Looking for a multi-day adventure race in a far flung destination?  Here’s our pick of the best stage races in the world right now . . .

The Marathon des Sables is the forerunner in this category – and easily the most popular.  The race calls itself “an extraordinary race for extraordinary people in an extraordinary place”.  While MdS may have been the first organised stage race of it’s type to capture runner’s sense of adventure, nowadays we’re spoilt for choice.

Many runners that consider signing up for MdS aren’t even aware of the world of other stage races out there – with a huge variety in locations, climates, level of support and enjoyment, there’s a stage race for everyone out there.

Great Adventure Stage Races

So, here’s a mix of races in unique locations, with varying degrees of support to get you excited for your next trip:

The 4 Deserts Series

Format:  6 days. 250km. The format is similar to Marathon Des Sables (typical stage split is 40km – 40km – 40km – 40km – 80km – 10km).

Supported?: No. Aid stations have water every 10km.  In camp, water (hot and cold) is provided, as are tents, but otherwise you’re on your own – you have to carry everything you’ll need for the whole week on your back.

Number of Runners: 200-300.

Locations: Namibia, Chile, Gobi Desert, Antarctica, + annual ‘Roving Race’

Link:  www.4deserts.com

A typical checkpoint in the Madagascar Roving Race

The 4 Deserts series are 250km, 6-stage self-supported races taking place around the world.  Every year they hold races in three deserts – Gobi (China / Mongolia in 2018), Atacama (Chile) and Sahara (which has been recently moved to Namibia due to political reasons, so not technically the Sahara, but who’s checking?).  Every two years they also have a stage race in Antarctica, which is only open to runners who have completed at least two of their other events.

What’s more, the team behind 4 Deserts also put on a Racing The Planet ‘Roving Race’ each year – with a different location every year.  Past host countries have included Madagascar, Iceland, Sri Lanka and Ecuador.

The Namibia Race 2016

The 4 Deserts approach is that they want everyone to finish and will help you to do so – unless you decide to drop out, or the medical team tell you you’re finished.

Part of the appeal of the 4 Deserts series is that the field is small enough you can meet almost everybody during the race.  They also tend to have excellent support and online reporting.   A professional photographer follows the race and photos, blogs and results are uploaded every night.   You can write a daily blog (offline) and send messages to friends back home – though there is a charge for this.  There’s a high percentage of ‘first timers’ at 4 Deserts events.

If Marathon des Sables is a race about endurance, 4 Deserts races are about pure adventure.

Read more:

4 Deserts Sahara – Namibia Race Report

Racing the Planet Roving Race – Sri Lanka Race Report

250km At The End Of The World – Report from 4 Deserts Antarctica

Atacama Crossing – An Otherworldly Stage Race

Global Limits

Format:  Typically 6 days, 250km.

Supported?: Sort of.  You have a 10kg drop bag which is transported from camp-to-camp, so you can easily stock up with a week’s worth of food supplies.  Aid stations have water every 10km.  Runners can buy food from local shops on the course and occasionally eat in a local restaurant.

Number of Runners: 40-50.

Locations: Cambodia, Bhutan, Albania (new for 2017)

Link: www.global-limits.com

Cambodia Race Group Shot from campsite 4

The Global Limits races are all about having a great experience, while running through exotic countries.  The organizer, Stefan, encourages runners to interact with locals along the way.  The route in Cambodia takes runners through several stunning, off-the-beaten-track temples and villages.   In Bhutan, runners sleep in monasteries next to monks and finish their race in the famous Tiger’s Nest monastery.

Global Limits Cambodia

1st campsite in Cambodia

The Albania race (new for 2017) should be a worthy addition to the adventure racing circuit.

Read more:

Global Limits Cambodia Race Report

Global Limits Bhutan Race Report

Burgos Ultra Stage Race – The Way Of The Legends

The finish line at Way of The Legends

Format: 6 days, 250km.

Supported?: Absolutely.  The race is fully catered with a dedicated chef and kitchen crew following the runners, providing home-cooked food for breakfast, post-run and a hearty traditional dinner.  Runners stay in a variety of Spanish accommodation – from villages to albergues to some more traditional buildings, this race is a cultural and culinary tour of the Burgos region of Spain.

Number of Runners: 40 max.

Location: Burgos, Spain

Website: www.burgosultrastagerace.com

The Way Of The Legends is what you might call a boutique stage race. Runners are hosted in guest houses and hostels as they make their way around the Burgos region of Spain.  In addition to the nice accommodation, home-cooked and plentiful food is provided for every meal, along with beer and wine.  If you’re after a race which has great ‘apres-run’ conditions, this is it.  The route itself is tougher than most, with several steep climbs and long days.

Typical post-race, pre-dinner, snacks at Way Of The Legends

Read more – Way Of The Legends Race Report

Grand TO Grand (and Mauna to Mauna)

grand to grand

Format: 6 days, 273km.

Supported?: No.  Only water and tents provided.

Number of Runners: around 170.

Location: The Grand Canyon, and Hawaii (as of May 2017)

Website: www.g2gultra.com

Grand 2 Grand launched itself as the first self-supported stage race in the USA, stretching across the Grand Canyon.  Expect sizzling hot days and freezing nights camped in tents under the stars.  The course is notorious on this one – lots of hills and scrambling to be done.

The new-for-2017 sister race is Mauna to Mauna, spread across Hawaii Island – it’s bound to match G2G in terms of toughness!

Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (KAEM)

kaem

Format:  6 days . 250km. The format is similar to Marathon Des Sables (typical stage split is 40km – 40km – 40km – 40km – 80km – 10km).

Supported?: No. Aid stations have water every 10km.  In camp, water (hot and cold) is provided, as are tents, but otherwise you’re on your own – you have to carry everything you’ll need for the whole week on your back.

Number of Runners:  typically 40-100.

Locations: The Kalahari Desert

Link:  www.kaem.co.za

kaem2

Set in South Africa’s “Green Kalahari”, KAEM has found itself with quite a devoted following and strong reputation since starting in 2000.  With modest group sizes ranging from around 40-100 runners, this challenging run (temperatures can exceed 50degC) attracts a range of adventurous types.

Beyond The Ultimate SERIES

Format:  5 days . 230-250km.

Supported?: No. Aid stations have water every 10km.  In camp, water (hot and cold) is provided, as are tents, but otherwise you’re on your own – you have to carry everything you’ll need for the whole week on your back.

Number of Runners:  under 60.

Locations: Peru (Jungle), Namibia (Desert), Lapland (Ice), Nepal (Mountain – on hold since 2014).

Link:  www.beyondtheultimate.co.uk

The Beyond The Ultimate series are relatively new on the stage race scene, but have made a big impact by launching four epic races in various locations around the world.

Note: the Nepal race was cancelled following the 2014 earthquake and is yet to be re-scheduled.

The Jungle Marathon

junglemarathon

Format:  There are 3 options: 42.2km (single day), 132km (4 days) or 254km (6 days)

Supported?: No. Aid stations have water every 10km.  In camp, water (hot and cold) is provided, as are tents, but otherwise you’re on your own – you have to carry everything you’ll need for the whole week on your back.

Number of Runners:  capped at 75.

Location: The Amazon, Brazil

Link:  www.junglemarathon.uk 

The Jungle Marathon has the reputation of being the craziest and most notorious of all the adventure races on the circuit.  If you’re looking for something totally off-the-map, this is it.

The weeks starts by flying into northern Brazil, then taking a boat up the Amazon river.   From there, runners spend the entire six stages in and out of jungles and rivers.  Be prepared for 99% humidity.  Be prepared for shoes that are wet for the entire week.  And be prepared to sleep in a hammock every night, covered by a mosquito net – because there are too many creepy-crawlies around to sleep on the rainforest floor.

Several runners have told me this is the toughest endurance event they’ve done.  You’ve traipsing through dense rainforest for the entire week, so even if you are physically able to run, often the terrain doesn’t allow it.  Instead, it’s a mentally challenging slog through one of the most remote – and beautiful – areas of the world.    Expect to see snakes, hear jaguars during the night and interact with local villages.

One for the crazies.

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