The expert selection: Ultra-marathons

Those who finish major physical challenges – such as this weekend’s London Marathon – are often left asking “what’s next?”. Here Mark Rowlands, a running enthusiast, professor of philosophy at the University of Miami, and author of a new book about the link between running and thinking, suggests four new goals.

Badwater Ultramarathon, US. Beyond the world’s marathons lie another league of running challenges – the “ultra-marathons”. The shortest, at 50km, are just 8km further than a conventional marathon, but “ultras” are often 100km, 160km or even more. California’s Badwater Ultramarathon covers 217km, starting in Death Valley, California, 86m below sea level and climbing to 2,530m on the flanks of Mt Whitney. But the climb and the distance aren’t the only problem – temperatures can top 50C. Competitors are advised to run on the white line at the side of the road, rather than the tarmac, to avoid melting shoes. July 15-17;

Desert Ultra, Namibia. In recent years the Namib desert, the oldest in the world, has sprouted ultra-marathons like wildflowers after rain. The longest is a 250km race split over five days, in which participants carry everything they need: food, maps, clothes and sleeping bags. November 15-23;

Antarctic Ultra, Antarctica. Not all ultras involve deserts. This event is held in late November, the start of the Antarctic summer when there is 24-hour daylight, but wind chill can still cause temperatures as low as -20C. Participants are flown from Punta Arenas, southern Chile, to the Union Glacier, at the foot of the Ellsworth Mountains. There is a standard marathon and a 100km ultra, on a marked course across the ice (though don’t expect support from many spectators). Some compete as part of a “grand slam” – running an ultra on all seven continents. November 22;

Spartathlon, Greece. The marathon was introduced at the Olympics of 1896 to commemorate the legendary soldier who ran from Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 40km, carrying news of the Greek victory over the Persian army. But Herodotus recounts a different story, of a Greek called Pheidippides, who ran from Athens to Sparta to request help ahead of the battle – a distance of 250km. It is this feat that the annual Spartathlon recreates, with runners striving to finish within a time limit of 36 hours. September 27-28;

‘Running with the Pack’ by Mark Rowlands is published by Granta (£12.99)

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