These are the most challenging events I’ve ever done, listed in order of difficulty. The difficulty is completely subjective, but it gives you an idea of what I think are harder: e.g., double centuries vs. marathons!
Remarkably, in 2012 Adventure Journal listed the Tour Divide and the Furnace Creek 508 as the two most difficult races (of any sport) in the world.
Toughest Multi-Day Events
|2015 Trans Am Bike Race||Road cycling||4,233 (non-stop race, not a tour)||A self-supported, one stage cycling race from the Oregon to Virginia coasts. I finished 8th place in under 24 days despite getting Shermer’s Neck after 2,900 miles.|
|2008 Tour Divide||Mountain Biking||2,700 (non-stop race, not a tour)||200,000 feet of climbing from Banff (Alberta, Canada) to Mexico. Snow, thunderstorms, monsoons, bears, mosquitoes, mud, mechanical problems, starvation… and each racer must do it self-supported. I finished 6th in the ’08 race and at the time was the 11th person in the world to have successfully done this.|
|2011 Furnace Creek 508||Vintage bicycling||510||With 10 epic mountain stages, like doing multiple Death Rides in a row on virtually no sleep. I did it on 1983 technology, establishing a Classic Randonneur age group course record.|
|2011 Boston-Montreal-Boston||Bicycling||753||A very hilly RUSA Permanent in New England, including some climbs of >15% grade, entirely self-supported over 3.4 days.|
|2003 Paris-Brest-Paris||Bicycling||762||The oldest, most prestigious amateur cycling event in the world. There are almost no stretches longer than a mile that are flat.|
|2003 Davis Brevet Series||Bicycling||124+187+249+373 = 933||The largest brevet series in the U.S. to qualify for PBP, it stresses self-sufficiency while testing the limits of one’s physical endurance and mental determination.|
|2011 Colorado Brevet Series||Bicycling||132+198+255+373 = 958||A brevet series in the Rocky Mountain State on the Super Bike.|
|1999 California Triple Crown Stage Race||Bicycling||210+200+200 = 610||Take 2 of the top 10 toughest events I have ever done, the Terrible Two and Devil Mtn. Double. Throw in the difficult Central Coast Double. Now do all 3 of them and add up your times. Until a few years ago, I was the youngest person ever to complete this.|
|Back-to-back marathons||Running||52.4||I did this twice: Davy Crockett Bear Chase (overall win) + Big-D Texas Marathon in 2010; Bismarck + Montana marathons in 2012|
|Fort Collins-Colorado Springs Cruiser Ride||Bicycling (cruiser)||300||Biking down to Colorado Springs and back on an $88, 41-pound, 1-speed, pimped-out Huffy cruiser bike. That’s 300 miles in 40 hours on a course with hills. Possibly some sort of world record for a Huffy cruiser.|
Toughest Single-Day Events
|2008 Sulphur Springs 100||Trail Running||100||Finished with just 17 minutes to spare, in Canada. One-hundred miles is just an absurd distance to run.|
|2010 Boulder 100||Running||100||It took me 2 attempts (2007 & 2010) to complete this run. It’s one of the flattest century runs in the U.S., but the distance is still hard!|
|2006 Rocky Mountain Double Marathon||Running||52.4||Hills, thunderstorms, loneliness… and 52.4 miles on foot. The only time I resorted to Advil.|
|2003 Ironman Coeur d’Alene||Triathlon||2.4 swim + 112 bike + 26.2 run = 140.6||As if doing a full marathon is not hard enough already, try running one after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112! This was my first Ironman, and hence my toughest.|
|2006 Ironman Arizona||Triathlon||2.4 swim + 112 bike + 26.2 run = 140.6||It was a war.|
|2003 Davis 600km Brevet||Bicycling||373||Rain, cold, more darkness than daylight, sleep deprivation, and signficant climbs… a total adventure!|
|The Terrible Two (1999 and 2000)||Bicycling||200|| 1999: Several 15-18% grades and double-summit climbs. 16,000 feet of climbing. >90 degrees of heat. This course is hard enough by itself–and I had to do it with bronchitis!
2000: Same course as ’99–and still had to dig deep to beat the official 16:30 time limit.
|Devil Mountain Double (1999 and 2001)||Bicycling||210|| 1999:18,000 feet of climbing, with Mt. Diablo, Mt. Hamilton, Sierra Rd., more…
2001: “Devil-less” this year (no Mt. Diablo)–but the Oakland Hills with their gazillion false summits made it seem even harder than the traditional course!
|2007 Quicksilver 50 Mile||Trail Running||50||In truth, the course was harder than the Rocky Mountain Double Marathon. But it was so well-supported it felt easier.|
|2006 Pikes Peak Marathon||Trail Running||26.2||Altitude (at the top: above 14,000′), >7,000′ elevation gain, technical trails, etc. made for a really tough time.|
|2002 Heartbreak Double||Bicycling||202||40+ mph winds the whole day. Rolling hills or long climbs the entire way. Bitter cold. Epic.|
|2001 Mt. Whitney Day Hike|| Hiking/
|21||Up and down in just one day. The altitude (14,496′) really messed with my head.|
|2003 Climb to Kaiser||Bicycling||156||13,500′ of very concentrated climbing, mainly in the first half. And the second half was plagued by 105 degree heat and strong headwinds!|
|2002 World’s Toughest Century, Superstar Course||Bicycling||140||The Superstar Course has 15,500′ of elevation gain. Several 16-20% grades, including the infamous Corkscrew Wall.|
|2004 Stacey’s Run From Lam||Running||40||A charity run for a friend, it gets special mention for being the first time I ran more than 50k (self-supported too).|
|2007 Bataan Death March||Running||26.2||I learned in this event that running 26.2 miles with 41 pounds on his back through sand is indeed quite hard!|
|2005 Knoxville Marathon||Running||26.2||In this marathon, one is going up or down virtually the entire way. “The third most difficult marathon I’ve ever done,” according to 71-year-old Malcolm Gillis who ran 99 of them, including Boston 8 times.|
|2002 Markleeville Death Ride||Bicycling||129||5 passes over 16,000′ feet of climbing. None of the passes are extremely steep but most are very long.|
|2005 Torture 10,000||Bicycling||104||13,100′ of climbing in just 104 miles? That’s hilly!|
|2003 Mt. Evans Ascent (CO)||High-altitude running||14.5||Longer than a half-marathon, with 90% of it being uphill on North America’s highest paved road (14,260′). Add in an amazing blizzard at the top, and you have… an epic!|
|2002 Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, Round Trip||Backpacking||71||71 miles in 2 days (including “extra-credit” miles). Terrain is just rolling, but hiking 35 miles for 12 hours/day is not exactly easy!|
|2004 Vineman||Triathlon||2.4 swim + 112 bike + 26.2 run = 140.6||I paced myself well in this one so it didn’t feel so bad, but iron-distance tri’s are never easy.|
|All other double centuries and brevets||Bicycling||200||I suppose 200 miles is a long distance to bike in one day, regardless of the course…|
|All other marathons||Running||26.2||Actually, I still have problems with some marathons, mainly due to lack of training!|
If you enjoyed this article, please consider receiving my weekly newsletter. I typically write about endurance cycling, travel, self improvement, Colorado living, marathon running and epic adventures.