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Running in the Desert
Olivia Lee rounds up the world’s toughest desert ultramarathons

Since the beginning, Firepot has fueled athletes taking on the Sahara Desert as they take part in the Marathon Des Sables, one of the toughest stage-races on earth. This six-day event sees competitors face temperatures of over 105 degrees, crossing sand so fine it makes running almost impossible. And there are plenty of other opportunities to experience desert running at its best — or worst. From the salt flats of Chile to the mountain plains of the Gobi Desert in China, read on if you’re up for an ultra challenge.

The Track, Australia
The Track cuts through the heart of Australia’s Red Centre, which is one of the driest places on earth, second only to Antarctica. This self-supported outback ultramarthon kicks off in Alice Springs, where temperatures can soar to around 105 degrees. Set across nine stages and 10 days, the route crosses 500 kilometers of baked red sand, finishing at the foot of the sandstone monolith Uluru, or Ayers rock.

Gobi March, China
The Gobi March ultramarathon, part of the well-known 4Deserts Race series, takes place in China’s Xinjiang province, racing through 250 kilometers of Asia’s largest desert, the Gobi. Following the ancient Silk Road, the course ascends over 10,000ft, through cool mountain trails, past dried-up riverbeds and yurt villages, and through deserts with rolling golden sand dunes and temperatures of up to 105 degrees.

Badwater, California
The Badwater ultramarathon is one of the toughest there is. In the hottest month of the year, this 220 kilometer route twists through Death Valley, the hottest spot in the US. On top of this, the trail leads you from the lowest point in the country, 280ft below sea level, to the base of the highest, gaining over 14,000ft of elevation and crossing three mountain ranges.

Hardrock 100, Colorado
The 100-mile Hardrock route, which must be completed in 48 hours, crosses 13 mountain passes, each over 12,000ft in altitude, with the highest point at over 14,000ft. You’ll have to run through the night to make it in time, combining freezing temperatures with altitude sickness and almost vertical terrain. You are above the treeline for most of the course, so lightning and freak storms are a common occurrence.

The Grand to Grand Ultra, Utah and Arizona
The 275 kilometer self-supported Grand to Grand ultramarathon cuts through the Utah and Arizona desert, one of the most remote places in North America. Starting at the north rim of the Grand Canyon, the route crosses red rock valleys and high desert plains — places even cacti can’t grow. Participant numbers are limited to 170, so early reservation is recommended.

Atacama Crossing, Chile
The 250 kilometer Atacama Crossing takes you to one of the most curious natural wonders in the world; the salt flats of Chile. The race starts at 10,550ft in the Arcoiris Valley, surrounded by 44 snow-capped volcanoes. Descending past sand dunes, rivers, waist-high grass and lunar-like landscapes, the Atacama Crossing finishes in the pretty town of San Pedro de Atacama, amid geysers and natural hot springs. It is part of the 4Deserts Race series.