10 amazing unofficial running challenges around the world

Ditch organized races and turn your epic level rating to 11
10 amazing unofficial running challenges

We all love racing – the pre-event nerves, registration, picking up your number, deciding what to leave in the bag drop, the community spirit and sense of ‘we’re all in this together’ as you run, the blessed aid stations, the finisher’s medal, the goody bag…

But there’s more to running than organized races. And an unofficial challenge with no other competitors could be what you’re looking for.

We’re talking races where you are challenging yourself, or running to see how your time compares to an existing fastest known time (FKT) for the route. It could be an intermittently marked hiking trail or it could be a completely unmarked route that depends entirely on your skills with a compass and map.

What links them all is that they are free to enter, and you can run them any time you like – all you need to do is turn up and have a go.

Below are some of the best, and most challenging, in the world.

The Bob Graham Round

Running challenges

The UK’s most famous unofficial race, with no official route, you’ll guide yourself around the 42 peaks taking the quickest line you can. If you’re lucky, you might even have a crew of hardy friends to help refuel you at checkpoints.

If you are considering having a go, you should be aware that the best one-word description for this is ‘brutal’. Only 30% of people complete the challenge within the 24-hour cut-off, largely due to adverse weather conditions or poor navigation.

You’ll need to spend time recceing the route beforehand, partly to familiarise yourself with the remote fells, and partly so you have an idea of the hell you are about to let yourself in for.

Where: Lake District, UK

Distance: 66 miles

Elevation: 27,000ft

Time to beat: 12h 52m

Find out more


Running challenges

A classic Swedish trail up in the north of the country, this long jaunt through the Vindelfjällen nature reserve – one of Europe’s biggest protected parks – incorporates boat journeys too, so you need to be keeping an eye on the departure timetable as you make your way around (sometimes you’ll even be rowing yourself) staying in the many highly hospitable huts along the way.

Another factor to bear in mind is the cold – you’re in the Polar Circle, so temperatures can plummet rapidly. Emilie Forsberg smashed two days off the record recently – see an inspiring video of her run here.

Where: Swedish Lapland

Distance: 270 miles

Elevation: 36,473ft

Time to beat: 4d 21h

The Appalachian Trail

Running challenges

One to build up to, perhaps. In terms of running, you’d need to clock more than 52 miles a day to get anywhere near the current record. Whatever speed you tackle it at, though, it’s a life-changing journey, and most thru-hikers take around five to six months to complete it.

The trail takes you through 14 US states, so you will need strong mental fortitude and well-trained legs – one in four hikers quit before finishing.

Where: Georgia to Maine, US

Distance: 2,189 miles

Elevation: 464,464ft

Time to beat: 41d 7h 39m

The UnderRound

Running challenges

The English capital’s version of the Bob Graham Round, but instead of scaling peaks, this round sees you visit 42 Tube stations across 27 miles. The rules state you have to go into each station and touch the yellow ‘mind the gap’ line on the platform.

There is an official route map available (you can find it online with some clever Googling), but be warned: this should not be attempted at rush hour.

Where: London, UK

Distance: 27 miles

Elevation: 3,000ft

Time to beat: 5h 24m

The Wainwrights

Running challenges

A beast of a challenge. Alfred Wainwright chose the 214 peaks that make up the ‘Wainwrights’ in his 1953 ‘Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells’, based upon what he thought were the best walks and the greatest views in the Lake District. Your task is to link them all together however you best see fit and summit each and every one.

Irish ultrarunner Paul Tierney recently broke the record for bagging all 214 peaks in a frankly unbelievable 6 days and 6 hours. During the run, he slept just 2-3 hours a night, and encountered a storm on one peak that nearly derailed the entire attempt.

Our advice is to break it up into sections and slowly climb the peaks in manageable chunks over months or even years – it’ll be much more enjoyable.

Where: Lake District, UK

Distance: 318 miles

Elevation: 118,000ft

Time to beat: 6d 6h

Rim To Rim (To Rim)

Running challenges

Not many visitors to the Grand Canyon drop down to the base of the valley. But that’s where the runners head, usually early so you’re not pounding the demanding trails in the full heat of the day.

Start at North Kaibab and you’ll descend around 5,000ft within the first six miles, which is will put a huge grin on your face. You’ll feel on top of the world, even though you’re literally on the bottom. You’ll need those endorphins to get you up the other side, through the relentless, switchback-filled climb to the finish at South Kaibab.

If you’re feeling good, you could even turn around immediately and attempt the Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim, currently held by Jim Walmsley (5h 55m).

Where: Grand Canyon, US

Distance: 21 miles

Elevation: 5,000ft

Time to beat: 2h 39m

Find out more


Running challenges

One of the most spectacular trails, as well as one of the toughest, in Europe, the GR20 winds its way down the entire island of Corsica from north to south. There’s plenty of steep, rocky ascents and, to put it bluntly, terrifying scree-based scrambling at height, and the chances of turning an ankle are high, so keep your wits about you as you take in the breathtaking views that surround you in all directions.

There’s a string of mountain refuges along the way, so if you’re feeling spent you can crash in one of those.

Where: Corsica

Distance: 111 miles

Elevation: 10,000m

Time to beat: 1d 7h 6m

Find out more

The Wicklow Round

Running challenges

Another ‘round’ similar to the Bob Graham with a 24-hour cut-off, the Wicklow Round is based in the Wicklow mountains south of Dublin and has no official route.

You will be navigating through heather-strewn moorland and peaty, waterlogged marshes while gingerly picking your way through giant briars on your journey linking together the 26 peaks. It’s worth every waist-high fall into a bog hole though, as you’ll be treated to some of the most stunning views the country has to offer.

Where: Ireland

Distance: 70 miles

Elevation: 20,000ft+

Time to beat: 15h 04m

Find out more here

Table Mountain

Running challenges

A nice and short challenge of under 10km, but testing in terms of elevation, this is one to check out if you are ever in Cape Town. There’s no need for navigation as the route is straightforward, and marked out on Strava, and in running it you will summit Table Mountain and the Devil’s Peak, doing a great bit of sightseeing before a well-deserved lunch.

Where: Cape Town

Distance: 6.1 miles

Elevation: 3,201ft

Time to beat: 1h 7m

Cuillin Way Traverse

Running challenges

Eleven famous Munros to summit, and rock ridges of the most dangerous kind, this should be attempted by highly experienced climbers and skyrunners only – parts of it are graded Severe in rock-climbing grading and it includes some of the hardest climbing in the UK.

It’s exposed to the elements, and should be trained for and recced thoroughly before even thinking about attempting. But even if you do just a few of the Munros, Skye’s views out over the ocean will be etched into your memory for all time. All this makes Finlay Wild’s sub-3hr traverse an almost-unbelievable feat of bravery and athleticism.

Where: Isle of Skye

Distance: 8 miles

Elevation: 7,000ft+

Time to beat: 2h 59m

To find more 'FKT's for your next unofficial challenge attempt head to fastestknowntime.com

Tags:    Running
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