Participation in challenge events has grown hugely in recent times, as people look for bigger and tougher challenges: ultra-running now attracts 611,000 people to organised events annually, an increase of 345 per cent in the past 10 years. Ironman triathlons and cycling challenges are also becoming more extreme – and increasingly set in remote and spectacular locations. With that in mind, here are some truly gruelling races to mark down in your diaries...

Nevis To Saint Kitts Cross Channel Swim

Nevis To St Kitts is a 4.1km swim
Nevis To St Kitts is a 4.1km swim

When: 27 March 2022
Where: Nevis, Caribbean
Cost: From $95

Swap your wetsuit for Speedos and step into turquoise Caribbean waters for a 4.1km swim from the island of Nevis to Saint Kitts. This year will be the event’s 20th anniversary with more than 250 entrants expected to cross the channel in anything from around one to three hours. Expect to bump into turtles along the way, and have a rum punch in hand at the finish-line beach party. nevistostkittscrosschannelswim.com


Highland Kings

Run 120 miles in the Scottish Highlands
Run 120 miles in the Scottish Highlands

When: 25 to 29 April 2022
Where: Scottish Highlands
Cost: £15,499

Ultramarathon purists may be somewhat scathing of a “luxury” event like this. However, this does offer something unique: from the moment of signing up, entrants (limited to just 40) receive support so they’re fully prepared at the start line, including one-to-one coaching with ultra-running world champion Jon Albon, top-notch running apparel and a Garmin MARQ watch (alone worth around £1,500). The linear course winds its way down the Highlands of Glencoe to the Isle of Arran, covering 120 miles with 10,000m of ascent, and the purpose-built athletes’ village – made up of single-occupancy luxury bell tents with double bed and butler service, and a daily menu prepared by a Michelin-starred chef – is re-erected each day in stunning remote locations. After crossing the finish line, prepare for a gala dinner in a castle with guest speaker Sir Ranulph Fiennes. highland-kings.com


Race To The Tower

Entrants in the Race to the Tower can run two marathons over a weekend – or tackle all 84km in one day
Entrants in the Race to the Tower can run two marathons over a weekend – or tackle all 84km in one day

When: 25 to 26 June 2022
Where: Cotswolds, UK
Cost: From £125

One of the UK’s most accessible ultras, this double marathon (84km) event follows the Cotswold Way from Whiteshill to Broadway Tower over a midsummer’s weekend. Booking options are flexible to suit all levels of runner, but choose the “weekender including camping” package, sign up with some friends, and it combines the best of a full-on challenge with a really fun Saturday night to take it all in. The organisers set up an all-singing-and-dancing “Basecamp” for your tent, hot meals and showers are provided, and there are bars and acoustic music for a well-earned chill. For those who fancy a tougher test, choose the non-stop option and do the whole distance in one go. thresholdtrailseries.com


Lewa Safari Marathon

1,500 competitors run alongside Africa’s wildlife in the Lewa Safari Marathon
1,500 competitors run alongside Africa’s wildlife in the Lewa Safari Marathon

When: 25 June 2022
Where: Kenya
Cost: £220 (plus £1,750 fundraising minimum for international runners)

Organised by the African wildlife conservation charity Tusk, this marathon gives its 1,500 or so competitors the unique opportunity to run alongside zebra, giraffe and plains antelope in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, a Unesco world heritage site five hours’ drive north of Nairobi. lewasafarimarathon.com


Otillö Swimrun Gothenburg

The Otillö Swimrun Gothenburg offers distances up to 32.5km of running with 5.1km of swimming over 19 islands
The Otillö Swimrun Gothenburg offers distances up to 32.5km of running with 5.1km of swimming over 19 islands © Mikael Josefsson

When: 6 August 2022
Where: Sweden
Cost: From SKR450 (about £44)

This beautiful race takes place on the Gothenburg southern archipelago, with competitors transitioning back and forth from land to sea. There are three distances, the smallest being 7.5km of running interspersed with five swim sections totalling 790m, right through to the World Series with 32.5km of running and 5.1km of swimming over 19 different islands. Enter solo or as a team of two. otilloswimrun.com


Haute Route Alps

The Haute Route offers amateur riders a pro-level cycling experience
The Haute Route offers amateur riders a pro-level cycling experience

When: 21 to 27 Aug 2022
Where: The Alps, France
Cost: From €1,899

Haute Route’s three-, five- and seven-day road cycling events are an opportunity to ride some of Europe’s legendary climbs in a pro-level experience. The Alps edition is the jewel in the crown – think the amateur equivalent of the Tour de France. Everything is taken care of for you: from professional mechanics to nightly briefings, which leaves you to focus on what is a considerable challenge: a seven-day ride from Nice to Megève, amassing 792km and 21,300m of elevation gain in the process. hauteroute.org


Chasing Cancellara Zurich – Zermatt

Chasing Cancellara Zurich: 280km with 6,500m climbing
Chasing Cancellara Zurich: 280km with 6,500m climbing

When: 26 August 2022
Where: Switzerland
Cost: From SFR290 (about £237)

One of the toughest single-day Ultra Fondo challenges out there, this time-trial-format road cycle covers 280km with 6,500m of climbing, including the infamous Grimselpass – a 26km climb accruing 2,164m of elevation. The event has broad appeal and the 700-strong field of riders is one of mixed ability and ages – the oldest rider last year was 72. Start in Zürich at 1.15am and arrive in the ski resort of Zermatt anything from 10 to 18 hours later. New this year is the “happy threesome” category for teams of three that could make things more fun. chasingcancellara.com


Ultra X Mexico

The Ultra X in Mexico is its most gruelling, with 12,000m of elevation gain
The Ultra X in Mexico is its most gruelling, with 12,000m of elevation gain

When: 5 to 12 Nov 2022
Where: Sierra Madre mountains, Mexico
Cost: From £995

Affordable, well run and set in stunning locations around the world, Ultra X offers short, two-day, 125km events, as well as 250km events over five days in far-flung corners of the world. The Mexico edition – set in the Copper Canyons of the Sierra Madre mountains – is unquestionably its most gruelling, largely down to the technical terrain underfoot and 12,000m of elevation gain, all at an altitude of more than 2,000m above sea level. The organisers carry overnight bags between camps (leaving you to carry just what you need for the day), and sports massage-trained osteopaths offer respite at the end of each stage. ultra-x.co


Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra

Europe’s longest non-stop winter ultra – by foot, bike or ski
Europe’s longest non-stop winter ultra – by foot, bike or ski © Swedish Lapland

When: February/March 2023 (TBC)
Where: Swedish Lapland
Cost: From €1,350

Entry for this event is 2023, but it’s one to have on your radar early to give you time to prepare – why not follow this year’s race (starts 6 March) to help make a decision. Organised by the same company that runs the Yukon Arctic Ultra – the coldest and toughest ultra in the world – this is Europe’s longest non-stop winter ultra, passing through the stunning wilderness of Swedish Lapland. Around 50 athletes from 15 countries – from beginner to pro – will complete either 185km over a four-day ultra, or 500km over 10 days via their chosen discipline: foot, fat bike or cross-country ski. lapland.arcticultra.de


Parkrun

Parkrun, every Saturday morning around the world
Parkrun, every Saturday morning around the world

When: Weekly, Saturday mornings
Where: Globally 
Cost: Free

Not many event organisers are proud about an average finish time that gets slower each year, but for Parkrun – a free, weekly, community-organised 5km walking and running event – it’s all about inclusion and accessibility, so whether you walk, jog or run you’ll be in good company. It’s hugely popular: every Saturday morning, over 200,000 people gather at 2,200 locations across 23 countries to take part. It is worth noting that all entrants are timed and results published, so if you’re competitive – and there are many park-runners who are – you can keep tabs on your progress week after week. parkrun.org.uk


Atlantic Campaigns Pacific Challenge

2023 sees the inaugural race for 20 crews across 2,800 miles of the Pacific Ocean
2023 sees the inaugural race for 20 crews across 2,800 miles of the Pacific Ocean © pennybirdandcamera

When: 12 June 2023
Where: California to Hawaii
Cost: €20,500 entry fee plus €1,000 per rower

Monterey Bay, California, to Nawiliwili Harbour, Hawaii – it doesn’t get much more evocative than that. This inaugural event (to be hosted annually) will see up to 20 crews rowing the 2,800-mile stretch of mid-Pacific ocean. Only 80 people have successfully rowed from Hawaii to the US mainland, on average taking 62 days (48 days for teams of four). It is run by the same highly experienced company as the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, which is now hosted annually with up to 30 crews taking part. There is already much interest from other ocean-rowing alumni for this new race, so it’s best to book now. @atlanticcampaigns; info@atlanticcampaigns.com

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