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8 of the world’s toughest endurance races to watch in 2023

Montane sponsor some of the most iconic ultra-endurance events all over the world.  Some are among the toughest, some are the most beautiful, and any can ignite the spark of inspiration in even the most jaded runner. Keep reading to discover the ultra runs we cannot wait for this coming season…

New year, new you, new goals.  Sound familiar? For many the start of 2023 will be viewed as a reset. A chance to start with revised confidence and hope that training plans can be executed to the full. An opportunity for PB’s to be achieved, and the joy of crushing trails with like minded folk. For Ultra Runners competing in one of our Montane sponsored events, it’s a chance to push their physical limits on one of the world’s toughest races.

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Each race included in this list has rightly earned its reputation as ‘one of the world’s toughest’ ultra runs for a number of reasons. Each race also has a particular lure. To some, distance is the draw; pitting themselves against the unyielding elements, omnipresent sleep deprivation and pain to see what they are made of.  To others, the appeal is to move through beautiful yet challenging landscapes, experiencing the outdoors as authentically as possible through the strength of their legs and willpower alone. 

 

1. Montane Winter Spine Race: 14 -22 January 

Widely regarded as one of the toughest ultra marathons in the world and certainly the most brutal race in Britain.  268 miles along the Pennine way in the dead of winter carrying everything you need to run, eat, sleep, and survive.  Not for the faint hearted.  2022 saw the 10th anniversary of the spine, with two ‘Challenger’ events covering the southern and northern halves of the original full race, and even a ‘Sprint’ event of (only) 46 miles – ideal if you are starting your journey towards the full Spine!

Low daylight hours are a given, and the potential for snow is always high at this time of year, making the conditions extremely challenging on this exposed and undulating route heading ever-North. Discover more about what you can expect, as well as tales of endurance from previous racers, in our dedicated story behind.

Montane Winter Spine Race

2. Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra: 04 -17 February

300 miles along the Yukon Quest Trail in the middle of winter. The MYAU is arctic adventure distilled to its simplest form, as competitors pull all their provisions to survive behind them in pulks, braving temperatures down to -50 degrees, and sleeping under the stars.  Shorter distances (100 mile and marathon) are available for those wanting a taste of this beautiful yet dangerous environment, though to guarantee your place you need to undergo arctic survival training and pass the organisers scrutiny to make sure you have the chops for such a race.

Interestingly, ‘the world’s coldest ultra’ was initially inspired by a 1000-mile dog sled race that takes in this remote corner of Canada. Learn more about this, as well as the routes highlights in our race origins story.

Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra

3. Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra:  6 - 16 March

A race through Swedish Lapland in the dead of arctic winter.  Temperatures are not as severe as the MYAU, typically bottoming out at around -20, which makes this potentially a good place to start if you are inspired by the Yukon.  Do not let it fool you though - distances vary from 500, 315 and 185km through wild landscapes barely (if at all) populated by human beings.  It is still a very big undertaking, requiring specialist survival skills as well as previous ultra-endurance experience.

The brainchild of the Yukon race founder himself, hear from the organiser to find out how he put together this chilling journey through one of Europe’s last great wildnernesses.

Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra

4. The Grand Traverse: 01- 02 April & 02-03 September

One for experienced skiers looking to put their ski skills to the ultimate test! This 40-mile ski race in the Rocky Mountains provides high-altitude thrills and the chance to experience some of the finest backcountry skiing imaginable. Racers must compete in pairs and will ascend 6,800 of vertical feet, skiing from Crested Butte to Aspen. Setting off at midnight (to avoid avalanches) only adds to the drama of the race, which comes with plenty of unique and cherished race traditions (including a priest blessing to send racers on their way). 

Even better? The race returns in the warmer summer months, offering hooked participants the chance to compete in a further 2 races (run and bike) on dry, dusty trails minus all that snow, as well as the chance to be crowned with the coveted Triple Crown title. With the Rocky mountain peaks standing at approximately 14,000 ft - racers taking part will not only have to factor in challenging terrain but the effects of racing at high elevation! Discover more about this iconic American race, including its origins.

The Montane Grand Traverse

5. Montane Summer Spine Race: 17- 24 June 

Don’t let the fact this takes place in summer fool you into thinking it’s any easier than its more famous big winter brother (featured earlier on)! As we all know the Great British Weather is famously changeable and you really can get all elements thrown at you during the early summer months. This makes knowing what to pack all the trickier as torrential downpours are just as likely as the chance of scorching heatwaves…

The summer edition follows the same format as the winter, with 4 ways to take on the Spine, each over varying lengths. Hear from former race finisher Ed Harris on our podcast to discover more about the challenge that awaits those eager to take this on…

Montane Winter Spine Race

 6. Montane Lakeland 50 & 100:  28 - 30 July

The ‘Ultra Tour of the Lake District’.  The 100 is one of the UK’s true ultra-racing icons, with its 100(ish) mile course takes in the whole of the Lakeland fells, looping through some of the most eye-wateringly dramatic scenery the Lakes have to offer.  The 50 starts half-way along the loop, with both finishing at Coniston.  It is still not for the faint hearted, with typically around 50% of competitors not crossing the finish line.

En route, racers are cared for by various checkpoints, including the now legendary Montane Checkpoint at Kentmere. Tune in to this special live podcast recorded at the 2022 event for a flavour of the weekend, or read our official race review to find out more.

Montane Lakeland 50 & 100

7. Montane Dragon’s Back Race:  5 - 10 September 

Considered to be one of the toughest ultras in the world.  A  6-stage ultra from the north to south coasts of Wales, dissecting iconic mountain ranges such as Eryri (Snowdonia) and the Brecon Beacons, competitors will cover an average of 68km a day whilst having to navigate mountain passes, scramble up scree and run along exposed ridgelines.  Hair-raising stuff.

The reward? The title of dragon slayer and bragging rights that you’ve managed to conquer the entire spine of Wales! Hear from the original dragon slayer Helen Whitaker, who we chatted to on our podcast last year, as well as former winner of the race and #TeamMontane athlete Simon Roberts who shares what it takes to tame the Dragon.

The Montane Dragon's Back Race

8. Montane Cheviot Goat: 02 December 

A 55 mile loop around the Northumbrian Cheviots – one of the last truly wild spaces in the UK. Near bottomless bogs, 12,000ft of ascent, harsh conditions, and barely a soul in the whole region makes it a real love-letter to everything that is great about ultramarathons.  55 miles of near bottomless bogs, heathered hills, empty trails and more stars than you’ll see anywhere else in the UK.  All with the added bonus of 12,000ft of ascent. 

Harsh and unpredictable weather can see storm-force winds, snow, sleet, and of course rain, which when compounded by one of the lowest population densities in the country make it a race for competent runners who know how to look after themselves. Discover more about the unique challenges of this 1-day whirlwind tour of the Cheviots in our dedicated story behind.

The Montane Cheviot Goat

 

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