A friend recently ran a race in the wilds of northern Canada. “You can literally disappear,” James Stevens tells me. “And you’re warned to look out for bears.”

He doesn’t mention how long the race was, but I know it would have been monumental. Stevens is one of a special breed of runners whose perceptions of distances have blurred, defying bland comparisons of measurement. Is 50km a radical distance to run, or does that definition only kick in from 100km? Not hardcore enough? Add a desert environment, a jungle, oxygen-deprived altitude — or the frozen Arctic.

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