ICE MARATHON Clean Water Preservation Run


Lizzie Rosewell picks out seven of the toughest trail events on the planet


One of the joys of trail running is discovering new places and different landscapes, so challenging yourself to race in some of the world’s most extreme environments can provide the perfect opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

From the lows of California’s Death Valley to the heights of Everest Base Camp, seeking out a new environment adds an extra challenge to your running experience, requiring you to deal with elements beyond just covering the distance itself. Extremes of climate, gradient or terrain all provide different conditions to explore the limits of your own physical and mental abilities. 

These seven races – based all around the world – will take you far beyond your comfort zone and create memories that live with you forever.

Salomon Glen Coe Skyline, Scotland

The Glen Coe Skyline provides proof that the UK has its own extreme environments. One for experienced mountain runners only, the 52km race – held in some of Scotland’s most technical mountainous terrain – warns entrants that a slip or trip on some sections of the route could result in death. Crossing soaring ridges and exposed traverses with precipitous drops, the route mixes mountain running with long sections of scrambling terrain, equivalent to moderate rock climbing. Rough and rocky underfoot, the race can be subject to severe and rapidly changing weather conditions. It forms part of the Salomon Skyline Scotland weekend, with challenging mountain races of various distances taking place.

Kielder Dark Skies Marathon, England

Who doesn’t like staring up into a dark sky full of stars? The Kielder Dark Skies Marathon takes place at night under the largest area of protected night sky in Europe, where the pitch-black conditions of the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park in Kielder Forest provide the perfect opportunity for mid-race stargazing. Held on an undulating course that winds through dense forest and around Kielder Water, the trails are illuminated only by the many headlights of runners moving through the trees. On a clear night it’s possible to run some sections of the race without a torch as the moon reflects off the still black waters of the reservoir, and you
may even spot a shooting star.
A 14-mile option is also available.

Etna Trail Race, Sicily

The Etna Trail Race on the Italian island of Sicily provides the opportunity to race on the highest active volcano in Europe, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The race provides constant changes of scenery and climate, from lush vineyards to dense ancient forests and then to the lunar landscapes of rock, volcanic sand and black lava of the volcano itself. Runners cross uneven lava fields that were once flowing molten rock and have to contend with long descents on fine, loose, volcanic soil that throws up clouds of dust in their wake. There are distances from 12km to 94km available, all with fantastic views over the idyllic Ionian coastline.

Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon, Nepal

Just getting to the start line of the Everest Marathon involves the challenge of trekking to Everest Base Camp. The world’s highest marathon starts at an altitude of 5,356m at the Khumbu Icefall, before descending the high Sherpa trails of the Khumbu Valley. Runners pass historic monasteries, cross airy suspension bridges and are fully immersed in beautiful Himalayan landscapes for the duration of the race, before finishing at the Sherpa capital
of Namche Bazaar. The event is held on 29 May every year, on the anniversary of Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary’s historic first ascent of Everest in 1953. A 60km ultra marathon and a half marathon are also available.

Death Valley Trail Half Marathon, USA

This half marathon takes place in one of the lowest and hottest places on Earth – Death Valley in California’s Mojave Desert. The route follows a gravel jeep track through Titus Canyon and Death Valley, traversing an other-worldly desert landscape. The canyon is spectacular, with sharp overhanging walls and multi-coloured bands of rock, which contrast with the vast expanses of desert. The environment and climate here is unpredictable and the race can be affected by flooding and rock slides in the canyon. Competitors need to watch out for desert mirages too, which often make the finish seem closer than it really is. There’s also a full marathon, which follows the complete length of the Titus Canyon jeep track.

Baikal Ice Marathon, Siberia

At the Baikal Ice Marathon, runners race from one bank to the other across the frozen waters of the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lake. The surface is hard and uneven and although the ice is mostly covered by soft snow, areas of exposed, polished ice create conditions similar to an ice rink. In the depths of Siberia, participants must cope with freezing temperatures and strong, chilling winds. The featureless white landscape offers little sense of perspective and is only broken by flags marking the route, making this marathon as much of a psychological challenge as a physical one.

Santana Vertical Kilometer, Madeira

If you want a testing 5km race, then try the Santana Vertical Kilometer that takes place during the Madeira Sky Running Weekend. Starting from Vale de Lapa (780m) in the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage Site laurel forest and forming part of the Vertical Kilometer World Circuit, this race packs a lung-busting 1003m of ascent into its 4.8km course. The early parts will have you working at maximum effort on severe gradients, then just when you think it can’t get any tougher, the final part of the climb consists of a steep and technical via ferrata section to reach the summit of Encumeada Alta at 1787m. The reward for that exertion is the stunning panoramic view across the highest peaks of this Atlantic island.