There was a story this past weekend in the New York Times about the death of “Caballo Blanco“, a quirky ultramarathoner who lived off the beaten path and was one of the heroes of the 2009 book Born To Run. Caballo Blanco, who was born Michael Randall Hickman but went by the name Mica True (like I said, quirky), spent much of the last decade establishing an ultramarathon in the mountains of western Mexico, home of the prolific running tribe the Tarahumara. The book celebrates the race, and ultramarathoning in general.
So, to honor Caballo Blanco, let’s take a look at extreme sports around the globe, including the world’s most demanding foot races and some ridiculous high altitude cycling opportunities that will test you no matter how fit you are (important caveat – don’t you dare try this stuff unless you’re in supremely awesome shape and have trained for months and months).
Ultramarathons, by Marquis de Sade
We begin right here in the states, at absurd altitude. The Leadville Trail 100 in Colorado is where Caballo Blanco first caught the ultramarathoning bug, so it’s a good place to start. This is a 100 mile out-and-back race in the Rockies; elevations rise as high as 12,600 feet! Endurance athletes come from all over the world to take part in the so-called “Race Across the Sky.”
Staying in the mountains, the Swiss Alpine Ultra is part of a weeklong festival in the Alps around Davos, Switzerland. The Ultra is a 78K – that’s about 48.5 miles – through the Alps with fresh mountain air, sweeping green pastures and crowds of Swiss children cheering you on. It’s almost enough to make it seem easy.
Morocco’s Marathon De Sables is a six-stage race through the Sahara Desert, carrying a full pack of food. You do get one rest day. You also need to bring your own survival gear. You know hard it is to run on the beach? Imagine doing it for a full week. Gulp. If you’re still interested, sign up soon – it takes years to get off the waiting list.
South Africa’s Comrades Marathon is a 54-mile ultra that’s fairly standard as ultramarathons go, but it has great history. The race dates back to 1917, when it was first run to commemorate the lives of soldiers lost in the First World War.
Cycling Through The Clouds
Everest. Think you can handle it? An outfit out of the UK offers bike tours that wind through China, Nepal and Tibet along the Himalayas, biking up to altitudes as high as 16,000 feet. Along the way, you see spectacular sites such as the palaces of the Dalai Lama.
How cool would it be to cycle the Tour de France course through the Pyrenees? You can, assuming you’re in good enough shape to get through it.
Or consider the Chile-Bolivia High Altitude tour, a 15-day trip that takes you from the snow-capped Andes to the Amazon jungle. One night, you’ll sleep in the desert and the next day you’ll cycle by fields of llamas. The elevation on this tour is over 14,000 feet above sea level.
Whistler, British Columbia is known for its great skiing. And you can bike on some of those trails too. Whistler Mountain Bike Park isn’t quite as taxing as some of these other mountain rides because you are heading down. Lifts carry you to the top of the trails, and then you just let gravity do the work. Hold on tight.