
Running on the beach is hard work but can be great fun. Soft sand can put a strain on your Achilles, so start on wet, firm sand. Barefoot running is a good way to build up strength in your feet.
To run on a beach in race conditions, try out a 10K on Borth Beach, Wales in August or Filey Beach, Yorkshire in September. Alternatively, Bournemouth Beach is the UK's longest at seven miles - so an out-and-back trip gives you a solid 14K session.
Date: 26 March
Place: Kaitaia, New Zealand
Get involved: newzealand-marathon.co.nz