These races are known as the one’s you need to run before you die. Nandini Reddy puts together the list of the what are considered to be the toughest races across the world.

Author Tobias Mews,  wrote a book detailing the 50 Races to Run Before you Die, where he put together some of the craziest marathons from across the world that have fascinated runners for years. That book gave rise to a whole generation of ultra runners. Here are a few of my picks from across the world, of races that people are pushing their limits to achieve.

*These races are listed in no particular order*

Three Peaks Race, United Kingdom

This race is only open to 1000 runners each year. It has tough qualification criteria and is very strict about who the allow to participate. It is one of the top races of the fell running calendar and you would be running Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent. The runner would climb 1600m during the course and there are stringent check points where they need to register to continue to the next leg.

For information visit:

Sani Stagger Endurance Race, South Africa

This is an uphill marathon that has areas marked with rather interesting names such as “Haemorrhoid Hill” and “Suicide Bend”. The gradient is fiercely steep and the runners are required to reach the top and then head back down again. The views are considered to be one of the most stunning at the top and with a total ascent of 5300ft and distance of 26.2 miles, this race is a formidable one.

For information visit:

Otillo, Sweden

This race though on a flat terrain takes about 8 hours to finish for the fastest runners. Why? Because you need to complete 75 kms of running across the 26 islands of the Stockholm Archipelago and swim for 10 km as well. The twist in the whole race is that it is always run as a two person team and both members need to be within 5km of each other throughout the race. This race has only 120 team sports each year and is a perfect blend of strength, teamwork and stamina.

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For more information visit:

Ecotrail de Paris, France

With a near 50 miles distance and a 5000ft ascent this race really tests your endurance capacities. Most of the race will have you running in circles around Paris. The final leg of the race involves racing up the 328 steps of the Eiffel Tower to the first level. While it might sound rather simple compared to the hill runs, the race in itself can be quite exhausting without the final task of climbing stairs.

For more information visit:

Transvulcania, Canary Islands

This is an interesting race to try because you will be running up a volcano. The La Palma region of the Canary Islands is famous for its active volcanoes. This race takes runners around the Taburiente Crater and across two of the volcanic mountains. With an ascent height of nearly 16,000 ft, this race isn’t for everyone with nearly 40% of participants quitting mid way. But this race comes with its own bragging right for the finishers as it is one of the most prestigious mountain races in the world.

For more information visit:

Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, France

The 103 mile race across western Europe’s highest mountain taking you across three countries – France, Italy and Switzerland. Today it is considered to be the toughest race in the world and hits elevation of 10,000 feet at several stretches. The race starts at Chamonix, France and the runners circle back to this point after a fantastic run across the mountains. It is considered an essential running experience for trail runners from across the world.

For more information:

Marathon des Sables, Morocco

This ultra run happen bang in the middle of the Sahara dessert. The distance is about 150 miles and is run over a period of 6 days. Does it sound too crazy? Well this race has been on since 1986 and every year sees an increase in participation and till today takes the top spot as one of the most famous marathons in the world.

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For more information:

The Everest Marathon, Nepal

So someone thought it wasn’t enough of a challenge to climb to the Everest Base Camp so they decided to have a marathon. The participants are expected to be present in Nepal 3 weeks before the race for acclimatization and the race day involves running down from Everest Base Camp at 18,000 ft to Namche Bazaar at 11,000 ft. The route is all downhill with a few extremely steep sections and for a distance of 26.2 miles.

For more information visit:

Badwater 135, United States of America

The 135 mile Badwater race will take you through the Death Valley in California. The course starts at Badwater Basin in Death Valley, the lowest elevation in North America, and finishes at the end of the road on Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental U.S. The participants will ascend 14,600 ft and descend nearly 6,000 ft during the course of the race. The best time for this race in the recent years has been 21 hours.

For more information visit:

Iditrod Trail, Alaska, USA

When all other terrains are covered how could we miss snow. This annual invitational has participants, run, fat bike and ski across the 1,000 mile course. Since the time the race started in 2000, just a few dozen individuals have completed this challenging course. Even to qualify to participate in this race, participants have to finish a 350 mile qualifier event.

For more information visit:

So did anything catch your fancy enough to see if you can give it a go?




An irregular runner who has run in dry, wet, high altitude and humid conditions. Loves to write a little more than run so now is the managing editor of Finisher Magazine.

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