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The Four Toughest Races in the world

 The Toughest Races in the world

When it comes to the sport of Ultra Marathon, there are today more options than ever before. In other words, there is something for everyone with various degrees of difficulty. But when we speak of some Toughest Races AND unique races, we have to mention Montane Spine Race, Tor des Géants, Yukon Arctic Ultra and of course UTMB.  Lets take a look at each one in detail.

The Toughest Race: Montane Spine Race

Hailed as “Britain’s Most Brutal Race”, this 7 day stage race has competitors run 268 miles and see an ascent of 36,729ft (11,195m) One of the Toughest Races.  Now lets explore what makes this toughest race so brutal. The course is lovingly, and sometimes not so lovingly, called “The Spine”. It  follows UK’s most iconic trails, The Pennine Way.  The terrain is absolutely gorgeous but also brutally tough, covering the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, Northumberland National Park, Hadrian’s Wall and the Cheviots; finishing at the Scottish Borders.

To top it all, this race takes place in the winter…and don’t get it wrong, we are talking about some extreme conditions where the runner have to deal with deep snow, ice, mud, bogs, ground water, storm force winds and torrential rain.  British humor may be dry, but their weather certainly isn’t. The runners are usually wet, cold, dealing with fatigue, sleep deprivation, tiredness and mental exhaustion.  This race is truly as hard as they come, as the athletes need to mostly be self-sufficient and ONLY the most prepared and skilled runners can break the spine!

Tor des Géants 

Tor des Géants or TDG is considered to be one of the greatest non-stop trail races in the world. Participants must complete 205 miles within a 150-hour cut off, while gaining an elevation of approx. 78800ft  (24,000m)…that is THREE TIMES the height of Mt Everest.  This well organized race, with around 2000 volunteers, takes place in Aosta Valley Italy; starting and ending in Courmayeur. 

The conditions during the race are tough enough to test giants… hence the name. The elevation change (minimum altitude 300m  and highest 3,300) means unpredictable weather where the runners can encounter sun, rain, wind, and snow. During TDG, the runners cross 34 municipalities, 25 mountain pass over 2000 metres, 30 alpine lakes and 2 natural parks.  This race has an incredibly high DNF percentage, with 2018 seeing over 60% of its participants not completing the race. 

 Yukon Arctic Ultra Series

Yukon Arctic ultra is the world’s coldest and toughest ultra for a good reason.  This multi day race happens at the beginning of February each year with three races to choose from 100m, 300m and 420m. This race follows the Yukon Quest trail, the trail where one of the worlds toughest dog sled race used to take place. Thankfully no dogs get hurt, abused or killed during the YAU, however the humans participating in the foot race do put themselves at serious risk, racing through dangerous conditions.  The runners climb over 6,000m through conditions that leave them susceptible to hypothermia, frostbite and exhaustion with temperatures sometimes as low as -40°C.

The race begins in Whitehorse, Yukon, finishing 13 nights later on the in Dawson, Yukon.  But not many are able to finish this race. In 2018 only one person finished the 300m section of the race while many were treated for frostbite and hypothermia.

UTMB- TDS

Toughest Races

Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, known as UTMB festival has many races to offer. the  Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (“In the Footsteps of the Dukes of the Savoie”) known as TDS is a 121 km long race sees an elevation gain of 7,300 m is hands down one of the toughest footraces out there. While it is one of the lesser known and one of the shorter races of the UTMB offering, the runners participating know that it is Toughest Races or brutal! Runners get to run through and enjoy the gorgeous sight of the Alps during their run. However unlike the other UTMB races, TDS runners get to run many miles of it up high in the rugged mountains in relative peace. The few inhabitants who do make it to the high points are known to be friendly and kind.

However running in the mountains doesn’t mean it is cold the whole way, for parts of the race runners can face heat well into the 90s. Runners need to complete the course in 33hours or under, resulting in a very high DNF rate. TDS was first introduced in 2009 and the course goes along the Grande Randonée paths through the Aosta valley in Italy, followed by the Beaufort, Tarentaise and finally Mont-Blanc valley in France.

The toughest part of the race is by far the steep and relentless climb out of Bourg Saint-Maurice and up to the Cormet de Roselend. This is and almost 2000m of vertical with limited water and a big shock after the relatively easy running of the first 50km. The weather too is unpredictable. All in all, these factors make this race qualify for our list.

So there you have it, four of the most Toughest Races Mountain Ultra marathons out there. Do you think you could do one?

Tor Des Geants 2016

The Tor Des Geants 2016: Battling the Giants

The Tor Des Geants 2016: Battling the Giants

September 14, 2016

By Alice Hunter Morrison

Moroccan-based journalist, winner of Best Africa Blog, a writer for RunUltra, author of “Dodging Elephants: 8000 Miles Across Africa by Bike” and Special Correspondent for IRUN4ULTRA, a subsidiary of Hope So Bright.

Oliviero Bosatelli
Oliviero Bosatelli

The Tor Des Geants 2016. Its name describes it perfectly – the Tour of Giants. This year’s edition has proved to be truly great with hard-fought racing and magnificent feats of endurance from the competitors.

The race kicked off from Courmayeur, Italy on Sunday, February 11, at 10 a.m. and the first runner back, the winner of this year’s race after a superb effort, was Oliviero Bosatelli, who crossed the finish line at 13:10 p.m. on Wednesday with 74 hours and 10 minutes of racing over some of the highest passes in Europe.

Bosatelli had run 336 kilometers with 24,000 meters of ascent along the Alta Via 1 and Alta Via 2 of the Valle d’Aosta with its four giants – Gran Paradiso, Monte Rosa, Matterhorn, and Mont Blanc – and back to the finish line at Courmayeur.

Oscar Perez Lopez came in second place just over six hours later at 19:14 p.m., with Pablo Criado Toca in third place, finishing at 21:40 p.m.

Lisa Borzani, ran an incredible race and came in first at 5:09 a.m. on Thursday. She finished in seventh place overall. She had already taken second place on the podium twice, so this victory was especially sweet for the 36-year-old from Padua. Stephanie Case finished in second place. She said that one of the big challenges of the race was just keeping awake and that she had a novel way of doing that.  “I am on the phone to my Mum,” she said, “We are playing games to try and keep my brain active so that I don’t fall asleep!”

A totally unpredictable race due to its length and sheer difficulty, you would have to be a betting man to confidently predict the winner. The mountains, the weather, being able to get enough food and rest and still keep going, all work against the favorites as we witnessed this year.

Three of the top-ranked athletes were forced to withdraw after almost 32 hours. They included Gianluca Galeati, who had led for the first 150 kilometers of the race and looked very strong. He suffered a stomach ache. He had experienced a bug about three weeks before the race and thought he had recovered. However, the mountains put too much of a strain on him and he had to pull out.

Michele Graglia, another hot prospect for the overall winner, also dropped out as did Denise Zimmermann, who was last year’s women’s champion.

So how did Bosatelli, the 47-year-old fireman from a town outside of Bergamo, Italy, whose longest previous distance run was 180 meters, do? What was his strategy? According to an interview he gave at the halfway stage, he said, “I don’t have a strategy, I’m just following how I feel. And what I feel is good.”

He certainly did well! If you were following the race live, you would have noticed that he shifted into high gear at Cogne after 106 kilometers and kept the pressure up from there. He was the first to get into Valtourneche, where he ate a three-course meal including dessert and a beer – our kind of man!

This has been a torrid year for the race itself as the organizers, VdA trailers, became embroiled in a fight with the local authority. The Autonomous Region of the Aosta Valley had organized a competing endurance trail running event to be raced clockwise along the Alte Vie 1 and 2 high-mountain trails, at an altitude between 300 and 3,300 meters, a 350 kilometer circuit with 25,000 meters elevation gain to start and end in Cogne, in the heart of the Gran Paradiso National Park.

In the next twist, VdA trailers took the local authority to court and the following judgment was made in March: “The Tribunal of Turin considers the actions of the Region regarding Vda Trailers and the Tor des Geants 2016 ® to be damaging and harmful and considers the 4K race organized by the Region to be harmful of the rights of VdA Trailers and of the normal operation of the Tor des Geants 2016, since it overlaps it regarding route, length, altitude difference and duration. Specifically, the Tribunale prohibits, effective immediately, the Autonomous Valle d’Aosta Region and the Forte di Bard Association from accepting registrations and collecting the related registration fees for the ‘4k Alpine Endurance Trail Valle d’Aosta’ event planned from September 3 – 9, 2016.”

The Local Authority counter-attacked and got its own judgment in June: “The Regional Administrative Court of Valle d’Aosta has rejected today, Tuesday, June 14, the suspension request filed by the association VDA Trailers for the annulment of the effectiveness of the resolutions adopted by the Regional Council institutive of 4K Alpine Endurance Trail.”

Following this, the 4K Alpine Endurance Trail held its first edition from September 3 through 9, which was won by Peter Kienzl in 82 hours and 53 minutes.

Regardless of this ongoing drama, the Tor Des Geants 2016 continues to be one of the greats on the ultra racing calendar with its stunning landscapes, high passes, evil ascents and wicked descents, no sleep, not enough food, and the pitting of men (and women) against the toughest of elements.
Congratulations to the winners and best of luck to those still running in the mountains.