The London, New York and Berlin marathons are incomparable for scale, speed and exhilaration. But how about the Brazil Jungle Marathon? It’s 138 miles of humidity and swamps in the Amazon rainforest – competitors get compulsory survival training. Or there is the Cape Wrath Challenge – five runs of varying lengths and types amid the stunning scenery of Scotland’s remote north-west. They feature in the World’s Ultimate Running Races, a new book put together by respected Scottish athletes Angela Mudge and Jethro Lennox.
The 500 listed events cover just about every terrain, environment, temperature and distance that someone has had the inspiration, courage or sheer audacity to imagine it would be possible to run. Among them are runs up famous mountains from Ben Nevis and Snowdon to Kilimanjaro and Fuji. Alternatively, there is Egypt’s Sahara Race, 155 miles of sand, river beds and dirt roads. Or you can try the North Pole Marathon, “the world’s coolest marathon” – ten laps round the top of the planet (wearing snow shoes), with buckling ice and frequent fissures, and sometimes featuring near-blizzard conditions.
It’s enough to make you yearn for the sweet simplicity of the Edinburgh to North Berwick 20-miler, a point-to-point race dating back to 1958, which just demands shoes, shorts and a reasonable level of fitness.
Lennox, who works in Glasgow for publishers Collins, devised the book project and commissioned Mudge to do the research. She was the ideal choice thanks to her exceptional experience as a world champion runner and excellent international contacts. A quick count shows that the 41-year-old is current women’s record holder for eight of the races in the book – including the Cross du Mont-Blanc in France, the Trophée de Combins in Switzerland and the Isle of Jura fell race.
In 2007, Mudge set the record (since broken) for the 26.2 mile Everest marathon, largely downhill over rocks and glacier moraine, starting over 5,000 metres above sea level at Gorak Shep. Speaking to The Caledonian Mercury, she said: “I’d always wanted to see Nepal and the scenery was just fabulous. What I discovered about the race though, was that the challenge was as much about reaching the starting line in good shape as the run itself. There was a 15-day trek just to get there, it was sometimes intensely cold and it was at incredibly high altitude.”
Mudge regards racing as an adventure activity, providing an exhilarating opportunity to see some of the most remarkable places in the world, from great cities to vast expanses of wilderness. “We are going through a second running boom at the moment. Back in the eighties there was the huge growth in road races, but nowadays people are using races to explore new places, it’s very much an excuse to travel. And that’s what I hope the book will inspire them to do.”
Born on Dartmoor, living in Gartmore and with a sports massage business in Stirling, she is a keen advocate of Scottish and UK running. Indeed, it was going out in the Ochils while studying at Stirling University that persuaded her of the joys of getting off the roads and onto the trackless hills and mountains. And even though Britain lacks deserts or jungles, it offers a wide variety of terrains. It also benefits from a fantastic network of clubs which take huge pride in setting up their own events, frequently ones that are highly inclusive with races to suit all ages and ambitions.
“It’s a great sport, there’s such camaraderie,” Mudge says. “Like the Carnethy 5, which loops round the Pentlands – it’s one of the first events of the season so it’s a big social occasion with everyone meeting up again. Or there’s the Isle of Jura fell race, which is my favourite, because there’s nothing like the Paps anywhere else. It’s challenging, it’s beautiful, and the whole of the local community comes out to support the race, so the atmosphere is fantastic.”
While Mudge has taken part in at least two-dozen of the races in the book, many are recommended by other top runners. “Doing the research really opened my eyes to what’s out there, and there are several I really want to try for myself now I’ve found out about them.”
Lennox, 34, is recently back from achieving second place in the 200-mile, eight-day Transalpine-Run, which boasts a total ascent of 15,000 metres. He sees the book as testimony to the astonishing human appetite to create challenges, whether it’s a park run in Strathclyde or the popular, if bizarre, stair runs. One of these, in the German town of Radebeul, involves competitors hurling themselves up and down a staircase of 397 steps until they have done the equivalent of climbing and descending Everest.
“On one level the book is just a fascinating read,” Lennox says. “But for enthusiasts it’s a way to get involved with some of the amazing variety of races that are emerging round the world. And one of the good things is that Scotland and the rest of Britain are so well represented, because there is so much choice here and so many runners looking for interesting challenges.”
● World’s Ultimate Running Races is published tomorrow by Collins, price £20. ISBN 978 0 00 743190 8.