"I don't want there to be no finishers. But I do want them to go through hell to get there." Mission accomplished, Mark Cockbain. He's the creator of the Tunnel Ultra, a race he calls "a mind-bending test of extreme endurance and sensory deprivation." Since the inaugural race in 2019, only 13 people have managed to finish (entries are capped at 40 per year). After reading the description, you'll likely understand why. It takes place in the Combe Down Tunnel in Bath, England, and while the race is 208 miles long, the old railway tunnel is not: Runners complete a slightly-over-one-mile segment 200 times in darkness. "It's so pointless. You're not getting from A to B, which makes it such a massive mental challenge," Andy Persson, who managed to finish the race in 2020, tells the BBC.
The race has to be finished within 55 hours, and headphones aren't allowed; nor is outside help. There's a portable toilet and water and tea, and that's close to it, other than whatever participants bring with them (food, a folding chair for breaks). "The Tunnel is pure, unadulterated running," confirms Mike Raffan, who finished second in 2021. "You run from one end to the other in a straight line, turn around a traffic cone, come back again, and just keep going. Mandy Foyster, the only female to finish, sprayed herself in the face with water to keep going—through the exhaustion and increasing weirdness. Most describe wild hallucinations. Says Foyster, "At mile 192 I became completely disorientated and started going the wrong way. I thought I was wandering along a quiet country lane. I didn't know who I was or what I was or what I was doing." (Read the full story.)