From marathons and triathlons to cycle tours and swim meets, most of the world’s popular fitness events have been cancelled for 2020, and we all know why. A return to normality still seems a while away, and although that’s obviously disappointing, it’s the perfect chance to prepare for a bucket list challenge that will take you a long time to train for.
Here’s a few ultra-tough, aspirational fitness challenges for those spending their pandemics aiming high…
1. Mallorca 312, Spain
A longtime training base for former Tour de France winners Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins, it should come as no surprise that Mallorca hosts some of the world’s most brutal bike rides. The vertiginous twists and turns of the island’s hills and highways make it perfect for strenuous road cycling, and the Mallorca 312 takes its name from a 312 kilometre course that packs in a whopping 5,000 metres total climbing.
Probably the most approachable outing on this list (and that’s not saying much), the race does at least come with delightful Mediterranean views along with the searing leg pain.
2. Badwater 135, California
When a race starts at the lowest elevation in its country and finishes at the highest, you’d be forgiven for feeling that it was out to get you. Starting in Death Valley, California, and finishing atop Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the continental United States, the Badwater 135 is about as uphill as is geographically possible, notching up 217 kilometres and nearly a 4,500 metre cumulative ascent.
It feels a bit gratuitous, but by God the views are grand.
3. Konig Ludwig Lauf Ski Race, Germany
An unorthodox challenge, but no less demanding for it, the Konig Ludwig Lauf was invented with the express purpose of being the longest ski race of its kind. Today, competitors skate, slide and skid through 50 kilometres of high-altitude powder, winding between alpine forests and frozen lakes.
Don’t be fooled by the graceful glide of skiers through snow – the race is extremely taxing, though your efforts are rewarded with views of Linderhof Castle and several Bavarian monasteries. You’ll need some experience of cross-country skiing, and calf muscles of reinforced steel.
4. Norseman Triathlon, Norway
Triathlons are already pretty gruelling, but the Norseman turns endurance exercise into an art form. The suffering begins at 5am with a jump into the aptly-named Hardangerfjord, before a freezing 3.8 kilometre swim so punishing that only the first 160 finishers are then allowed to complete the full course.
Those (un)fortunate few must then tackle a 180 kilometre cycle ride and 42 kilometre run climbing a cumulative 5,000 metres, finishing at the peak of Mount Gaustatoppen. “This is not for you,” reads the header on the Norseman website. “Nothing personal. But it’s not.”
5. Marathon des Sables, Morocco
Perhaps the nastiest, cruellest, most gratuitously vindictive race ever run, every aspect of this annual pain fest seems tailor-made for maximum difficulty. There’s the distance: 251 kilometres spread over six days, totalling six full-length marathons. There’s the location: the Sahara Desert in Southern Morocco, so remote that you have to carry all your own kit. There’s the weather: a scorching North African summer with temperatures topping 45 degrees. And then there’s the fact that running on sand is like running with two shopping bags tied around your feet.
Don’t do this. Unless all you yearn for is pain.
6. Arctic 633 Ultra, Canada
At the opposite end of the climatic spectrum, the Arctic 6633 Ultra does for cold and wind what des Sables does for heat and dust. Part race, part Shackleton-esque expedition, runners can opt for 120 or 380 mile itineraries, both of which end within the Arctic Circle. The landscapes are extreme, the views desolately beautiful, and the toll on your body hideous to even contemplate.
It’s not the only icy ultramarathon, and the Everest Marathon grabs the record for the world’s highest ultra-running event by starting at Base Camp, a height of 5,356 metres. Mountain marathons are a thing, apparently. We’re still not sure why.