It’s 30,000 B.C. and a boy named Loon — naked, weaponless, and without food or water — sets off on a two-week “wander” into the depths of the wilderness on a cold and rainy night. As the rain pounds down, Loon, shoeless and shivering, spends his first night frantically using his fingers to dig into logs to scratch up enough punk to start a fire.
And so began Loon’s vision quest in the opening pages of Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2013 novel, Shaman. For those in the Spartan world, this is a reminder that epic tests of the mind, body, and spirit have a unique purpose in personal transformation that goes back to "the dawn of humankind."
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending), you don’t need time travel to enter the kind of training ordeal that Robinson brings to life in Shaman. Below are perhaps the seven most difficult and life-changing endurance events on Earth, guaranteed to deliver you on a mythic journey of self-discovery and awakening. You'll find out who you really are, what really matters, and what you’re really made of. Can you complete them?
What Are the Hardest Endurance Events in the World?
Described as Spartan’s ultimate test of endurance, the Agoge is a reincarnation of the trials endured by young Spartans-in-training in ancient Greece. In the modern version, the myriad challenges you’ll face in this more than 60-hour event are underscored by the severe environments of the locations. Past Agoge events have been held in Mongolia's steppe, the Namibia savannah, and the frozen tundras of Iceland.
Tough Mudder races are known for their combination of challenge and spirit, where it’s less about competitive racing and more about camaraderie, team-building, and having fun with it all. The World’s Toughest Mudder exists in an outer orbit, where participants knock out multi-mile laps of a brutal OCR circuit as many times as they can in 24 hours. Fun is no longer the primary focus, but for diehard endurance racers, "fun" might be exactly the right word.
Imagine you’re at sea level, hopping on your mountain bike near a Pacific Ocean beach in Costa Rica. You clip in and then mash the pedals eastward for 300 rugged kilometers — jungle, small towns, and a spectrum of microclimates included — over five mountain ranges (elevation gain: 12,000 meters) until you arrive at the Caribbean Sea. This is what you experience during La Ruta (Spanish for “The Route”), the toughest mountain bike race in the world.
One of the many things that makes the Spartan Death Race so incredibly soul-crushing is that whatever stressful situation you are dealing with in one moment — 26 miles of crawling under barbed wire, 12 hours of burpees, counting out 500 pennies while shivering and sleep-deprived ... you get the picture — you never know what stressful situation is coming next.
“We don't give you any water, we don't give you any food, we don't tell you what you'll have to do in the race," Spartan founder and CEO Joe De Sena says. "You don't know when the race really starts or when it ends. We don't encourage you. We want you to quit.”
If you feel like you’re sleepwalking your way through life, the Spartan Death Race is your ultimate wake-up call.
Paddleboarding can be an appealing, tranquil, and relaxing way to drift on the water while waiting to take in the scenery of a setting sun. But this gets churned inside out when you take on the Molokai 2 Oahu World Paddleboarding Championships (M2O), where you'll attempt to cross 32 miles of the 2,300-foot-deep Ka’iwi channel (also known as the “The Channel of Bones”).
Ultra-running and extreme obstacle course racing intersect in the Spartan Ultra. It’s a hearty mix of 50 kilometers of running (or hiking, as Ultras are notorious for their intense elevation gain) and 60 obstacles, invigorated by the darkness of night, technical terrain, and weather extremes. As you battle it out to the finish line, the Ultra course is a great place to enjoy meeting others "equally as crazy as you."
Trail running scrapes the sky in the 100-mile Patagonia Run, a race that begins in Argentina's San Martin, then ascends into the Andes Mountains, where runners will log 29,000 feet of climbing. This is where you leave behind normal life (not to mention cell phone coverage) for the exhilarating range of mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, forests, and deserts, all in one race.