All hail the ultra: Runs and rides to test body and mind

Marathon Des Sables (The Marathon of the Sands)

Where: Sahara Desert in Morocco

Distance: About 150 miles

What: A psychotic six-day race across the Sahara that stresses self-reliance and extreme athleticism. Competitors run over sand dunes in temperatures up to 120 degrees carrying a week’s worth of food and supplies on their backs.

Man Against Horse Race

Where: Prescott, Arizona

Distance: 50 miles

What: An annual race that pits runners against riders over 12-, 25- and 50-mile courses.

Leadville 100

Where: Colorado Rockies

Distance: 100 miles

What: This 29-year-old race was challenging runners long before ultras became part of the fitness vernacular. The low point is 9,200 feet, the high point is 12,600, and in between is a grueling trail that must be completed in under 30 hours.

La Ruta de los Conquistadores

Where: Costa Rica

Distance: 161 miles

What: A three-day bike race from Costa Rica’s Pacific to Caribbean coasts crossing tropical jungles, high mountains and small villages on the route of the Spanish Conquistadores.

The Barkley Marathon

Where: Tennessee

Distance: 100 miles

What: Like your races long, secretive and nearly impossible? Barkley consists of five 20-mile, off-trail mountain loops on brutally tough terrain where you tear pages from hidden books to prove you’ve made the trek. Only 35 entrants are allowed (including one “sacrificial virgin”), and you have to finish in 60 hours, though almost nobody does.

Race Across America

Where: From Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland

Distance: 3,000 miles

What: The grizzled granddaddy of endurance bike races, this non-stop transcontinental ride has solo or relay team bikers clocking hundreds of miles per day on a route that’s longer than the Tour de France. Expect hallucinations and spandex.

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