Multi-day Running Events

After completing the 6-day Transrockies Run this year, I couldn’t help but wonder what other stage races I might consider in the future.  There are an ultra number of options out there.  Can they all be as well-organized as the Transrockies?  Are they affordable?  How difficult is the terrain?   There are multi-sport ultras, typically a double or triple ironman but going as long as the double deca (20 times the ironman distance…completely insane).  There are multi-sport stage format events like the Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii, a 3-day stage triathlon circumnavigating the Big Island of Hawaii.  There are also ultra distance cycling events like RAAM (Race Across America) or the Sea to Sea, a 1,085 mile bike race from Homer, Alaska to Prudhoe Bay (Pacific Ocean to the Arctic Ocean).  Adventure racing is really a separate category, popularized by Mark Burnett’s expedition-length Eco Challenge which ran as a reality TV event from 1995 – 2002.  Today, there are many options for adventure racing in many different formats.  What follows is a brief summary of some of the best running multi-day events.  For a calendar at a glance, here is an exhaustive list of multi-day running races for 2010.

Possibly the original ultra stage race, the Marathon des Sables, which has been around for 25 years, can be blamed for the increasing interest in stage races, especially in northern Europe and the UK. There are now numerous multi-stage races to choose from, many much tougher than the MdS, which is still considered the benchmark.  Although it is very expensive to enter there is always a waiting list despite there being 850 runners this year.  The majority of these races are challenging because they cover large distances in remote, hostile and usually hot parts of the world–Libya, Morocco, Egypt, Kalahari, Gobi, Atacama, Namibia–in other words, deserts.  I’ll probably update this post as I learn more, but let’s start with the event that got this crazy idea started.

Marathon des Sables
The MdS is a 6 day, 151 mile (243km) endurance race across the Sahara Desert in Morocco, usually at the end of March or beginning of April.  Equivalent to 5 1/2 regular marathons, competitors carry everything they will need for the duration (except for their tent) on their backs in a backpack (food, clothes, medical kit, sleeping bag, etc). Water is rationed and handed out at each checkpoint.  Two competitors have died on the course.  Required gear includes an anti-venom pump and a signaling mirror.  That’s enough info for my wife not to grant me permision to do this event.  The official web site for N. American entries is here

MDSDates:  March/April
Distance:  151 miles
Land cost:  €2550 / ~$5000 (many competitors raise these funds through sponsors)

GORE-TEX Trans-Alpine Run
The idea of running across a desert doesn’t appeal to me, so this is my choice for my next multi-day event.  Put on by the same first-class organization that delivers the Transrockies Run, the Trans-Alpine Run has quickly become the pinnacle of stage races in only its fifth year.  This event is longer and harder than the Transrockies.  At eight stages instead of six, the course is 240km / 149 mls. compared to 113 mls. this year at the Transrockies.  It also has 14,000 meters / 46,000 ft. of elevation gain compared to 20,000+ ft. in the Transrockies.  Instead of tents, runners stay in the towns where each stage ends in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy.  There are lots of great videos on YouTube but here is a great trailer from 2008.

Dates:  Sept. 5 – 12, 2009
Distance:  149 miles
Cost: Starter Package = €1180  / ~$1700 per team

Desert R.A.T.S. (Race Across The Sand)
In the U.S., Gemini Adventure Events puts on the Mountain R.A.T.S. and the Desert R.A.T.S.   The mountain version is shorter–4 stages, 10 – 25 miles per day.  The location is different every year and they don’t announce the exact location until the night before the race.  This year it was held in Copper Mountain, Colorado. 

Desert R.A.T.S. is a 6-day stage race starting in Grand Junction, Colorado, ending in Moab, Utah.  It stretches 148 miles along the stunning Kokopelli trail.  This is an individual race, not a team event.  Stages are as short as 9 miles, but there is one 50-mile stage with a generous 24-hr. cutoff.  Gemini Events sets up a tent city for runners but the way to do this event is to pay an extra $2800 for the Pampered RAT package.  Recommended for two racers or two couples traveling together, you can relax, travel and sleep in the comfort of an air-conditioned motorhome, get a daily massage and a nice shower.  Count me in.

Dates:  June 13 – 19, 2010
Distance:  148 miles
Cost:  Early registration until Jan. 1, 2010: $750; until April 1 = $950; until June 1 = $1050

Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race
2010 will mark the 20th running of the Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race.  This is a solo event, not a team event.  It’s an 8-day stage race with spectacular views of Mt. Everest, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse, and Makalu (4 of the 5 highest peaks int he world).  The course traverses isolated jungle, pine forests and major rivers while passing through small settlements and villages.  Yaks, wild ponies, and the red panda can be seen at higher elevations.  At each overnight stop, meals are fully catered and accomodations are in rustic mountain huts.  Stage 3 is run simultaneously with the Mt. Everest Challenge Marathon.

Dates:  Oct. 24 – 31, 2009
Distance:  100 miles
Cost:  Twin = €2599; Single = €3199 (side trip to Taj Mahal priced separately)

Trans Andes Challenge
Following the inaugural Trans Andes Mountain Bike Challenge this year, and modeled after the Transrockies Run, the Trans Andes Challenge is a shorter 3-day format located in the stunning Patagonian Andes Mountains between Chile and Argentina.  The course will include about 1500 meters of elevation gain per day.  Organizers are running the course in October, then posting detailed stage profiles on their web site.  This event is organized by Santiagos Producciones, a Chilean outdoor adventure racing company.

Trans Andes ChallengeDates:  Feb. 11 – 13, 2010
Distance:  30 – 35K each day
Land Cost:  $350 – $1900 per person (4 different packages — high end includes an additional 6 days in Pucón, Chile–includes , lodging, meals, and 4 days of fun adventure: Rafting, Trekking to the Villarrica Volcano, and more.

Andes Adventures
Santa Monica, CA-based Andes Adventures offers numerous choices.  Their Patagonia Running Adventure spans 17 days with no camping.  The longest run is 19 miles with optional shorter distances on many days.  The shorter 10-day version is called the Torres del Paine Running Adventure.

andes-adventuresPatagonia Running Adventure
Dates:  Dec. 19, 2009 – Jan. 4, 2010
Land Cost: $2995 – $3200 all inclusive (depending on number of participants, 29 max)