Adventure and endurance races have a curious appeal — they offer suffering and a lot of pain, yet sell-out within minutes, such is their popularity.
Taking place in often dramatic and spectacular parts of the world, they also have something else that keeps people coming back for more — it's the chance to do something heroic on an epic scale.
Whether it's crossing mountains or deserts, journeying for hours on end, or working in a team on a multitude of adventure sports, they will ask more of you than any conventional race. 5k? Yawn. Marathon? Been there, done that. What you need is to sign up to an epic ultra or an adventure race.
The Marathon des Sables
Often called 'the world's toughest footrace', the Marathon des Sables is a 7-stage 250km foot race across the Sahara desert of Morocco. Carrying your own gear, bivouacking in the sand, temperatures as high as 40C... it requires more than just endurance. The race comes with its own army of doctors just to treat the savage blisters caused by the sand not to mention the numerous cases of heat exhaustion. The MdS is the hardest way anyone can spend six days in April, yet the 2014 quota of places sold in a record 11 minutes. www.darbaroud.com Plan b? Try 4deserts.com.
The Last Desert
If heat is not your thing, you could always try the cold. The Last Desert is a 250km run in Antarctica held over seven stages. Famously described as 'the cleanest and most isolated way of having bad time that has ever been devised' polar travel is not for everyone. Expect temperatures as low as -40 degrees but if you survive you'll have a story to tell. 4deserts.com
Speights Coast to Coast
New Zealand is built for adventure, and this 160-mile, two-day race each February has it all. Cycle from the west coast into the Southern Alps of the South Island, kayak grade-two whitewater through the Kiwi’s version of the Grand Canyon, and run 36 km of winding mountain scenery. You have 10h 34mins to beat – although this course record hasn’t been bettered since 1994.
Poisonous plants, swamps, and snakes? Check, check, check. Every October, crazed competitors blaze their way down to Brazil for a multi-day race in which you carry not only yourself, but your food and provisions, too. (Race officials provide water.) CNN has named this "The World's Toughest Adventure Race". Available in 42km, 122km and 254km sizes depending on your appetite.
Mark Webber's Tasmania Challenge
When you register, pretty much the only thing you'll know about the F1 driver's Tasmania Challenge is this: It covers about 350km. No other details are released until 24 hours before the race begins. After that, contestants will swim, bike, run, climb, abseil and kayak your way across Tasmania for the next five days. Don't worry – they'll feed you every night.
Ok, so this isn't really an adventure race, but if you want your dose of pain and glory to be short and over quickly, then this is for you. The whole mud running concept sounds like somone's warped idea, which it probably is, but the appeal and growth of these races is phenomenal. The idea is to tackle an obstacle course from hell, featuring everything from cold-water swims, rope walks, crawls under barbed wire and running through electrically-charged wires (yes really). See toughmudder.com, spartanrace.com and toughguy.co.uk.