TRM’s Associate Editor, Tegyn Angel casts his eye to the bloom of multi day trail running events that spring up in exotic locations, with only a thin veneer of ‘competition’ but a thick layering of adventure. IMAGES: courtesy of events
When my teenage self learned that people paid, and were paid, to go on guided hikes into incredible places like Everest Basecamp and Macchu Picchu, I couldn’t believe my ears. What a rort! How do I find some silly bugger to pay ME to go hiking in foreign countries? I didn’t act on it at the time, but a few years later (together with a lot of study and experience) I actually managed to find a few people to pay me to travel, hike and paddle. SWEET! (admittedly most of them were kids and I was being paid by a school 😉 )
A few years later I started to get into trail running and after a while it occurred to me that, hey, trail running isn’t all that different from hiking… it’s just quicker! Maybe there’s a few generous souls out there who’d be willing to pay me guide them out on the trails, too?
I got chatting with a few mates and we decided to focus our attention on the most epic trails; those that we’d be super keen to run ourselves and which, by their very nature, are remote and logistically complicated. Torres del Paine in Chilean Patagonia, the Larapinta Trail in Outback Australia, Bhutan, Ecuador, Java, a string of pubs across the UK?! We’d operate non-competitive, fully guided, fully supported (think champagne, shiraz, camembert and safari tents), luxury trail running “tours”. After all, why slum it after a hard day on the hoof?
In reality, the level of organisation and the complexity of the logistics involved in safely putting a small group of independent trail runners into a remote area get expensive very quickly; there’s a lot involved and there are no economies of scale when you’re working a day job and only occasionally moonlighting as a trailrunning guide. While there is most definitely a market out there for non-competitive trail tours, without completely dedicating my body, mind and soul to the project, it was unlikely to ever replace my more mainstream day job.
Race and sporting event travel providers have, of course, been around for years. Do you want to head over to run one of the worlds more famous Marathons (Boston, NYC, London, Berlin) or see the FIFA World Cup? There are companies out there that will take care of everything from your entry tickets to your flights and local transport; a sports-focused travel agent. But it wasn’t until I started looking at things from the perspective of a trailrunning tour operator that I started to notice the existence of loosely competitive, multi-day trail races.
Most people who are familiar with the world of ultramarathons have heard of the Marathon des Sables but, aside from this classic, most multi-day running events are fairly low profile. Slowly I began to hear of events like the Himalayan Run Trek 100 (HRT100 – see Trail Run Mag Ed.20 ), the Inca Trail Marathon Adventure Running Tour, the Grand to Grand Ultra and the Trans Peneda Geres Trail Adventure. These are events that, while unquestionably races in format, seem to de-emphasise competition and instead focus on experience and community.
So what’s the wrap? Are these just festivals of running held over multiple days, a bit like the party that surrounds UTMB and its family of unique races? Nope! These events all share a few things in common: generally they are point-to-point stage races; they attract smaller numbers than big single-stage events; they provide transport, accommodation and extra-run catering; the communal experience is central to the whole undertaking and, quite often there is an associated cultural or historical program. While the running element does, of course, form the core of the experience, each event is greater than the sum of its parts and far more than a simple point to point trail race.
These are the sort of events you might book as part of an adventurous holiday, a RunCation with mates, a more active alternative to the guided hikes that inspired events like these. Often they are held in unique destinations that themselves attract a lot of visitors. Do you want to run the Inca Trail rather than hiking it but are finding the logistics are a little too much to organize yourself? Maybe you saw the Aussie and Kiwi reps take to the trails of Portugal in the 2016 World Trail Champs (see our report in Ed.23) and you want experience things for yourself but don’t feel comfortable running alone in the mountains of a foreign country? Perhaps the idea of taking 6 or 9 days to hike the famous Kokoda Track seems a little leisurely and you reckon three days seems more like your kind of thing?
We snuffled around and dug up the specs on 12 of the best options out there *:
- Trans Peneda Geres Trail Adventure (pictured above and in header)
Set in the pristine Peneda Geres national park, an area only recently opened to tourism, and which hosted the 2016 IAU World Trailrunning Championships, this is a feast for the eyes and the palate alike. Not too far up the road from the famous Douro Valley wine region and the hot springs that skirt the border with Spain, Peneda Geres is at once brutal and inviting. The climbs are steep without being overwhelming, the trails are technical without being life-threatening and the people are welcoming in a way that smacks of authenticity not sycophantism. Portugal itself is a wilder, cheaper, less abused, less frilly version of Spain and, if it weren’t for my fears that I may never leave, I’d go back in a heart beat!
Dates: 8-14 April 2017
Distances: 125km/220km (Running) & 70km/115km Trekking over 4-7 days
- Hut to Hut*
Available as both a solo invitational 100km Ultramarathon and a multi-day run, I completed the inaugural Hut2Hut in February 2017 and was totally blown away. By far the hardest race per km I have done anywhere on earth, never mind Australia, this is a brutal course that starts and finishes in the Victorian Alpine Resort of Mount Buller. With a massive 5700m of elevation gain/loss over 100km and some of the most rugged “trails” we have to offer, the multi-day option here would be highly advisable, if not mandatory, even if you’ve knocked over a few 100km events. While I may be biased, I’m confident this will go on to become a coming-of-age event on the Aussie Ultra calendar.
Dates:16-18 February 2018
Distances: 100km over 1, 2 or 3 days
- Kokoda Ultra Marathon**
While 2017 will be the first year this particular event has been run, the Kokoda Track itself has hosted a number of competitive events over the years. While most have been single stage, point to point races that quite effectively channeled the brutality and suffering of the World War 2 campaign, the Kokoda Ultra Marathon plans to divide and conquer the Track over 3 days. While this in no way softens the difficulty of the terrain, it does serve to offer a (slightly) more manageable way to experience the beauty of the region while also allowing a stronger sense of community to develop both among the runners and between them and the local inhabitants. Look out for the feature article in TRM ed#25.
Dates: 26-28 July
Distances: 96km over 3 days
Country: Papua New Guinea
Ultrabug is a 100km 3-day, fully supported ultra marathon through the winding mountain footpaths, mineral water streams and remote culture rich villages in the Carpathian mountains, Romania.
Dates: 2-4 June 2017
Distances: 100km over 3 days
- Alps 2 Ocean
New Zealand’s First Ultra Staged Run. Starting at the base of New Zealand’s highest mountain, travelling on foot 301kms to the small harbour of Oamaru, located on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
Dates: 23 Feb – 3 March 2018
Distances: 301km over 7 stages with various configurations
Country: New Zealand
- Amalfi Coast Trail
A trail-running race in stages on the tracks of the Costiera Amalfitana in Italy. Running through marvellous environments, from the beach of Positano to the “Sentiero degli Dei” Path of the Gods, from the Island of Capri to the Vesuvio volcano, from the staircase of the Duomo of Amalfi and up to the top of Mount Molare (1444 m)
Dates: 22-29 October 2017
Distances: 94km over 6 stages
- RunIceland Adventure Trail
Imagine running volcanoes, glaciers, desert, lavafields, and black beaches across five different stages in exotic northern climes of Iceland!
Dates: 10-17 September 2017
Distances: 110k over 5 stages
- Manaslu Trail Race
A challenging 180km+ seven-stage trail race passing through some of Nepal’s most beautiful Himalayan landscapes in a part-circumnavigation of Manaslu, the world’s eighth highest mountain. Read Majell Backhausen’s take on the event here.
Dates: 11-23 November 2017
Distances: 170km +/-
- Trail de l’lle Rouge (Trail of the Red Island)
6-7 stages, 145km, Madagascar, hope your French is better than our as that’s all we can glean from the website…
Dates: 3-18 June 2017
Distances: 145km over 6-7 stages
- TransUral, Russia, 124km (Arctic Stage)
A unique running project in the most distant and hard-to-reach parts of Ural mountains, one of the oldest on earth. TransUral is the largest multi-day mountain ultramarathon in Russia. This year will be the final stage of this 4-year race series. Since 2014, over 500 participants from 12 countries have run the 4-day events on scenic trails along the Europe-Asia border, running over 430 kilometers in Southern (2014), Central (2015) and Northern (2016) parts of Ural mountains. During the race, for the first time in history, participants will run on Narodnaya (1895 m), the highest mountain in Ural.
Dates: 14-18 August 2017
Distances: 145km over 4 stages
Note: this is the fourth and final running of the TransUral, with each year covering a different section of the border between Europe and Asia.
- TransRockies Run
Take on the Colorado Rockies for a trail running experience like no other. During the six days of the TransRockies Run, runners from all over the world will cover 120 miles of spectacular scenery. Based upon the wildly successful TransAlpine-Run in Europe and the TransRockies mountain bike race, the TransRockies Run is run on a multi-day point-to-point format.
Dates: 15-20 August 2017
Distances: 120miles over 6 days (Team) or 3 days (Solo)
- Hakusan Geotrail
The Hakusan Geotrail takes place in Hakusan city, Ishikawa Prefecture in Japan and is a self-supported 6 stage race over 7 days and 250 kilometers / 155 miles with 15,000 meters of positive height gain (without parallel in the world) Terrain will include grasslands, farmlands, dirt tracks, riverbeds, rolling hills, mountain valleys, plains and plateaus.
Dates: 20-22 and 20-26 August 2017
Distances: 100km over 3 days or 250km over 7 days
Here’s a great resource for more research into multidays: http://marathons.ahotu.com/calendar/multiday
*Disclosure: TRM publisher / editor Chris Ord is the Race Director for this event, under the employ of not for profit charity, Oscars 100.
**Disclosure: Tegyn Angel is an ambassador for the Kokoda Ultra and Trail Run Mag is the official media partner.