6 Races That Make Marathons Look Wimpy

I'm currently training for a marathon. When I'm on a long training run and start to think, "This is stupid..." I don't stop and remind myself why I'm trying to run a 26.2-mile race. I prefer to comfort myself with "Yeah, but it's nowhere near as crazy as..." and then fill in a truly absurd feat of human endurance that makes 26.2 miles look positively meager. Here are some favorites:

1. The Barkley Marathons

When assassin James Earl Ray escaped from a Tennessee prison in 1977, he was missing for 55 hours. In that time, he only managed to get eight miles away before being recaptured. Race organizer Gary Cantrell heard this statistic and thought he could make it at least a hundred miles in that time. He organized the Barkley Marathons to test this theory.

Since 1986, elite ultramarathon runners have met in the hills of Frozen Head State Park to have a go at one of the world's most difficult races. Cantrell handpicks the field according to his own whims and applicants' essays on why they should be allowed to run the Barkley. Marathoners have 60 hours to complete five 20-mile loops through the park. Each loop contains over 10,000 feet of vertical climb, and if any loop takes more than 12 hours, the runner is disqualified. The runners trudge along through brambles, unmarked trails, and occasionally both snow and blistering heat during the same race.

Don't think that 100 miles in 60 hours sounds so tough? Since the race's inception over 500 elite runners have tried to finish the 100-mile trek. Seven have successfully finished the race. Cantrell's not a total sadist, though; he also offers a companion "fun run" to go along with his monstrous trail run. Fun runners only have to finish 60 miles of the course in 40 hours. Sounds like a lot of fun, right? [Image courtesy of Dave Harper.]

2. Badwater Ultramarathon

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The Barkley Marathons have some competition for the title of "World's Toughest Race," though. The idea behind the Badwater Ultramarathon is fairly simple: when it's really hot, it's tough to do anything active, much less run 135 hilly miles. Starting in 1987, though, devoted runners have been trying to make a dash from the Badwater Basin in Death Valley to the Whitney Portal, Mount Whitney's trailhead, each July.

That's right, Death Valley in July. Temperatures have been known to reach 120 degrees in the shade, and runners have been known to run on the white lines on the side of the road to keep the soles of their shoes from melting.

The elevation gain in the race is similarly brutal. The race was originally conceived as a trip between the lowest and highest points of the continental U.S. Runnes would head from Badwater (282 feet below sea level) to the summit of Mount Whitney (14,496 feet). However, the current race "only" goes to Mount Whitney's trailhead due to Forest Service regulations on climbing the mountain. And that doesn't even take into account the pair of mountain ranges in between the two points.

Runners, who must be invited to participate, have 60 hours to complete the course, and usually 60-80% of them do. Some finish much, much faster, though. Last year Brazilian Valmir Nunes destroyed the course record in his first race; he made the trek in just 22 hours and 51 minutes. [Image courtesy of Badwater.com.]

3. Furnace Creek 508

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This race, started in 1989, is the cycling equivalent of Badwater. Starting in just north of Los Angeles in Santa Clarita, CA, cyclists take off through Death Valley and the Mojave Desert in this 508-mile race. Entrants have 48 hours to finish the course, which includes 36,000 feet of elevation gain. For perspective, that's like riding four mountain stages of the Tour de France back-to-back without stopping.

Interestingly, organizers of the event eschew the typical practice of giving each racer a number, opting instead to give entrants animal "totems" by which they can be identified. The totem presumably gives cyclists a head start on picking an animal to hallucinate after spending two grueling days on the saddle of a bike. [Image courtesy of The508.com.]

4. Race Across America

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If pedaling through Death Valley sounds a bit soft, perhaps the Race Across America is tough enough for you. This ultra marathon bike race is exactly what the title makes it out to be; racers get on their bikes in and ride from the West Coast to the East Coast. It bills itself as "The World's Toughest Bike Race."

The race, which began in 1982, is even more strenuous than most long bike tours. Unlike, say, the Tour de France or other races of its kind, there are no stages or designated times to stop and rest in most divisions of the race. Once the clock starts at the beginning of the race, it doesn't pause until entrants start trickling across the finish line. Consequently, there's a lot of pressure to keep riding throughout the night without getting adequate sleep. The time limit for the event is 12 days, so riders can't average more than 4 hours of sleep a day and expect to finish.

The course changes each year, but the winner usually rolls in around eight or nine days after the race starts. Some years 50% of entrants fail to finish due to exhaustion or medical distress. This year's race starts June 8 and will cover 3000 miles between Oceanside, CA and Annapolis, MD.

One of the race website's FAQs compares the event to the Tour de France or climbing Mt. Everest. The Tour de France comparisons are brushed aside; this race is 50% longer and doesn't allow drafting or team tactics. On the topic of Everest, the site speaks for itself: "Mt. Everest and the Race Across America are entirely different. Austrian adventurer Wolfgang Fasching has won solo RAAM three times and climbed Mt. Everest. In his opinion, - Everest is more dangerous, but RAAM is much harder." [Image courtesy of Team Type 1.]

5. Manhattan Island Marathon Swim

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Running and cycling aren't the only sports that lend themselves to feats of absurd endurance. Swimmers looking for a ridiculously difficult even need look no further than the annual Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. Each year a small handful of intrepid individuals meet in New York and brave the waters of the East, Hudson, and Harlem Rivers to circumnavigate giant loop around Manhattan. The course is 28.5 miles long, and takes over seven hours to complete. While continuously swimming for seven-plus hours would be impressive under any circumstances, these athletes have to deal with boats, pollution, and what the event's website describes as "random jetsam and flotsam in the waterways." Probably best not to think about what said jetsam and flotsam might be. To make things tougher, wetsuits aren't allowed, either.

The event is popular, though. When it began in 1982, only 12 people swam the race; last year there were 90 entrants. Due to strong currents and dirty water that hinders visibility, each solo swimmer needs a guide in a kayak or motorboat to steer them in the right direction. There are also unexpected problems. A hard rain during the race can make Manhattan's antiquated sewage system back up into the river, which lead to cancellations in 2003 and 2005. [Image courtesy of NYCSwim.org.]

6. Colac Six Day Race

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As if the aforementioned examples didn't seem challenging enough, a certain small subset of ultramarathon runners have taken on the challenge of multiday races that go beyond the ones listed here. Take, for instance, the Colac Six Day Race. Instead of seeing who can go the fastest on a given course, runners meet up most years in Colac, Australia, and see who can run the most laps around a 440m track. Sure, there are no hills, but the scenery never changes, either. Just six days of running in circles around a track.

The static environment doesn't slow down the competitors, though. In 2005 Greece's Yiannis Kouros, possibly the world's greatest ultra runner, broke the world distance record for such an event by going 1036.80 kilometers in the six days. He needed some help from his competition, though; according to the event's website, Vlastk Skvaril generously gave Kouros his ice vest to help lower his blood temperature when it started to get too high. What these events lack in mainstream appeal, they make up for in sportsmanship and ownership of frozen vests. [Image courtesy of SixDayRace.com.au.]

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

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Medicine
Charles Dickens Museum Highlights the Author's Contributions to Science and Medicine

Charles Dickens is celebrated for his verbose prose and memorable opening lines, but lesser known are his contributions to science—particularly the field of medicine.

A new exhibition at London’s Charles Dickens Museum—titled "Charles Dickens: Man of Science"—is showcasing the English author’s scientific side. In several instances, the writer's detailed descriptions of medical conditions predated and sometimes even inspired the discovery of several diseases, The Guardian reports.

In his novel Dombey and Son, the character of Mrs. Skewton was paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. Dickens was the first person to document this inexplicable condition, and a scientist later discovered that one side of the brain was largely responsible for speech production. "Fat boy" Joe, a character in The Pickwick Papers who snored loudly while sleeping, later lent his namesake to Pickwickian Syndrome, otherwise known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

A figurine of Fat Boy Joe
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens also wrote eloquently about the symptoms of tuberculosis and dyslexia, and some of his passages were used to teach diagnosis to students of medicine.

“Dickens is an unbelievably acute observer of human behaviors,” museum curator Frankie Kubicki told The Guardian. “He captures these behaviors so perfectly that his descriptions can be used to build relationships between symptoms and disease.”

Dickens was also chummy with some of the leading scientists of his day, including Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and chemist Jane Marcet, and the exhibition showcases some of the writer's correspondence with these notable figures. Beyond medicine, Dickens also contributed to the fields of chemistry, geology, and environmental science.

Less scientifically sound was the author’s affinity for mesmerism, a form of hypnotism introduced in the 1770s as a method of controlling “animal magnetism,” a magnetic fluid which proponents of the practice believed flowed through all people. Dickens studied the methods of mesmerism and was so convinced by his powers that he later wrote, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a frying-pan.” A playbill of Animal Magnetism, an 1857 production that Dickens starred in, is also part of the exhibit.

A play script from Animal Magnetism
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Located at 48-49 Doughty Street in London, the exhibition will be on display until November 11, 2018.

[h/t The Guardian]

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Words
Beyond Wanderlust: 30 Words Every Traveler Should Know
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For those who travel, wanderlust is a familiar feeling. It’s that nagging voice in your head that says, “Yes, you do need to book that flight,” even if your bank account says otherwise. Regardless of how many passport covers this word may adorn, it doesn’t begin to cover the spectrum of emotions and experiences that can be revealed through the act of travel. Here are 30 travel words from around the world to keep in your back pocket as you're exploring this summer.

1. VAGARY

From the Latin vagari, meaning “to wander,” this 16th-century word originally meant a wandering journey. Nowadays, "vagaries" refer to unpredictable or erratic situations, but that doesn’t mean the old sense of the word can’t be invoked from time to time.

2. SELCOUTH

An Old English word that refers to something that’s both strange and marvelous. It's a great way to sum up those seemingly indescribable moments spent in an unfamiliar land.

3. FERNWEH

Who hasn’t felt a strong desire to be somewhere—anywhere—other than where you currently are? That’s fernweh, or “farsickness," and this German word has been described as a cousin of wanderlust, another German loan word.

4. DÉPAYSEMENT

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Anyone who has traveled abroad will recognize this feeling. The French word refers to the sense of disorientation that often sets in when you step outside your comfort zone, such as when you leave your home country.

5. DÉRIVE

Another gift from the French, this word literally translates to “drift,” but thanks to some mid-20th century French philosophers, it can also refer to a spontaneous trip, completely free of plans, in which you let your surroundings guide you.

6. PEREGRINATE

To peregrinate is to travel from place to place, especially on foot. Its Latin root, peregrinus (meaning “foreign”), is also where the peregrine falcon (literally “pilgrim falcon”) gets its name.

7. PERAMBULATE

Similar to peregrinate, this word essentially means to travel over or through an area by foot. So instead of saying that you’ll be walking around London, you can say you’ll be perambulating the city’s streets—much more sophisticated.

8. NUMINOUS

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This English word could appropriately be used to describe the Grand Canyon or the Northern Lights. Something numinous is awe-inspiring and mysterious. It's difficult to understand from a rational perspective, which gives it a spiritual or unearthly quality.

9. PERIPATETIC

The young and the restless will want to incorporate this word into their lexicon. The adjective refers to those who are constantly moving from place to place—in other words, a nomadic existence. It stems from the Greek word peripatein (“to walk up and down”), which was originally associated with Aristotle and the shaded walkways near his school (or, according to legend, his habit of pacing back and forth during lectures).

10. WALDEINSAMKEIT

You’re alone in a forest. It’s peaceful. The sun is filtering through the trees and there’s a light breeze. That’s waldeinsamkeit. (Literally "forest solitude." And yes, Germans have all the best travel words.)

11. SHINRIN-YOKU

In a similar vein, this Japanese word means “forest bathing,” and it's considered a form of natural medicine and stress reliever. There are now forest bathing clubs around the world, but you can try it out for yourself on your next camping trip. Take deep breaths, close your eyes, and take in the smells and sounds of the forest. Simple.

12. SOLIVAGANT

In those moments when you just want to run away from your responsibilities, you may consider becoming a solivagant: a solo wanderer.

13. YOKO MESHI

This Japanese phrase literally translates to “a meal eaten sideways,” which is an apt way to describe the awkwardness of speaking in a foreign language that you haven’t quite mastered, especially over dinner.

14. RESFEBER

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You just booked your flight. Your heart starts racing. You’re a little nervous about your journey, but mostly you just can’t wait to get going. The anticipation, anxiety, and excitement you get before a big trip is all rolled into one word—resfeber—and you can thank the Swedes for it.

15. FLÂNEUR

Taken from the French flâner, meaning to stroll or saunter, this word describes someone who has no particular plans or place they need to be. They merely stroll around the city at a leisurely pace, taking in the sights and enjoying the day as it unfolds.

16. GADABOUT

This could be construed as the traditional English equivalent of flâneur. Likely stemming from the Middle English verb gadden, meaning “to wander without a specific aim or purpose,” a gadabout is one who frequently travels from place to place for the sheer fun of it. In other words: a modern-day backpacker.

17. HIRAETH

Sometimes, no matter how amazing your vacation may be, you just want to come home to your bed and cats. This Welsh word sums up the deep yearning for home that can strike without warning. As Gillian Thomas put it in an interview with the BBC, “Home sickness is too weak. You feel hiraeth, which is a longing of the soul to come home to be safe.”

18. YŪGEN

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This Japanese word can be taken to mean “graceful elegance” or “subtle mystery,” but it’s much more than that. It's when the beauty of the universe is felt most profoundly, awakening an emotional response that goes beyond words.

19. SCHWELLENANGST

Translating to “threshold anxiety,” this German word sums up the fears that are present before you enter somewhere new—like a theater or an intimidating cafe—and by extension going anywhere unfamiliar. The fear of crossing a threshold is normal, even among the most adventurous of travelers—but it often leads to the most unforgettable experiences.

20. COMMUOVERE

Have you ever seen something so beautiful it made you cry? That’s commuovere in action. The Italian word describes the feeling of being moved, touched, or stirred by something you witness or experience.

21. HYGGE

This Danish word refers to a warm feeling of contentedness and coziness, as well as the acknowledgement of that feeling. Although not explicitly related to this term, author Kurt Vonnegut summed up the idea behind this concept quite nicely when he said, “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'"

22. HANYAUKU

Here's one for those who have a beach trip coming up. Taken from Kwangali, a language spoken in Namibia, hanyauku is the act of tiptoeing across hot sand.

23. SMULTRONSTÄLLE

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This Swedish word translates to something along the lines of “place of wild strawberries,” but its metaphorical meaning is something along the lines of a "happy place." Whether it’s a hidden overlook of the city or your favorite vacation spot that hasn’t been “discovered” yet, smultronställe refers to those semi-secret places you return to time and time again because they’re special and personal to you.

24. DUSTSCEAWUNG

This Old English word describes what might happen when you visit a place like Pompeii or a ghost town. While reflecting on past civilizations, you realize that everything will eventually turn to dust. A cheery thought.

25. VACILANDO

In some Spanish dialects, the word vacilando describes someone who travels with a vague destination in mind but has no real incentive to get there. In other words, the journey is more important than the destination. As John Steinbeck described it in his travelogue Travels With Charley: “It does not mean vacillating at all. If one is vacilando, he is going somewhere, but doesn't greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction. My friend Jack Wagner has often, in Mexico, assumed this state of being. Let us say we wanted to walk in the streets of Mexico city but not at random. We would choose some article almost certain not to exist there and then diligently try to find it.”

26. LEHITKALEV

Backpackers and budget travelers, this one is for you: The Hebrew word lehitkalev translates to “dog it” and means to deal with uncomfortable living or travel arrangements.

27. KOMOREBI

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This beautiful Japanese word is a good one to save for a sunny day spent in the woods. Komorebi translates to “sunshine filtering through the leaves.” Does it get any lovelier than that?

28. RAMÉ

This Balinese word refers to something that is simultaneously chaotic and joyful. It isn’t specifically a travel word, but it does seem to fit the feelings that are often awakened by travel.

29. TROUVAILLE

Translating to a “lucky find,” this French word can be applied to that cool cafe, flower-lined street, or quirky craft store that you stumbled upon by chance. Indeed, these are the moments that make travel worthwhile.

30. ULLASSA

Just in case you needed another reason to plan that trip to Yosemite, here's one last word for nature lovers. The Sanskrit word ullassa refers to the feelings of pleasantness that come from observing natural beauty in all its glory.

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