I have just finished reading "Extreme Running". Actually there are not too many words in there but a lot of pretty pictures of amazing planet earth. Barren deserts with martian surfaces. Miles and miles of Arctic wilderness and beautiful jagged mountains. Jungles with wildlife and the worlds deepest caves make for some really spectacular photos except they are spoiled a bit by the presence of a sweaty human covered in gear and running number and an expression that suggests he is not enjoying the scenery as much as I am while sat on my sofa.
The book covers 24 of the worlds extreme races that are difficult in a variety of ways. There are a few marathons in there such as the Pikes Peak Marathon which is the venue of this years world mountain long distance championships this year, a simple sounding "up and down" marathon that involves running up to a sickly altitude. The Inca Trail and Everest Marathons also get a mention, the latter involving a 7 day trek to the starting line. The Lake Baikal Marathon also looked appealing, 26 miles across a frozen Russian lake where 20% of the earth's fresh water resides.
Many of the well know events are in there. The "must do" Marathon Des Sables gets more pages that I would give it, UTMB, Transalpine Run, Yukon Ultra and the Gobi March get good coverage, The Kepler Challenge is in there to remind us that New Zealand still exists and of course the obligatory Comrades Marathon gets a mention.
There were a few that were already on my list and consolidated their place such as the Trans 333 - a non-stop 333km run through a different desert each year with only checkpoints at every 20k and navigation involved. Also the infamous Jungle Marathon gets a large spread, the only race I know of that actually sounds dangerous beyond the competitors control with the scorpions, jaguars and piranhas. The Atacama Crossing is now a must do for me, the scenery looks like it does not belong on this planet and the high altitude and dryness make it sound like a really challenging multi-day event. I think I will do many more multi-days in 2011.
A few more I had not heard of have been added to my must dos. The Verdon Canyon Challenge sounds like an amazing run with enormous elevation along ridges and caves in southern France. When I become very rich (or someone is willing to pay me to do races) I will also run the Antarctic Ice Marathon and 100k (yes both on the same trip).
I have only done 2 of the races so far, the MDS and the Spartathlon, which gets a brief mention and says little more than it being a very difficult race that not a lot of starters finish.
It includes a wide variety of races of different extremities and different levels of difficulty. Any ultra-runner would have come up with a different 24 based on the same brief. The only US 100 miler that gets in is the Wasatch 100 miler, the last race in the "Grand Slam" that includes the Western States 100, Vermont and Leadville - the "race across the sky". Any of these and the Hardrock 100 would have merited inclusion too.
Perhaps the most lavish spread for a race is for the one I have to do in 4 months time. A huge deal is made of the conditions and others experience of the Badwater race. I read the words over and over as it breaks this race into the 4 parts, the 40 mile flat cauldron, the first pass, the second pass and long descent and then the final push to the Whitney portal. Very useful and something for me to think about as I prepare for this race as well as this paragraph which I can't get out of my head.
"The truth is that the human body is not designed to run in 55C temperatures. By the time the atmosphere reaches 35C the body will lose it's capacity to release heat into the air. Activity accelerates this process. The maximum core temperature measured in a conscious long distance runner has been 41C. At 42.7 body temperature the runner will collapse. At this stage, the body has begun to pump blood out of the body's outermost layers in an effort to radiate heat. In the meantime, the internal organs are thus deprived of their blood supply, and the thermoregulatory system starts to shut down. The first physical sign of this process is when, despite the searing heat and apparent full hydration, the body simply ceases to sweat. From that stage, if the body goes untreated, serious inflammation and cell damage may ensure and affect the central nervous system. At that point, death can be sudden.
Perhaps I should have just looked at the pictures.