It’s easy to let your training take a knock this time of year, with the days getting shorter and colder.
But often all that’s needed is a little motivation, a target or a milestone for you to aim towards. Cue the World’s Ultimate Running Races.
If you’ve ever found yourself pounding the prosaic pavements of your hometown, longing for a new challenge then look no further. Like a breath of fresh (perhaps overseas) air, publishers Collins have put together a collection of 500 races spanning 101 countries. It’s up to you to choose your adventure, and believe us, it won’t be an easy decision to make.
So, we’ve done the hard work for you, and chosen our top six – on your marks, get set…
Aletsch Halbmarathon, Switzerland (mountain)
Location – Bettmeralp
Distance -21.1 km/13.1 miles
Ascent – 1,050m
Terrain – Mountain trails, rock and some road
Climate – 14 to 22ºC
Record (female) – Nathalie Etzensperger 01:49:59 (2005)
Record (male) – Billy Burns 1:33:15 (2001)
Competitors – 1,500
First run – 1986
Website – www.aletsch-halbmarathon.ch
One of the world’s most beautiful courses through alpine scenery and above the Aletsch Glacier.
The race starts at Bettmeralp, a village high above the Rhone valley, at 1,950m. The village is accessible only by cable car and most competitors stay the night before the race, which has a mid-morning start. A staggered start system relieves congestion
along the course.
The route follows the road through the village then heads up through alpine meadows and past lakes across to Riederalp. From there, narrow footpaths lead through forests to the hillside ridge above the Aletsch Glacier. As the course climbs above the tree line, runners are treated to amazing views over the glacier and towards the Jungfrau and the surrounding mountains. This is one of the most dramatic views in the Alps. There is a ﬁnal, steep, rough climb over loose rocks to the ﬁ nish at Bettmerhorn, at 2,643m.
After the ﬁnish, runners can take the Bettmerhorn cable car back down to the village where the prize giving takes place later in the day.
The race attracts all standards and many international mountain runners have won here, including British great Billy Burns who is the current course record holder.
Brussels 20Km, Belgium (road)
Location – Brussels
Distance – 20 km/12.4 miles
Terrain – Tarmac
Climate – 10 to 18ºC
Record (female) Marleen Renders 01:07:46 (2002)
Record (male) – Najim El Qady 00:59:41 (2011)
Competitors – 30,000
Website – http://20km.chronorace.be
The Belgian capital hosts this popular and picturesque 20km run.
The Brussels 20km starts in Cinquantenaire Park and passes through many of the city’s attractive parks and streets. With a ﬁeld of around 30,000, organisers introduced a wave-start system in 2010 to ensure that the race ran smoothly. This helps avoid scenes like those in 1980, the race’s inaugural year, when the sheer numbers of competitors and supporters caused such massive disruption that even the main city train station and the
airport were inaccessible.
Belgian champion Marleen Renders has won the race an unprecedented nine times, from 1996 to 2004. Her 2002 time of 1:07:46 remains a women’s course record.
Historically this has not been a fast course, with ﬁnishing times inﬂuenced by the size of the ﬁeld and the gently rising slopes on the route.
Cinque Mulini, Italy (cross country)
Location – San Vittore Olona, Milan
Distance – Female: 5.5 km/3.4 miles Male: 9.8 km/6.1 miles
Terrain – Grass and mill courtyards
Climate – 10 to 15 °C
Winning time (female) – Alemitu Behele Degfa 00:20:28 (2011)
Winning time (male) – Ayad Lamdassem 00:28:58 (2011)
First run – 1933
Website – www.cinquemulini.org
One of the world’s most prestigious and unusual cross-country races.
Cinque Mulini, meaning ‘ﬁve mills’, was devised as a local event in 1933 and has been run every year since then. The original course ran around, and later through, ﬁve watermills in San Vittore Olona, northwest of Milan.
The course presents its own unique challenges. Runners tackle ﬁve 2000m laps through the roads, ﬁelds, ditches and embankments of the rural town, and the narrowness and sharp turns of the course leave few places where athletes can pass one another. Only two of the original ﬁve mills remain and both are still an integral part of the race.
In the early 1950s the race began to attract international competitors – one of the ﬁrst races to do so – and had its ﬁrst overseas winner with Ahmed Labidi of Tunisia in 1954. A junior race was added in 1960 and British runner David Bedford became the only man to date to win both the junior and senior races, achieving the feat in 1969 and 1972 respectively. Women’s and students’ competitions followed in the 1970s.
The Cinque Mulini race is one of the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) cross-country permit meetings. As such, it regularly hosts world and Olympic champions among its competitors.
The entry list of past competitors reads like a who’s-who of international athletics, with ﬁgures such as John Walker, Steve Ovett, Brendan Foster, Sebastian Coe, Kip Keino and Haile Gabrselassie. Ugandan John Akii-Bua, the 1972 Olympic 400m hurdles champion, also ran here and ﬁnished last.
As well as its importance in the international cross-country calendar, the race has a strong support in the local community and nationally in Italy, where it is shown live on TV. In 2011 Cinque Mulini hosted the European Champion Clubs Cup Cross Country for the ﬁrst time.
The Coastal Challenge, Costa Rica (stage)
Location – Costa Rica’s Paciﬁc coastline
Distance – 225–250 km/139.8–155.3 miles
Terrain – Jungle, rainforest and mountain trails
Climate – 13 to 26ºC
Winning time (female) – Ligia Madrigal 34:59:09 (2009)
Winning time (male) – Javier Montero 27:22:39 (2009)
Competitors – 125
First run – 2005
Website – www.thecoastalchallenge.com
A ﬁve-day stage race along Costa Rica’s Paciﬁc coast, through tropical forest and mountains.
The Coastal Challenge follows Costa Rica’s tropical coastline while weaving in and out of the Talamancas mountain range in the country’s southwest. Terrain ranges from jungle, forest and mountain trails and single tracks over ridgelines, to beaches, reefs and river and estuary crossings. The race ﬁnishes in Corcovado National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site near the border with Panama.
Runners compete as individuals within teams of four or more. The race has two categories – the Adventure category, a shorter course; and the Expedition category, a harder route that is 30–40 per cent longer and with challenging time cut-offs.
Race competitors carry some mandatory gear and they must camp between stages. Their camping gear and other equipment are transported to the end point of each day.
In 2011, the race used a new route, the Rain Forest Expedition Run. In 2012 it will revert to the traditional Route of Fire course, which takes competitors through the arid and remote uplands and volcanic regions that make up Costa Rica’s driest area in the northwest of the country. In the future there is talk of alternating between these two courses.
GöteborgsVarvet, Sweden (road)
Location – Gothenburg
Distance – 21.1 km/13.1 miles
Terrain – Tarmac
Climate – 4 to 11ºC
Record (female) – Joyce Chepkirui 01:09:04 (2011)
Record (male) – Albert Kiplagat 01:00:52 (2011)
Competitors – 71,000
First run – 1980
Website – www.goteborgsvarvet.com
With over 70,000 competitors, GöteborgsVarvet claims to be the world’s largest half marathon.
The name of this race is a play on words: in Swedish, ‘varv’ can mean either shipyard or lap, and Gothenburg has a long history as a city of shipyards. The race starts outside and ﬁnishes inside the old wooden Slottsskogsvallen stadium, itself situated in one of Gothenburg’s most beautiful parks.
The course is varied and picturesque, circling the city and with plenty of supporters along the route. Runners cross the Älvsborg suspension bridge and run along the north bank of the Göta älv River, recrossing over the Göta älv Bridge, all giving superb views of the city and its waterfront. The race passes through Gothenburg’s picturesque inner city before heading back to the stadium.
Despite the large numbers taking part, the race is well organised, with staggered starts preventing overcrowding. There is also a walking event over the same course, and a variety of races for children and young people.
Both the greats in Norwegian women’s distance running, Grete Waitz and Ingrid Kristiansen, have won here, as have other notable champion athletes such as Britain’s Richard Nerurkar and Abdelkader El Mouaziz from Morocco.
Grizzly, United Kingdom (multi-terrain)
Location – Seaton Sands, Devon
Distance – 32.2 km/ 20 miles
Terrain – Farmland, beach, hilly, dunes and mud
Climate – 3 to 9ºC
Winning time (male) – Adam Stirk 02:38:23 (2011)
Winning time (female) – Jo Meek 02:34:25 (2011)
Competitors – 1,800
First run – 1988
Website – www.axevalleyrunners.org.uk/races/grizzly.htm
An iconic and hugely popular running event in the Southwest of England.
Ofﬁcially described as ‘twentyish muddy, hilly, boggy, beachy miles of the multiest-terrain running experience’, the Grizzly is one of the most popular running events in Britain.
In fact, it ranks an impressive third in a list of the country’s most popular long- distance runs (behind the London Marathon and the Great North Run). This is evidenced by the speed with which race entries fill up and the thousands of competitors – many of them regulars – who come each year. The race doesn’t attract the elite and all the runners beneﬁt by having a good time in the Devon countryside.
The event is slightly eccentric and typically British. It was ﬁrst run in 1988 – the only year so far not to have a named theme. Since then, themes for each year have included Revenge of the Lemmings, Insanity and In Health and Apocalypse, Yes! The Grizzly continues to evolve each year, and a weekend-long Grizfest was introduced in 2011, with junior races and family entertainments. 2012 is the twenty- ﬁfth anniversary year.
Axe Valley Runners organise the event which is renowned for its superb organisation and marshalling and friendly atmosphere. However, its toughness is also legendary.
The race starts and ﬁnishes in Seaton on the South Devon coast. There are changes each year to the route which always covers a wide range of terrain. Runners are promised shingle beach, stony tracks, roads, paths with stiles, ditches and cattle grids, ploughed ﬁelds, hills, woodlands and a bog: competitors have run through thigh-deep, smelly mud and water up to their waists and scrambled up hills using hands and knees. At the end of the course, the local ﬁre brigade waits on Seaton beach to hose down every muddy runner.
Jessica Whittington, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine
Credit: World’s Ultimate Running Races published by HarperCollins
Paperback, RRP £20; www.harpercollins.co.uk
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