On a recent Saturday, I got out of bed relatively early in the morning, got into my car, and drove thirty minutes to the north side of Albany, Oregon, a city of about fifty thousand people. I circled a parking lot for about eight minutes to find a space, pulled into the last one, and headed over to a small crowd of people standing around a series of traffic cones, water bottle stands, and arranged fence panels, to wait for the opportunity to greet my father at the finish line of his second 5K.
There were two races happening at the same time; a 10-mile race had begun ten minutes before the 5K, and it would end later at the same finish line. When my father jogged underneath the FINISH banner, just outside of twenty nine minutes, I bounded up to him to congratulate him.
“How did it go?” I asked.
He was tired, but excited. “Felt like it took forever,” he said. Then later, “I’m glad that wasn’t the ten mile race.”
I saw another friend of mine cross the finish line while I was there. I only got to offer a brief “Hello!” at that moment, but then I saw her again the next day, and I spoke to her about what she thought of her race.
“I didn’t know you were into running,” I said.
“I’m getting into it,” she said. “I’m doing a 10K in the summer and a half-marathon in the fall.”
Many of us feel this drive in our lives; the desire to achieve the physical feats of racing for longer and longer predetermined distances is just one example of the human quest for self-betterment. Most of us know it. Once you achieve a goal you’ve set for yourself, the best thing to do is set another one, right? It keeps us moving forward, increases our self-confidence, celebrates triumph over adversity, and gives us more to brag about to others at work parties.
There are some races, though, that are about a hundred goals away for most of us. They’re the ones that cause us to marvel at the physical ability of the human species. They also cause us to marvel at those specific humans, and lead us to ask them in our heads, “How?”, or, if you’re me… “Why?”
Races can vary in difficulty and intensity for a variety of reasons; elevation, climate, general temperature, time of day/night, or dryness. Quantifiers that put these races on this list were ultimately their regularity and their distance; i.e., these are the longest races I’ve ever heard of, for their respective disciplines, and they occur annually or otherwise consistently. Thus, the annual sextuple-marathon in the Sahara Desert, while probably murderously difficult due to the aridity and temperature of the area, and is a regularly-occurring event, is not on this list because there are other footraces that are longer.
So, here are just some of the races the world has to offer that 99.99% of humanity would never agree to. I, for one, am sitting these races out. My natural reaction to the news of these races is to kick my recliner back and ask you to pass me the chips, please. But what do you think? Are you up for the challenge?
A marathon is 26.2 miles, or 42.2 kilometers, and experienced marathon runners may not consider a 5K race to be as much of a big deal than they used to. Rightfully so – the context for perception of distance is more or less dictated by personal experience. But the distance of one annual running race in Queens, New York dwarfs the length of a marathon, literally more than a hundred times over. Founded by the late Sri Chinmoy in 1997 as part of his “Self-Transcendence” series of ultramarathons, the race is the longest official foot race in the world. It is run in daily eighteen-hour sessions for six weeks, from June to August, and it takes place in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens… around one city block.
Yes, you read that right – the three thousand, one hundred miles that the participants run is only run around one block in the city. In order to run 3,100 miles, participants have to run around that block 5,649 times. The block contains a high-school campus and a city playground, and is bordered on one side by Grand Central Parkway.
Think of where the Russian capital of Moscow is. It’s in the far western portion of Russia, three hundred miles from Ukraine, and five hundred fifty miles from Finland, and shares a longitudinal line on the world map with the countries of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Ethiopia.
Now think of where the Russian port city of Vladivostok is. It is almost as far southeast in Russia as you can go. It is a little under a hundred miles east of North Korea, rests underneath the farthest eastern point of China, and is almost due north from Hiroshima, Japan.
Now imagine riding your bike from the first city to the second one. That’s what this race is. It’s three times longer than the Tour de France.
The longest annual swim in the world is a lot shorter than the longest cycling tour or the longest footrace, as far as distance is concerned. Compared to thousands of miles, 120 miles may seem pretty easy to some people. And, if those people then actually proceed to get in the water and swim 120 miles, I will then agree with them. But only then.
The 8 Bridges race is an aptly named one. The race in its entirety is an open water swim through 120 miles of the Hudson River in New York State. There are seven stages of the race occurring throughout seven days, with one break day between stages 4 and 5. Each stage is comprised of the southbound distance between one bridge and the next, beginning on the north side of the first bridge, and ending on the other side of the next bridge. For example, the first day of the race begins at the Rip Van Winkle Bridge in the town of Catskill, at the north side, and for the first stage, participants must swim the twenty or so miles from there to the second bridge, the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, and then underneath it to the other side, where the stage ends.The second stage would then begin on the north side of the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, and so on. The finish line, to be reached on the last day, is the south side of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in New York City, where the river empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
I recall distinctly the time when I first heard of somebody swimming across the English Channel, from Great Britain to the coast of France. As a child, I watched a television program that documented one man’s swim through the 21 miles (at a minimum) of cold, choppy saltwater, with his final arrival on the French coast occurring in the middle of the night. At that age, having only ever swum about seventy-five meters without stopping, I found the feat to be a marvel. Years later, I still find it a marvel.
As it turns out, in one triathlon, swimming across the English channel is just one leg of the race.
The Enduroman Arch to Arc triathlon gives the Ironman Triathlon something to look up to. Racers start at the famous Marble Arch in London, England, and finish at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France. They get there by running all the way from urban London to the coastal cliffs of Dover in Kent, by a path that winds up being a distance of 87 miles (140 km) – in excess of a triple marathon.
Upon finishing that “short jog”, the racers then shift Atlas’s burden from their legs to their arms, swimming somewhere between twenty and thirty miles (32 to 48 km) across the channel to the next country over. (And, by the way, that’s almost never a straight swim, let alone one guided by the current like the Hudson River.) In order to usually receive official recognition for swimming across the channel from the official Channel Swimming Association (CSA), a swimmer needs to do many things, including hiring a trainer and a boat with a pilot to accompany them and help them avoid the hundreds of other boats that use the channel. This is also true for swimmers of this leg of the Enduroman, although the Enduroman allows swimmers to wear full-body wetsuits, unlike the CSA.
Finally, once racers have washed up on the beach in Calais, France, they then get to cycle the this-would-be-a-long-drive distance of 181 miles (291 km) into Paris, with the finish line being the Arc.
Entry into this race is very regimented, perhaps more so than any of the other races listed. The race organizers require every solo participant to have a documented history of ultra-long-distance runs, swims, and cyclist tours, in order to even be considered. During the time leading up to the race, eligible solo contestants must also participate in a supervised swim for six hours in water colder than 60°F (16°C), while relay team members must swim for two hours. The amount of documents and medical forms required for participation are also extensive, and the necessary fees can pile up quickly. If there are any issues throughout the race with road blocks or other unexpected obstacles, finish times will not be adjusted. The organization, however, also provides one of their own team experts to work with each participant, and assures that this will be a priceless opportunity and that the participant will be coached through any potential difficulties.
Either way, you should probably get a regular old Ironman triathlon out of the way first.
Importantly, it should be remembered that these competitions were specifically designed for the athletes with the most endurance in the world. They aren’t for the ones who just ran their first marathon, or completed their first Olympic triathlon. These races were made for the endurance athletes who are in the top hundred, fifty, or twenty spots in the entire world. It is a show of determination, focus, and strength of mind, exuded by one person out of millions. In addition, most of these races provides an opportunity in some way to raise money for a cause or a charity, so it is possible for these events to bring not only prestige to athletes but great benefits to good causes. There isn’t much you can hate about that.
I still wouldn’t agree to do any of them, though.