The World’s Toughest Endurance Challenges: Leadville 100 and the Badwater Ultramarathon

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Surviving the Long Run

There is something uniquely pure about running. Unlike most sports, participation is not reliant on high tech equipment, purpose-built venues, or even fellow competitors. It’s just you and the road or trail ahead.

For most runners, the length of that road directly correlates to the amount of time they can eek out in the morning or after work. Running is a means to an end, a way to stave off weight gain or clear the head. More passionate participants go a step further, taking on a 10K or training for a marathon.

Then there are the ultra-runners. These are the rare breed who relish the pain of pushing physical boundaries to their outer-most extremes. For this small tribe, long distance means 100 miles, not 26.2. For the ultra-runner, a book such as The World’s Toughest Endurance Challenges is a vacation planner.

Take Colorado’s Leadville 100, also known as the Race Across the Sky. Not only must participants run 100 miles, but they must do it all above 9,200 feet, which as The World’s Toughest Endurance Challenges wryly notes, “can cause nausea, respiratory problems, headaches, and impaired performance.”

To assure safety, all Leadville 100 competitors are weighed at certain points during the race, and anyone who’s dropped more than 7 percent body weight is pulled from the event. The attrition rate is above 50 percent.

The failure rate is even greater at the Badwater Ultra Marathon, which is 35 miles longer than Leadville. But distance is not all that sets Badwater apart. Indeed, it’s the climbing that’s earned this event the deserved moniker of World’s Toughest Footrace. Badwater starts in California’s Death Valley, 280 feet below sea level, and finishes at 8,360 feet, at the trailhead to Mount Whitney. Total ascending for the entire trip: a mind boggling (and leg melting) 13,000 feet.

No wonder would-be Badwater participants must pass a thorough screening test just to gain a race entry. Applicants must meet at least one of three minimum qualifying standards, which includes prior completion of three 100-mile races. It’s a small tribe…

Learn more about these punishing events and dozens more like them inside the inspiring pages of The World’s Toughest Endurance Challenges.