World's Hardest Run

There is a lot of debate in the running community about the world’s hardest running course – but today, we’re ready to settle the issue conclusively.

The hilly, treacherous Big Sur Marathon, with its 560-foot climb at Hurricane Point, is considered one of the hardest marathons in North America – but it doesn’t even make the “A” list of toughest running events.

Three local runners - Ingrid Aquino, Ben Balester, and Brad Van Dalen - are in Hawaii today preparing for the “Run to the Sun”: a 36-mile race climbing 10,000 feet up the Haleakala volcano on Maui. However, their efforts barely register on the degree of difficulty scale.

One of the oldest and most challenging races in the United States is the 7.1-mile Dipsea trail race in Marin County, traveling up the outskirts of Mount Tamalpias and down to the sea at Stinson Beach. But runners always clamor for more, so naturally there became a Double Dipsea (going out and back on the original course), followed by a Quad Dipsea, and finally something called the “Dipsea ‘Til You Drop” which leaves just one runner standing at the end. Now we’re starting to get real difficulty.

Donald is training to run the Western States Endurance Run in June, a brutal 100-mile trail run from Squaw Valley to Auburn, which features over 23,000’ of elevation change. And while that sounds difficult, among ultra runners, Western States is considered a relatively “easy” 100-miler.

There’s a marathon at Mount Everest and one in Antarctica. There’s a 135-mile race through Death Valley, and a multi-day race where runners cross the Sahara Desert. It seems there’s no limit to the insane conditions runners will subject themselves to.

Dean Karnazes from San Francisco has run over 300 miles continuously, just to say he could do it. He has also run 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 straight days. Several runners (including Dean) have made like Forrest Gump and run across the United States, averaging 50 or 60 miles a day.

So with that partial list of nominees, our submission for the hardest running course on Earth will undoubtedly surprise you. The hardest running course known to man could be (drumroll, please) THE FOUR YEAR OLD RUN.

This is the name Mike uses for a typical run with his two 4-year-old grandsons. Jeremy lives in Oakland, and Devon in Sacramento – and although the houses are different, the running events are remarkably similar.

It always starts the same way: “Come on Grandpa, let’s go for a run!” And the little ones immediately take off running from the living room as fast as their little legs can go. Mike gives chase, and the race of survival is on.

“You have to jump over Elmo!”, they say, as well as about 10 other toys randomly assorted around the carpet. Then it’s a few steps on and over the ottoman and into the dining room.

“You have to spin three times!”, is usually the next comment. With spinning out of the way they crawl under the dining room table and chairs, waiting impatiently for Mike’s bigger body to squeeze underneath the chairs. Then for good measure, it’s around the table 5 times, until Mike is wishing he was running up Hurricane Point or across the Sahara Desert instead. “Come on Grandpa!”

Exiting the dining room, a complicating factor is added. The family dog is now yapping joyously and getting tangled in Mike’s feet as he continues trying to catch the 4-year-olds.

Then it’s on to the kitchen part of the run. “You have to slide like this”, they say, with hands out for balance, and socks sliding on the kitchen floor. Hips become sore from banging on the cabinets as Mike slides back and forth across the kitchen several times.

Then it’s back to the living room and over the toys to complete the circuit. But wait! There’s more torture coming. “You have to do this Grandpa.” Mike watches incredulously as they jump as high as they can in the air, throw both feet straight out in front of them, and land flat on their little butts.

“I can’t do THAT”, he pleads.

“You HAVE to do that,” they repeat. So Mike does that as best he can without causing severe butt and spinal damage.

“No, you didn’t do it right.”

Mike tries to do THAT several more times until he’s given a reluctant passing mark, given more out of the kids’ boredom than respecting the quality of the jump. As he lies in pain on the floor, he knows from experience what is invariably coming next.

“AGAIN!” The dreaded “again” means that another circuit is starting with another furious sprint and jump over Elmo. The “agains” can be infinite and don’t stop until Mike is mercifully saved by his laughing wife, saying “Let Grandpa rest. He seems really tired.”

Mike rests on the floor exhausted, realizing that it’s a blessing that the Running Life keeps him in shape to do the 4-Year-Old Run. It may be one of the most difficult events around, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.


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