Since the beginning of time, humans have always wanted a challenge that pushes us to our limits. Most challenges or problems that come our way have been conquered. For example, the four-minute mile was thought to be humanly impossible to complete without serious injury or death; however, on May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister beat it at 3:59:4. He pushed himself to his limit to do what no man had done before. In the late 1970s some runners seemed to have thought that the standard 26.2-mile marathon was not enough of a challenge. This prompted the creation of ultramarathons. Two mind blowing races, the Barkley Marathon and the Marathon des Sables, were created in this time period to make even the top runners in the world want to give up.
It takes a car that is going 55 miles per hour, 3 hours and 35 minutes to go 160 miles, which is the distance of the Marathon des Sables. The average runner that completes this race takes 27 hours, which means that they take about just over 10 minutes per mile. All of this is in the scorching heat of the Sahara Desert, which averages 108 degrees fahrenheit on a cool day without a lick of breeze. This race is about the length of six traditional 26.2-mile marathons. It is necessary to consume, on average, 6000 calories per day to survive, which is three times the average daily diet. The record for this course was set by Rachid El Morabity (MOR) with his course record of 19:35:49.
The Barkley Marathon is an ultramarathon that only 14 out of 1200 people that have ever attempted this race have finished in 40 years. This ultra is held in the frigid Frozen Head State Park near Wartburg, Tennessee. It was inspired by the fugitive, James Earl Ray, imprisoned for the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his 8-mile run from escaping his maximum-security prison. The Barkley runners take off where Ray was captured at the end of his escape. This course consists of a 5-lap, 20-mile loop that must be run within 60 hours. The difficulty is increased as you have to locate and complete five checkpoints. At each checkpoint, a book is stashed under a rock, that has your corresponding bib number. Each racer must take their bid number page with them to prove they have completed the entire route without cheating. There is no set route for the Barkley and racers have to navigate their way without a map or trail markers. The course’s record was set by record set by Brett Maue (52:03:08) a French ultramarathon runner.
Training for most long-distance races involve acclimatizing your body to the strain that it will endure while running. However, the training for the deranged race of Marathon des Sables is different. According to Marathon des Sables four-time finisher, Vivian Lee, “With [any other ultramarathon] I would run about 80-100 miles a week to train but, for my first-time training for [the Marathon des Sables] I have had to change my running schedule completely. I had to go train in other states such as Arizona and New Mexico doing 160 mile stretches to get accustomed to the heat and the race.”
If you are crazy enough to do one of these savage races in your lifetime you know you are truly gutsy. All of the training and hard work put into these races are all paid off in the satisfaction of the completion of the race. As Robin Williams once said, “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” Pushing yourself to what other people consider to be crazy can lead to a more rewarding life.