I have seen a number of different challenging races over the years but few are as wildly impressive as the Eco-Challenge. This was one of the most stunning and complex races that has ever been devised.
While some races may have developed a name and a following based on their popular location, the Eco-Challenge is a race that has made a name for itself being one of the most arduous and difficult races to take part in.
The first Eco Challenge race took place on April 25, 1995 and it was located in the very difficult environment of the Utah desert. It was the brainchild of Mark Burnett who drew his inspiration from an article he had read about difficult races that took place in Latin America.
Inspired by what he read, he opted to take part in The Raid Gauloises. Later, he would duplicate the concept in the United States in the form of the Eco-Challenge.
To say that the use of the word ‘challenge' was not selected flippantly would be an understatement. It is among the most complicated races to take part in and only the most athletic and fit would possibly stand a chance at succeeding or so Mark would say.
I say athletes with tenacity, will power and "never say quit" mentally, can finish these races. That is- if your body holds up.
What does it take?
There are various different components to the Eco Challenge and this is what makes it among the most difficult races to take part in. In order to succeed, it is vital for the team to rise to the occasion in all the various different components that comprise this 300 mile race.
Yes, you read that correctly; the race runs the distance of over 300 miles of land and water. Most stunningly, there is no rest breaks with the Eco-Challenge as the race is designed to be non-stop and cover 24 hours a day.
There is no easy terrain to navigate and all aspects of the race fall of the backs of a relatively small team. Specifically, the team is designed to comprise only of 4 members.
The specific sports that make up the totality of the Eco-Challenge race include hiking, canoeing on whitewater, kayaking on the open sea, scuba diving, horseback riding, mountain biking, and the very challenging component of mountaineering.
Each and every one of these sports requires a team member to have a high level of skill in the discipline. These are also sports that require a great deal of attention to safety and detail.
Having personally done several of these sports as a hobbyist pursuit, I would have to say that the ability to maintain safety at all times can be a challenge. When such components are tied into the need to win a race, the discipline and skill required to succeed must be off the proverbial charts.
That is why so few teams are selected to take part in the Eco-Challenge. You really have to be a stellar practitioner and competitor in order to succeed. Hence, the standards for selection are very high.
But, do not let that statement discourage your from considering applying. An expedition race can be done by the strong of heart.
The unique nature of the Eco-Challenge certainly aided in its growing popularity. However, the most obvious factor that made the sport so popular was its exposure on cable television.
In particular, the exposure of the sport on ESPN's X GAMES certainly added to its mystique. Clips from the event were prominently featured on MTV and The Discovery Channel which certainly added to the growing interest in the race.
The race had become an annual event and bounced around to new locations and even becoming an annual event. Each year, fans of the race looked forward to the event since it consistently provided a great deal of thrilling and exciting viewing.
However, fans are currently somewhat disappointed since Burnett has publicly stated he is not interested in promoting a new race. The reason that he has given is that he is looking to sell the rights of the race to a new entity. This is probably not due to any decline in popularity of the event. More than likely, Burnett felt that it was time to move on to new and more challenging projects.
Until then, we can look back at the history of Eco Challenge while also looking forward to what the future has in store for adventure racing.