Is This the Toughest Running Race on Earth?

Competitors describe what they have to deal with during the grueling Ultra Fiord race.
A runner competes in the Ultra Fiord race across the Patagonia region of Southern Chile near Punta Arenas
A runner competes in the Ultra Fiord race © Pauce
By Dominique Granger

The term "ultra trail" might be a slight understatement when it comes to describing the Ultra Fiord race. The first edition of this brutal event took place in the wilds of Chile's Patagonia region in the middle of April, and it was a true test of the runners' resolve.

Imagine yourself expecting a long, strenuous race in a magical landscape like Patagonia. But in fact, what you get once the race begins are challenges you never thought possible.

Why Ultra Fiord?

The race could hardly have a better name. Taking place in mythical Patagonia, the course brings runners to discover the land of fjords — long, narrow inlets created by the erosion of glaciers that have shaped a stunning landscape. The environment might even have you thinking that you might bump into a Hobbit at the next turn.

Stjepan Pavicic, the race director, had two goals in mind when he started organizing the race: to hold the first 100-mile race in Chile and to create a race that had Patagonia's signature stamped through it.

Ultra Fiord is a real adventure. Competitors tackle a river crossing at the Ultra Fiord trail-running race in the Patagonia region of Southern Chile
Ultra Fiord is more like a raid than a trail © @Pauce

"We were going for a trail run, and we quickly realized that it was much more than a trail. It was an expedition, with very technical passes, in a very hostile environment," said Sylvaine Cussot, second-place finisher in the 70km (about 43.5 miles) race. "The rain, ice, mud and snow slowed all of us down." The last time she did a 70k, it took her 6 hours, 50 minutes — and Ultra Fiord took nearly double the time.

"My only goal was to make it in one piece," she added. "Many people underestimated the race. It's tough when you don't know the area, because there is so much more than just the incline. The weather is just as tricky as the terrain."

This POV footage shows just how wild Ultra Fiord can be:

© @Pauce

Jeff Browning won the 100-mile race in 24 hours, 25 minutes and 39 seconds. A few weeks later, the American shared the above video of footage of his race. As you can see, it really is wild.

With the quick-changing Patagonian weather, the runners had to bring special gear that isn't mandatory in any other ultra-trail races around the world. They had no choice, especially when spending hours running completely alone in an area where bailing out and calling it quits is not an option.

Is this the toughest race?

Just 11 out of 33 entrants finished the 100-mile race, which also boasted an elevation gain of nearly 22,000 feet. Winner Browning wrote on his blog after the race: "The terrain I'd been moving through was more wild than anything I'd come across in the last 15 years of running ultramarathons.

"This was my 21st 100-miler and this course was throwing it at me. Patagonia offers breathtaking and incredible landscapes, but at a price. You have to give a lot and your body pays a high price. If it were easy, it wouldn't stick in people's minds."

The next step

Will the organizers move toward a more popular or more extreme course for the second edition? "We want to make it more popular for people who love the extreme," said Maximilien Triantafylou of the organizing team.

"Next time, we'll make sure everyone knows what to expect: the weather, the course, the terrain. But in such a race, you can't be a loser — either you win or you learn."

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