In extreme racing, people who constantly put their lives and sanity in danger to face the most treacherous conditions on earth do not seek a prize or a title. Their search goes far beyond material compensations. They fight with and against their bodies, their minds, the weather, the terrain and, somewhere in that process, become better, stronger selves, beings with a superior understanding of life and death and the thin line between them. Whether it happens on land or on water, in the desert or in the snow this is where extreme racing inevitably leads to.
Marathon des Sables
In 1986 almost 190 people set out to run 200 miles across the toughest terrain known to man, carrying all their equipment and supplies on their backs, one of the most dangerous extreme racing competitions. The race was Marathon des Sables. The place was the Sahara desert. 27 years later, as many as 1000 participants line out at the start of one of the toughest endurance races in the world. The runners face a treacherous terrain composed of sand dunes, rocks, saltpans, desert mountains and ruined towns in temperatures which exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius) and the occasional sandstorm.
Sand engulfs their each step, sun bakes their bodies, sweat evaporates immediately from their skin and even breathing feels like an act of will. Still, they march onward every year over a stretch of approximately 200 miles of desert terrain, taking their bodies and minds closer and closer to the edge.
Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race
6000 miles to the North, other daring competitors face different but by no means easier conditions during the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race in Alaska. A team of 16 dogs and one musher (the person who drives the sled) race between 9 and 19 days across a 400 miles distance from Anchorage to Nome.
Here, temperatures drop to minus 122 degrees Fahrenheit, topped with icy winds and blizzards that make it feel like 160 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. The race follows the old transport trail in Alaska used during the gold rush which was impracticable for any machines except dogs. Competitors march across mountain passes, rivers, frozen lakes, glaciers, carrying all their supplies with them, plus the dogs to care for. This endurance extreme racing forces one either to become a Neanderthal, as Iditarod veteran Eszler Horanyi states, either curl up in the snow and die of hypothermia.
Survival stories are abundant throughout the race’s history, ranging from mushers and dogs swimming through the ice-cold water of rivers and lakes, to racing with broken limbs and frostbites and hunger.