Founded in 2015, Portugal’s PT281+ race was designed to mimic two of the world’s most difficult ultras: Badwater 135, which takes place in the insane heat of California’s Death Valley, and the Brazil 135, which is famous for its extreme humidity and huge climbs.
The race travels 281 kilometers, or 175 miles, through Beira Baixa, a region in west-central Portugal replete with old, historic villages and medieval castles. It starts at the castle in Prenamacor and ends in the castle in Castelo Blanco. “The Beira Baixa region is truly a gem,” says American runner Levi Rizk, who has completed the PT281+ three times. “You get to travel through many villages with their unique customs and beautiful architecture, and meet Portuguese people with hospitality you have never experienced before.”
The race, which follows a combination of roads and trails through mountains and villages, is unmarked (GPS trackers are required for every runner) and largely self supported, with aid limited to eight support stations along the way. Runners go solo—no pacers allowed—and are permitted to have crew meet them only at the designated aid stations.
“It can often be a distance of a marathon or more from one base to another,” says Rizk. “So you have to be prepared and comfortable being alone for many hours.” The race’s biggest challenge: heat.
This year, temperatures soared as high as 116 degrees, with lows down to the 60s at night. In 2016, more than half the field DNF’d. This year, less than a quarter of participants finished.
Brazilian photographer Thiago Diz captured images of the exhausted runners making their way toward Castelo Blanco, as well as the beautiful scenery and rich historical landscape of old medieval castles.