The World’s Toughest Endurance Challenges

By Vladimir Brezina

The World’s Toughest Endurance Challenges
Richard Hoad and Paul Moore
Bloomsbury Publishing
London, 2012

From the description of the book on Amazon:

“The World’s Toughest Endurance Challenges” profiles 50 of the most extreme marathons, triathlons, bike rides, adventure races, climbs, open-water swims and other iconic endurance events from around the world. Breathtaking full-color photographs and insider commentary from top athletes will thrill endurance athletes, extreme sports addicts, and outdoor adventurers of all stripes.

Across the world seemingly ordinary people are undertaking extraordinary challenges that will push their minds and bodies to achieve the impossible – by sea, bike, foot, or sled. For many, these once-in-a-lifetime experiences become strangely addictive. From the Badwater Ultramarathon in the unforgiving heat of Death Valley to the South Pole Race in the freezing wilderness of Antarctica, there is an unbreakable drive in these tenacious competitors to see just how far they can push themselves.

“The World’s Toughest Endurance Challenges” is a truly inspiring and beautiful collection of what the human body can achieve when racing to the limits. With full-color amazing imagery and every detail of these cruel challenges, plus stories from competitors who have lived to tell the tale, this book is a wonderful testament to those who face Mother Nature and survive.

I am not sure about the “seemingly ordinary people”—many would say these are completely crazy people! You can judge for yourself: for each challenge, the book includes a brief profile of one of the participants. But I do understand the impulse that makes them do it…

In any case, the book describes some crazy events.

To be sure, some of them are merely long. Make that crazy long. How about a 2,567-mile footrace through Europe, from northernmost Denmark—come to think of it, why not the North Cape?—to Gibraltar (Trans-Europe Footrace)? Or a four-month, 7,500-mile bicycle race clear across Africa, from Egypt to Cape Town (Tour d’Afrique)? On the latter, the book comments: “As can be expected when traversing a continent, the weather can be mixed.”

But other events are crazily inventive. You are not going to do well in the The Red Bull X-Alps race, along the backbone of the Alps from Salzburg to Monaco, unless you can run, climb the highest peaks (including Mont Blanc), and then launch off them to paraglide through the Alpine valleys.

Or there is the Enduroman Arch to Arc, a triathlon on steroids. Competitors run from London to Dover at the beginning, bicycle from Calais to Paris at the end, and in between, swim across the English Channel—a swim that by itself is included in the book as one of the world’s 50 toughest endurance challenges! The entire Enduroman is said to be “the most gruelling and the most challenging endurance event known to man… An event so challenging that only nine people in the history of the race have completed it…”

There is, of course, the row across the Atlantic (Woodvale Challenge), and the sail around the world (Volvo Ocean Race, Vendée Globe).

Some of these events are major expeditions that, faced with extremes of heat, cold, weather, altitude, distance, and mental isolation, the participants might count themselves lucky just to survive.

But a different kind of crazy extreme is reached in the Self Transcendence 3100 Mile Race. Participants must complete 5,649 laps around a 0.55-mile course in Jamaica, Queens, New York City. (“Admittedly, parts of the community struggle to welcome—or understand—what it is they are doing. But few people can really understand what motivates some of the most hardened athletes in the world to run around a single city block day after day.”) I must check out this one—as a spectator, of course—since it is local, although Queens in July and August is one of the hottest places on earth

Here’s a complete list of the challenges:

Arrowhead 135 | Leadville 100 | Western States 100 | Catalina Channel Swim | Race Across America | Manhattan Island Marathon Swim | Tevis Cup Ride | 24-Hour Track Race | Iditarod | Yukon Arctic Ultra | Yukon Quest | Badwater Ultramarathon | Furnace Creek 508 | 6633 Extreme Winter Ultra Marathon | Ultraman World Championships | Self Transcendence 3100 Mile Race | Patagonia Expedition Race | Jungle Marathon | La Ruta de Los Conquistadores | Norseman | Red Bull X-Alps | Trans Europe Footrace | Al Andalus Ultimate Trail Race | Ö Till Ö | La Haute Route | Enduroman Arch to Arc | Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race | English Channel Swim | Race Around Ireland | Iron Bike | The Mountainman | Spartathlon | Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon | Cadiz Freedom Swim | Cape Epic | Tour d’Afrique | Comrades Marathon | Dusi Cano Marathon | Marathon Des Sables | Great Wall Marathon | Yak Attack | Crocodile Trophy | Coast to Coast New Zealand | The Extreme World Races South Pole Race | Woodvale Challenge | 4 Deserts | Volvo Ocean Race | Adventure Racing World Series | Freediving | Vendée Globe

I have a personal reason for reviewing this book. No, I didn’t attempt any of the challenges… But one of the challenges included is the annual Manhattan Marathon Island Swim that, in most years, I accompany as a kayaker. And that challenge is illustrated in the book by a couple of my photos! Taken during the 2011 swim, here they are:

2011 MIMS 12011 MIMS 2

17 responses to “The World’s Toughest Endurance Challenges

  1. Congratulations! That is great!


  2. Good show – great photos! I’m always curious about how these extreme athletes can afford to compete in these competitions – sponsored, I suppose, but nonetheless… a day job must be quite a let-down after any of that!


    • I get the impression, from the profiles of the athletes in the book, that most of them don’t have sponsorship. Maybe a bit here and there, but most of them do have day jobs, yet they still manage to train sometimes for years for one of these events.

      Of course, if you want to sail around the world, you’d better have a lot of sponsorship…


  3. Congratulations! I used to race triathlons (not extreme ones, just regular ones), so when I saw your photo in my reader, I had to click and read. Your shots are gorgeous. I love her electric pink cap and suit set against the comparatively neutral river water and the city scape. Bravo!


  4. Very cool, and nice shots! The MIMS is such a good one for picturetaking – there’s just something about swimmers swimming past these great NYC icons, isn’t there?

    Of all the gazillions of pictures I’ve taken out there on New York City’s waterways, I think that one I took of Dan Boyle at the Pepsi sign has to be my favorite. Maybe not in perfect focus but Pretty Darned Good!


  5. Fabulous Pictures!!!! Will Come back from my home computer!


  6. That final photo is perfect!
    No, i do not enjoy more than two laps around the same place! give me long stretches of interesting landscape, and i am happy moving forward….. as long as it’s not for thousands of miles!
    thanks so much for the great review!


  7. Congratulations! These are excellent photos! I was wondering which one of the challenges you were going to attempt! :)


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