Toughest Races on Earth: Top Ten 200 Milers
Updated: Aug 12
Top 10 Toughest Races on Earth Series - The 200 Miler Edition
By Alyssa Clark & Rob Steger
Here is our 2020 list of the Top 10 hardest 200 Milers on the planet!
The races on this list have an average distance of 228.7 miles and an average elevation gain of roughly 48,334 feet per race.
Between both authors, we have run nearly half of these races and have somewhat unique insights and understanding of these races and the trails they take place on. That said, we wanted to develop a systematic approach that takes out most of the biased elements of ranking these. Our “T4A Score” is a multi-factor methodology to rank these races as scientifically as possible within a reasonable amount of time. We evaluated each course in regards to its;
5) Weather & Climate
6) Additional Considerations
Taking these six distinct factors into account, we indexed as many of the world’s 200 milers as we could, based on our internal weightings. We used races with distances of approximately 185 miles (~300 kilometers) to 275 miles (~450 kilometers) as our distance range for the 200 miler category. Again, our findings were highly geared towards the provable elements of the course, but qualitative assessments were included.
#1 TOUGHEST 200 MILER: Tor Des Geants
Located in the Aosta Valley, Tor Des Geants is a 356km, 90,000ft ascent challenge for the experienced and determined ultra runner. Starting in Courmayeur, Italy, Tor circumnavigates the Aosta Valley with never-ending climbs and highly technical descents topping out with climbs reaching 10,000+ft peaks. Runners must be ready to tackle any weather conditions without pacers or external company and can only sleep at designated spots. With five major life bases and refugios dotted along the way, Tor is a truly spectacular display of Italian national pride and support. A bucket list race that will test the legs, mind and heart.
#2 TOUGHEST 200 MILER: Petite Trotte a Leon (PTL)
Petite Trotte a Leon is the wild, big sister to the UTMB races. A 300+ Km, 98,000ft ascent tour of the Mont Blanc area is sure to test the metal of any ultrarunner. Promoted as an adventure, not a race, teams of 3 travel on rough, technical and unmarked terrain exploring the untouched areas of Mont Blanc. Semi self-sufficient, teams must have mastery over navigation and knowledge of rugged mountain environments. Teams must submit a resume in order to be considered for this event. An adventure not to be missed for the mountain ultra runner.
Race Website: https://utmbmontblanc.com/en/page/23/23.html
#3 TOUGHEST 200 MILER: The Spine and Spine Fusion
A legendary British race, the Spine and Spine Fusion travels 278 miles with 45680ft of climbing, down the heart of Britain. The same race, but drastically different conditions, The Spine is run during January in the brutal cold and wet conditions of the UK winter. The Spine Fusion is the summer edition, dealing with the UK heat and humidity. Primarily following the Penine Way National Trail, the Spine requires the ability to navigate and reach specified check points through GPS and map. With five main checkpoints and three possibly additional smaller checkpoints, the Spine requires a high level of self-sufficiency. This race is an iconic 200 in the international realm.
Race Website: https://thespinerace.com/
#4 TOUGHEST 200 MILER: Swiss Peaks 360 Ultra
In the heart of the Swiss Alps, the Swiss Peaks 360 Ultra travels 193 miles with 75,000ft of climbing. Running through glaciers, with glimpses of Lake Geneva, participants will experience tough alpine climbs and technical descents. With 5 life bases and 28 aid stations, this race truly explores the beauty of the Swiss Alps. Peaking out at 9500ft of elevation, runners will need to have experience in high alpine environments and be prepared for the weather to turn at any time. This European adventure will fulfill all expectations of extreme trail running in the Alps.
Race Website: https://swisspeakstrail.com/
#5 TOUGHEST 200 MILER: Bigfoot 200
Crossing the Cascade Mountains, Bigfoot 200 comes in as the most difficult US 200 miler. At 206.5 miles with 42,000+ ft of climbing, Bigfoot is the first and most challenging race of the famous Triple Crown of 200s. With Mount Saint Helens as the backdrop, technical lava field traverses, river crossings, steep climbs, and unpredictable weather, Bigfoot is not to be messed with. Bigfoot offers 6 sleep aid stations, 14 full aid stations and is a point to point race with no out and backs. A true challenge of mental and physical toughness.
Race Website: https://www.bigfoot200.com/
#6 TOUGHEST 200 MILER: The Munga Trail
Beginning in Belfast, South Africa, the Munga trail covers 248.5 miles and 23,000ft of climbing. Following forest roads, jeep trails and single track, the Munga offers a unique look into South African terrain and trail systems. With the threat of wildlife, no crew or pacers allowed, and no drop bags, this race is not for the faint of heart. The race offers 5 full sleep aid stations every 80km and smaller aid stations every 30-40km. Our only race in Africa proves a true test of grit and mental metal.
Race Website: https://trail.themunga.com/
#7 TOUGHEST 200 MILER: Moab 240
The longest and final race of the Triple Crown, the Moab 240.3 mile race tours the Moab desert of Utah with an elevation gain of 29,467ft. Runners will travel a large loop throughout the desert, passing through some of Utah’s most beautiful areas. With large fluctuations in temperature, runners will need to be ready to tackle any conditions through the canyons and mountains. With 14 Aid Stations, spaced approximately 20 miles apart, runners will climb to 9,000+ft of elevation requiring sufficient gear and the ability to deal with mountainous terrain. Moab is one of the premier 200s in the world and is not to be missed.
Race Website: http://www.moab200.com/home.html
#8 TOUGHEST 200 MILER: Tahoe 200
A full circumnavigation of Lake Tahoe, the Tahoe 200 comes in at 205 miles with 40,200+ ft of ascent. The second race of the Triple Crown takes runners primarily along the Tahoe Rim Trail with views of alpine lakes, rocky terrain, wildlife sightings and gorgeous single track. The race includes 14 Aid Stations and clear markings throughout the journey. Especially for those taking on the Triple Crown, the Tahoe 200 is a race to remember and take seriously.
Race Website: http://www.tahoe200.com/
#9 TOUGHEST 200 MILER: Delirious West 200
The first 200 Miler in Australia, the Delirious W.E.S.T is a point to point 238.7 mile with 15,231ft of climbing. With ocean cliffs, dune running, beach miles and forest trails, the Delirious gives runners a full range of experiences and challenging footing. The hot temperatures, sand running and varied terrain makes this a 200 to take seriously. With 23 Aid Stations and 4 sleeping stations, Delirious marks a jump in international 200s that is sure to challenge all runners.
Race Website: http://deliriouswest200miler.com.au/
#10 TOUGHEST 200 MILER: Race Across Scotland
This coast to coast 215 mile race with 25,426ft of climbing, follows the beautiful Southern Upland Way. Set on historic trails, the Race Across Scotland traverses the mountains, valleys, forests and streams of Scotland’s southern uplands and showcases the beauty of the area. With Scotland’s highly unpredictable weather, challenging terrain, and semi-self sufficiency, runners will need to bring experience and proper preparation to the race. With 11 aid stations and no pacers, the Race Across Scotland is a solo journey through Scotland’s interior beauty.
Race Website: https://www.gbultras.com/
We have all done the google search, “Hardest Ultramarathons in the World” or something similar, trying to find the next race to challenge us. We have also been underwhelmed by the results that are never really verifiable, but tend to be more nebulous and anecdotal. As we here at Training For Adventure begin to share articles, we have developed racecourse factors into a single race ranking score system. This is what we call our "T4A Score". These are both quantifiable but also include other qualitative measures too in a systematic way.
Races change every year, so not only is it difficult to measure these in a single year, but conditions and courses are variable year-to-year. Official race website stats can vary from actual stats and we have used our best estimate within our system. The races we have included are races that have been run for at least one year and have at least one finisher per year. We have narrowed the range of 200 mile races to be between 185 and 290 miles. These are all single-stage races with semi-self sufficiency. This is not a perfect system, but nonetheless, it is a system we have developed to help you better understand your goals and how your races compare to one another.
We will also be releasing an up and coming list of 200 milers set to begin in the fall of 2020 or 2021 in order to increase awareness of this growing race distance. But this is just the starting point, and we’re excited to apply our systematic approach to other races in the near future. We think to create a list of hardest races, we must break them into several categories and think distance categories are a logical way to do so.
We hope that you find the results interesting. There will be disagreements over our findings and that is fine with us! We are by no means the authority on this topic but will share our findings soon.
Please note that Rob Steger’s podcast is sponsored by Destination Trail, but this association had no role in our findings.