4 Races Around the World

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Looking for a challenge? Try racing around the world! These trips around the globe may not have earned any notice from Jules Verne or the producers of The Amazing Race, but they certainly enabled racers to see the world in unique ways.

1. British Convertible Takes on the Globe

When British automaker Austin introduced its Austin A40 Sports in 1950, it was taking a risk. The little convertible was really more of a small touring car than a true sports car, and it was fairly pricey for its day. When initial sales were a bit slow, Austin chief Leonard Lord came up with a clever publicity grab: he bet his PR man Alan Hess that Hess couldn't drive an A40 Sports around the world in 30 days.

Hess gamely accepted the challenge, and in 1951 he took off on his journey. With the help of a cargo aircraft to move the car from continent to continent, Hess actually pulled off the around-the-world feat in just 21 days. He covered 10,000 land miles at around 29 miles per gallon. Even this well publicized stunt couldn't save the A40 Sports, though. Austin discontinued it in 1953 after only producing around 4000 of the convertibles.

2. Modern Sailors Make Like Magellan

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Ever wonder what sailing around the world would be like? Try getting onto a crew for the Volvo Ocean Race. The race, which began in 1972 and goes off every three years, sends a special class of 70-foot yachts on a nine-month journey around that world that covers almost 39,000 nautical miles. The last race began in October 2008 in Alicante, Spain, and ended in June 2009 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

As you might expect, building a giant yacht and racing it for nine months is a pretty expensive endeavor; the winning Ericsson team in the last race spent around 50 million euros on its boat and crew. However, there's no cash prize for winning this epic race. Instead, the winners simply get a crystal trophy and recognition in the sailing community. [Image credit.]

3. Sixties Sailors Go Solo

Although the Volvo Ocean Race has been popular since the 1970s, one of its precursors didn't go anywhere near as well. In 1968, the British newspaper The Sunday Times sponsored a first-of-its-kind non-stop single-handed sailing race around the world. ("Single-handed" is sailing jargon for solo voyages; each boat only held a single sailor.) The paper offered a cash prize of 5,000 pounds sterling to whichever sailor made the fastest time around the world. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but the race ended up being an unqualified disaster.

johnson-raceOf the nine boats that started the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, four gave up before getting out of the Atlantic Ocean. Another called it quits after rounding the Cape of Good Hope. A sixth competitor, French sailor Bernard Moitessier, looked like he could win before he decided that a commercial sailing competition made him uncomfortable and he set sail for Tahiti mid-race. Sailor Nigel Tetley looked like he would win the race with only 1,100 miles remaining, but his boat sank.

Obviously, this race was more than a little star-crossed, but the most tragic story belonged to British sailor Donald Crowhurst. Crowhurst owned a failing business, and he thought winning the race would give him the cash infusion to keep his company afloat. However, he wasn't a great sailor, so his plan involved cheating. Crowhurst had decided he would selectively sit out a portion of the race, radio in false positions, and then reunite with the leaders at a later date. The plan might have worked, but the months of solitude and the complex calculations required to radio in false positions apparently drove Crowhurst mad. He disappeared at some point during the race, and an analysis of his logs made investigators think Crowhurst went insane and committed suicide by jumping overboard.

In the end, Robert Knox-Johnston (pictured) won the race by default—he was the only sailor to finish the circumnavigation. He donated his winnings to Crowhurst's widow and children. Although this particular race was a debacle, it inspired the single-handed around-the-world race the VELUX 5 Oceans Race that's currently quite popular with sailors.

4. Danish Runner Races Himself Around the Globe

olsenThink running a marathon sounds daunting? Danish runner Jesper Olsen ran more than a marathon a day for 22 straight months to become the first runner to make it around the world on foot. From January 2004 to October 2005, Olsen averaged 28 miles a day as he hoofed it across four continents and ran in everything from Siberian cold to Australian heat.

Olsen first ran from London to Vladivostok, at which point he jumped in a plane for Japan, ran across the country, and hopped another plane for Australia. After running a Sydney-to-Perth route, he flew to Los Angeles, ran to Vancouver, and then traversed North America to get to New York. By the time it was over, Olsen had logged 26,000 km on foot, which earned him Guinness records for both the longest distance run ever and for being the first person to ever run a lap around the world. You'd think that would wear Olsen out, but he's currently in the midst of an even longer run of 40,000 km that he started in July 2008.

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March 9, 2010 - 2:55am
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