This Saturday sees the return of Red Bull Lionheart, a unique mountain run up Cape Town's iconic Lion's Head. It was dreampt up by Ryan Sandes as a way to encourage trail running in his hometown. On the eve of the race, we caught up with Ryan to hear about his many adventures. If you're looking for ideas for a mind-blowing challenge and can't make it to Cape Town in time for Lionheart, he says you should head to these destinations instead.
Patagonia is so beautiful and rugged. I did the Patagonia International Marathon and it's probably the most beautiful place I've ever been to. You could be moving across a glacier, kayaking on crystal lakes or trail running against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. I've never seen a place so diverse — it's mind-blowing.
More info: patagonianinternationalmarathon.com
2. Fish River Canyon
In 2012 I set a new record for running the 84km length of Fish River Canyon in 6h 57m but I have more respect for the guys who are hiking it. It's a harsh and hostile place — it can be below freezing at night and then up to 45 degrees during the day and there are lots of wild animals out there. It's normally a five-day hike but hiking is harder because you're carrying a big pack and going so slowly.
3. Atacama desert
The Atacama desert race was really phenomonal. You're running across a desert salt pan. It's quite a surreal place. It is so hot during the day, sometimes over 45 degrees, but then in the morning you get these ice cold streams moving past you from the snow melt. It doesn't seem real to see snow-capped mountains in such heat!
More info: 4deserts.com/atacamacrossing
Nepal has to be up there, the views are just magical. I did a multi-day race back in 2011. It was a 250km stage race in six days. Being out there surrounded by such big mountains you realise how insignificant humans are. It's been my most soulful adventure. At the top of one climb during stage 4 I was attacked by two local Nepalese ladies who slapped red holy paint all over my face. One of the highlights of the race was how passionate and supportive the locals were. Everybody has a big smile.
More info: 4deserts.com/beyond/nepal
5. Leadville 100
It's quite an adventure to experience the race. There's such an awesome vibe. It has a lot of history and there are loads of festivals going on the side. For runners or bikers, it's one of the most iconic races out there — it's an epic adventure, not so much off the beaten track but worth the trip. When I approached the finish line in 2011 in first place, my quads were on fire and mentally I was exhausted but running down 6th street to the finish line was an insane feeling of euphoria and really emotional. But you don't have to win to experience that.
More info: leadvilleraceseries.com
On Saturday 9th November, 200 runners will take part in Red Bull Lionheart. This year, after an all new qualifier time trial route in the morning, the top 32 that make it through, shoot it out in a knockout format – that very same afternoon. Then the party starts! For more info, check out redbulllionheart.com.
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Follow Tarquin Cooper on Twitter: @adventuretarq