On August 19th, a36-year-old named Ian Sherman won the Leadville 100 with a time of 17:34:51. Let that sink in for a moment. This alien/human/Zeus/Whitewalker “person” named Ian ran 100 miles—going from 9,200’to 12,600’ in elevation—in just under 18 hours. It’s not uncommon for some people (us) to take 18 hours to recover from a rosé hangover, and this guy ran for 100 miles straight. It’s not even worth feeling shame in the face of that kind of achievement because it’s just so impossibly impressive.
But then again, this was a race. It’s not like he was the only guy doing it. In fact, this year, 287 people completed the 100-mile run. (OK, you can feel shame now). If for some reason just reading these two paragraphs makes you jealous, don’t be too dismayed; the world’s calendar is filled with ultramarathons as equally insane as Leadville’s. A word to the wise: you should probably start with a regular marathon first, or maybe a half-marathon, or maybe a few laps around the local high school’s football field (we think East looks promising). But, if you’re really eager to test the elasticity of your glutes, here’s a list of five ultramarathons that you can do before next year’s Leadville 100. (Or in some cases, a few ways you might die out in the most epic way possible—under the flimsy façade of a race.
This may seem like a copout since the Sean O’Brien maxes out at 100 kilometers, but for the uninitiated, the Sean O’Brien is a great starting point to test your capacity for an ultramarathon. If you’ve never done one before, it’s probably a good idea to start with some training wheels—and this Malibu, CA charity stroll is exactly that. Plus, we’d argue that February is probably the best time to be in Southern California in the first place. That way, if you decide within the first 500 strides that ultramarathons aren’t for you, you get to spend the next 10 hours doing something more enjoyable in perfect LA weather.
OK, so let’s say you do have the physical willpower and flexibility to pull off a 100-mile ultramarathon without letting your conscience convince you that an all-day Margharitacation is a way better idea. If that’s the case, maybe you should give the Zion Ultra a whirl. Obviously Zion National Park is an absolutely breathtaking slice of America’s untouched landscape, but the race itself also boasts one of the higher completion rates (73%) among North America’s esteemed list of 100-mile ultramarathons. Plus, it sticks to a pretty solid 7,850’ elevation/descent, making it seem like kid’s play compared to Leadville’s 15,600’ (and 47% completion rate). Heck, the more we look at these stats, the more we’re encouraged to start prepping for April’s Zion Ultra ourselves. Oh wait, it’s a 100-mile race that lasts almost 30 hours? Never mind.
Grand to Grand Ultra
Here’s where things start to get weird. Leadville is insanely difficult, but it’s also one of the more popular ultramarathons, and in the same way that there are plenty of easier ultras, there are also quite a few harder ones. Like, way, way, way harder. For instance, the seven-day, “self-supported” Grand to Grand Ultra in October takes you 147-miles across the astoundingly beautiful landscape at the base of the Grand Canyon—then 19,000’ straight up to the end of the course. The cost to do this race is a hefty sum of $3,300, but if you’re at the point in your life where you think doing a 147-mile vertical run is a good idea, you’ve probably already done most things you’d otherwise do with that $3,300—in which case, cash is probably just a mortal’s penance to you.
Marathon Des Sables
Let’s paint a picture together, shall we? You’ve just wrapped up the Grand to Grand Ultra. As you pack your bags and head home with both a sense of accomplishment and the world’s most swollen legs, it dawns on you that you may have reached the apex of both ultramarathons and human physical achievement. A sense of existential dread settles into your mind’s eye as you feel for the first time on this ultramarathon adventure that there’s nothing else to strive for. What could possibly be more difficult than climbing the Grand Canyon? Then it dawns on you…the desert. Well, Mr.-or-Mrs.-Living-Inspirational-Poster, you’re in luck. The Marathon Des Sables in April is a six-day, 154-mile ultramarathon through the Sahara Desert. Not only will you be dealing with scorching heat and the psychological reality that you’re running through the Sahara, but you’re also running in sand. So, for 154-miles, you’ll be running in something the world’s greatest professional athletes only run in for a few hundred yards at a time. It’s that difficult. So yeah…good luck.
Well, here you are. You’ve finished the Marathon Des Sables, so now it’s time to bequeath your estate to the charity of your choice, say your final goodbyes, buy about $20,000 of REI’s most resilient winter gear, and head to the 6693 Ultra’s starting line in Canada’s Yukon Territory. From here, you run only 23 miles to the Arctic Circle, then between 120 and 350 miles to the Arctic Ocean. Temperatures regularly get to -50 degrees or lower. Hurricane-level winds plague your journey. You forget both the direction you’re heading, and the point of life itself as you travel across hundreds of miles of anonymous frozen earth. Oh yeah, and you’re doing this in FEBRUARY. In the ARCTIC.
But, once you’ve become the 20th person ever to finish the race, sit back and watch the credits roll in the sky above the Arctic Ocean. You have officially beaten the game of life.