The Fear List


This isn't really bucket list of races so much as a list of races that a) I want to do (or at least think I want to do when I'm having a really good run, then wonder about it during a hard race) for several reasons I mention below (atmosphere, landscape,...) and b) that put real fear in me - not so much the fear of being utterly crushed (and DNFing), but the fear of finding no answer to why I am doing this, the fear of having to dig so deep it feels like I'm in the mines of Moria waking up the Balrog. Because that's what I really fear and often tell myself I don't like, and why am I doing this, and is it all necessary and isn't something wrong with me?... But that's the whole point, right? That's what feeds the soul and makes you look on life (and live it) as an adventure...

So here it is, my bucket fear list of dreamy ambitions...

I like to separate ultras into several categories which I think are challenging in different ways physically and mentally. Also, I have eliminated some that I'm pretty sure I will just never have the desire to spend the time or money on (e.g. any race in Antarctica). Then there are some I'd probably love to do but most likely would never have the time or money so I'm not even mentioning them (although I have listed 6 & 7 below, not to mention multi-stage races...). And finally there are probably a few races I haven't heard about (yet)...

Otherwise my criteria for selection here are:
  1. race atmosphere (beautiful landscape or some other element that makes the race atmosphere unique, and this has to include a limited number of participants);
  2. nature of the challenge (not just difficult, but distance, environment, non-stop or multi-stage, location...);
  3. aura (some you just have to do, they'relegendary for a reason - as long as they're not an over-crowded circus event like the UTMB...)
The UTMB is therefore not on my list because it does not fully qualify for any of the three criteria. There are now several 100+ mile mountain races with equivalent elevation that make them as tough or tougher than the UTMB; its aura is tainted by its very commercial bent and the fact that the organizers (unlike Patrick Bauer of the MDS) do not appeared themselves to be passionate runners & running, but rather surfing on a wave of popularity; and finally, the race atmosphere has, in my mind, been ruined by the sheer number of people. I personally have no desire to line up with 2200 people in Chamonix...
I've also eliminated Badwater, mainly because it cost about $10'000 dollars, between airfare, food and lodging, not just for myself but crew also...

Non-stop races


1. 100km Millau - one of the earliest 100k races, the oldest and one of the more scenic in France... An exception to the concept of crowds, but it's on the shorter end of the ultras and as a road race it's less bothersome and sort of goes with the territory like a marathon, adds to the atmosphere... Not the mention that if I'm serious about #4 below, I'll have to get back into road races with a vengeance (and speed!). The fear here comes from wanting to run all of it (or run/walk at a predetermined pace, such as 25'/5'), to really test how fast I can be (or slow I am), and if I even have a glimmer of a chance to qualify for Spartathlon. DONE 2015, 13H38 - no chance really on that basis of doing Spartathlon, but while earlier I thought "good, there's a dilemma I don't have to face" I am now (two years later) contemplating ways of training more intensely and qualifying...

2. Timed Race 12h/24h - I thought I would never do something like this, I'm not a mouse. Then I helped out on one, then I thought about it, then I realized that perhaps there is something transcendental to gain from running 12 or 24h in a circle, something that brings me back to the pure essence of long-distance running unadulterated by "OMG how beautiful this landscape is!" Either way, it certainly passes the test for the fear and unknown factor, in fact it passes all three criteria: unique atmosphere, unique challenge, aura...
I'll start with a 12h and perhaps 24h the following year... Yes, someone (a ultra loon who ran the Spartathlon in sandals) told me: "12h? That's like doing the half-marathon instead of the full..." Point taken - I'll go for the half first. 12h DONE. Great experience, wasn't as transcendal as I'd hoped. Was feeling gung-ho about doing 24h afterwards, but as the weeks slip by, not so sure. But I think that I will have to go "full circle" at some point. 24h is still definitely "fear factor".

3. GUCR - I've read such positive reviews about the family atmosphere at the GUCR, and having grown up in the UK I often feel nostalgic about the country... Not to mention the sheer challenge of the distance (145 miles), the fact that you can theoretically run it, which terrifies me (it's not technically and mountainous, where walking can be seen as a respite) and the change in scenery from alpine France/Switzerland... Sounds like a great way to participate in the UK ultra scene and visit the country! DONE - everything I'd hoped for, and more!

4. Swiss Iron Trail 201 - This, to me, is the ultimate non-stop mountain race. 201 kilometres and about 38'000 feet of elevation gain! And a new location in the Alps for me... DONE BUT NOT DONE 2016: had a great race of which I am proud, but that pride came in a little earlier and compounded with my innate slowness meant getting caught by the time barriers at 137km, 7300m of elevation and 41h50 - so unfinished business. Plan to return in 2018.

5. Grand Raid des Pyrénées 220km: since learning that in 2017 the Grand Raid will be 220km long, it's on my list. First, a mountain range I don't know. Second, perhaps fewer people considering the distance, but either way, at that distance, it's sure to spread out! And third, it could be an alternative to returning to the Swiss Irontrail in completing such a huge distance in the mountains...

6. Spartathlon - well, it's good to have even an elusive dream in mind. I've read so much about this race that it's sort of just a given - if you can, you must... For slow me, therefore, just attempting to qualify for it has become a long-term goal dictating many exciting new running choices, races i would NEVER have considered before but which have become necessary stepping stones: (1) a 100-mile road race around Lake Geneva, which not only I  know by heart (and i don't usually like racing on familiar territory) but also passes 100 meters in front of my house! and (2) 12h track race.

7. Hardrock 100 or Angeles Crest 100 or Fat Dog - it would be great to experience a North American race in different mountains, plus I know a few people in Los Angeles... Still, quite remote possibilities right now as they would require a lot of vacation time and money...

8. TransOman or TransArabia, UTPB (Ultra Trail de la Plage Blanche) or other Desert Run - I was ok with the heat in the MDS (where it peaked at 52° in 2000) but I don't know if that's still the case - so these are on this list for the sheer beauty of the location. TransOman would come first since I've been through Petra on the Jordan Desert Cup... Still, 300km non stop?! Also, same issue as with #5. The UTPB, which takes place in Algeria and organized by a friend, is a definite option since far more accessible; at 130km, however, there is less of a fear factor (though I have no doubt that time has blunted my memory of what it is like to "run" in the sand with a 7-9kg backpack in 40°C heat!)

Multi-day ultras

This I separate out from 'multi-stage', since the clock keeps ticking, and also from non-stop races since it definitely require some sleep (I have done a 42-hour race without actually sleeping - well, a 20mn nap - but I couldn't do the ones below without sleeping for sure; the Swiss Irontrail sits right on the edge: multi-day but minimal sleep, none for the top contenders.) On the one hand, I really want to go into that mind-space of just plugging away for 5 or 6 days... On the other hand, not sure I want to face the sleep deprivation - I only had a taste of it at teh Swiss Irontrail, and it was daunting. Then again, this is my fear list...

Tor des Géants: 330km and 24,000 meters of elevation - talk about a mindfuck...

The Spine: a maybe due to the consistent cold climate, though the Spine Challenge is a maybe simply because who could resist running in the Pennines? And again, like the Tor, a week that must effect some internal profound changes...

Multi-stage races

After competing three times in the MDS, I don't feel any great inclination to participate in another multi-stage race right now, which is more of an adventure that would take me away from my family for 10+ days - except with a friend. And there is the appeal of carrying all your food and gear in a 20-pound backpack for a week, sleeping in tents and a sleeping bag. There are some beautiful ones out there, such as the Augrabies and the Grand to Grand (Canyon) that I'd like to do with a friend when time and money permit.




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