This summer millions of people around the globe tuned in to watch the 2014 FIFA World Cup. But believe it or not, some would say that there was more to life than football as INCH discovered when it went in search of some of life’s more unusual, if extreme, sports and quirky events.
Marathon des Sables
You would think Mauro Prosperi’s incredible story of survival would be enough to deter anyone from signing up for the Marathon des Sables, a 158-mile (254km) race across the Sahara desert. But people are queuing up to fork out at least 2,700 Euros to take part. The race, dubbed the ‘toughest footrace on earth’, is the equivalent of running six marathons in temperatures of up to 120°F (49°C). Running in the sand dunes can cause your feet to swell. After three days your feet can feel like concrete slabs. Everyone must carry everything he/she needs for the six-day race except for water. The organisers kindly provide that. All 14 gallons a day of it for each competitor. Mauro, though, is unlikely to ever want to do it again. Twenty years ago the Italian policeman got lost during a sandstorm, ran out of food and water after 36 hours and spent nine days alone in the desert before he was found 186 miles (299km) off course by a nomadic family. He had survived by drinking his own urine and eating bats and snakes.
Spain’s Tomatina is the food fight to end all food fights. There are no winners or losers; just a sea of red faces once the battle ends. In the past up to 50,000 people have thronged the streets of Bunol, near Valencia, to pelt each other with 140 tons of overripe, squashed tomatoes. Today organisers sell tickets to just 20,000. Shopkeepers use huge plastic covers to protect their shop fronts throughout the hour-long street battle. A cannon signals the start of the fight and another marks the end. Once it’s over, the town’s streets and walls are hosed down while everyone else takes a shower. The annual festival is believed to have been inspired by a group of teenagers who grabbed tomatoes from a vegetable stall and began to throw them at one another during a parade through Bunol in August 1945.
The North Pole Marathon
As marathons go, The North Pole Marathon is arguably the coolest. This year armed guards patrolled the marathon route as the 48 athletes from 16 countries braved the threat of hungry polar bears, temperatures of -47C and drifting ice floes to complete the 26.2-mile route. There are always so few competitors that they all merit a mention on the organisers’ official website. Competitor Robert Plijnaar from Holland wore three pairs of socks and three layers of clothing to keep warm. “I started off also wearing a mask and a pair of ski glasses but after 100 metres it was just like looking through an aquarium, so I had to take them off. Unfortunately, it meant I got frostbite around my eyes and nose,” he said.
World Tuna Tossing
It’s a hammer throwing competition with a twist. Instead of a heavy ball, contestants whirl a frozen tuna around their heads with a rope and then fling it as far as they can. Whoever throws the 17lb blue fin tuna the furthest during the Tunarama Festival at Port Lincoln, in South Australia, is crowned world champion.
The Jungle Marathon
If you are frightened of piranhas, it’s probably best to avoid The Jungle Marathon. Organisers say only the brave register for this event, which is deemed to be one of the toughest, wettest and hottest ultra-marathons in the world. And you can see why. Apart from the sweltering temperatures, competitors have to wade through swamps where anacondas lurk, scale steep, slippery muddy slopes, tackle dense undergrowth, cross piranha-infested rivers and spend more than one night in the depths of the Amazon jungle with jaguars and howling monkeys for company. All runners must carry a knife, a copy of their medical insurance and enough food for the seven-day, 158-mile (254km) race to the finish. If you are unlucky enough to need an IV drip, you’ll also find two hours added to your finishing time.
An American Army veteran last year travelled more than 4,000 miles from his home in Colorado Springs to chase a 3kg large wheel of cheese down a steep hill in Gloucestershire in the UK. Thankfully the trip paid off; he won one of the races and some Double Gloucester cheese. The age-old cheese rolling event at Cooper’s Hill is an annual spectacle that draws huge crowds. Every year spectators watch a bunch of cheese rollers tumble down the hill after the cheese, which can reach speeds of up to 70mph (112km/h). The first person to reach the bottom of the hill wins the cheese. There have been a few minor injuries over the years. In 2009 a spectator was hurt when he fell out of a tree and had to be stretchered off with suspected fractures.
Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race pits man and animal against nature, and has been called the ‘last great race on earth’. Mushers and their dogs cover 1,000 miles of the roughest, most beautiful terrain Alaska has to offer, including jagged mountain ranges, frozen rivers, dense forest, and miles of windswept coast, in temperatures often far below zero and winds that can cause a complete loss of visibility.
World Bog Snorkelling
There’s not a great deal to see at the World Bog Snorkelling Championships, not least because competitors can only surface from the gloomy, 55-metre, water-filled trenches to check they are heading in the right direction. Still that doesn’t stop the crowds lining the two muddy trenches nor the competitors who last year jetted in from France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Canada to dive into the freezing, smelly peat bog. The championships are held every year in Llanwrtyd Wells, the smallest town in Britain. Competitors must ‘swim’ two lengths of the 6ft deep trench without using conventional swimming strokes. But they are not alone. There are lot of creepy crawlies in the water, including the apparently harmless water scorpion.
Baby Jumping Festival
One of the most bizarre – and perhaps mildly alarming – events is The Baby Jumping Festival during which men depicting the devil leap over newborn babies lying on a mattress in the street. The festival, which dates back to the 1620s, is held every year in Castrillo de Murcia of Spain, and is part of the celebrations for the Catholic festival of Corpus Christi. The idea is to purify the babies’ souls, ward off evil spirits and protect them from sin.
Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon
Most of the Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon may be downhill but don’t be fooled into thinking that will make your life easy. Organisers of this annual event insist competitors are in Nepal three weeks before the race so they can acclimatise to the high altitude. The three-week ‘holiday’ includes a 14-day trek to the marathon starting point – Everest Base Camp (5364m/17,598ft) – under medical supervision, and an ascent of Kala Patthar (5545m/18200ft) for the best views of Everest. The race itself, which includes two steep uphill sections, criss-crosses highland Sherpa trails of the Khumbu icefall en route to the finish line at Namche Bazaar.
Wife-carrying World Championships
Finland may be the birthplace of the Wife-carrying World Championships but men come from far and wide to compete in this epic display of brute strength. Competitors must wade through a metre-deep pool of water, clear hurdles and run as fast as they can with their wives dangled upside down over their shoulders. A wife has to weigh at least 49kg (about 7.7st) or she will be given a heavy rucksack to carry. Dropping her incurs a 15-second time penalty. The man, who completes the 253-metre obstacle course in the shortest time, receives his wife’s weight in beer. The competition began in 1992 and is believed to be rooted in the legend of a hard-faced gang leader who made a habit of stealing women from neighbouring villages.
Comrades Ultra Marathon
It might only be a recent phenomenon that ultra marathons have gained such popularity but some of them, such as 90km Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa have been around for many years. It was run for the first time on 24 May 1921 between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. It is believed to be the world’s largest and oldest ultra marathon race. The direction of the race alternates each year between the “uphill course” (87 km) starting from Durban and the “down hill course” (89 km) starting from Pietermaritzburg. It was the idea of World War I veteran Vic Clapham, to commemorate the South African soldiers killed during the war. Clapham, who had endured a 2,700-kilometre route march through East Africa, wanted the memorial to be a unique test of the physical endurance of the entrants. The constitution of the race states one of its primary aims is to “celebrate mankind’s spirit over adversity”. The race attracts 18,000 runners each year, which included a team from INEOS in 2013, when Jim Ratcliffe, Leen Heemskerk, Chris Woods, Oliver Hayward-Young, George Ratcliffe and Alessia Maresca all successfully completed the course.