Sam and regular commenter Damon provided great input in the comments. The "how hard is it" spreadsheet exists in its current state at this link (Google doc.) Anybody can comment in its current state. If instead you think it would be more efficient to do so, ask me for editing permission.
My theory on difficulty: distance is the primary challenge; climbing is the secondary challenge; temperature delta is the third challenge; weather is fourth; elevation delta is fifth.
1. Distance: the first one is obvious. I think distance becomes harder in stages -- thus, 544 (Adirondack) is qualitatively harder than 384 (Fireweed), but only slightly harder than 508 (Furnace Creek). How distance is factored in needs to be determined.
2. Climbing: again, obvious. In order not to double-count, climbing must be factored on a feet-per-mile basis.
3. Temperature Delta: my theory goes that riding at 100 degrees is hard as is riding at 30 degrees. But either can be trained and planned for. Wild temperature swings are much more difficult. A route with daytime lowland highs of 100 degrees plus and nightime montain lows of 30 degrees would be qualitatively harder than a comparable ride with fair consistency at either end of the spectrum.
4. Weather: here I am seeking data on wind and rain. Wind is probably worse, but I assume any serious weather event just sucks. Tailwinds do not make up for headwinds, so unless a route always enjoys tailwinds I assume any weather is a difficulty.
5. Elevation Delta: in an effort to quantify hard climbing versus easy climbing, I am looking for data on elevation changes. That should go a ways toward separating out the rollers (easy) from the passes (hard).
I also removed the rides that (under my subjective assessment) have not yet achieved certain indicia of acceptance. Regretfully it meant dumping the two South Dakota events, each of which I'd like to try. I did leave the Naked Challenger because it looks professionally promoted.
So comment/edit away!
I've been surfing the various realistic ultracycling events (i.e., excluding the cross-country or around-country (if Europe) races) and thought I'd compile a short list of elevation profiles in an early attempt at quantifying the objective difficulties of these events.
Much more to study to accomplish this task. I'm intrigued, though, at the results of this first pass. Want to make RAAM look like a cake-walk? Try the Naked-branded races in British Columbia going online this August! (I included the shortest of the three.) Interested in massive feet-per-mile in a ~36-hour event? Go first to South Dakota, then Oregon, Alaska, and New York. The notorious Furnace Creek 508 rolls in an astounding fifth in US-based weekend-long ultras.
First, brief notes on my selection criteria. The events chosen are:
- North-America based;
- those for which the course was created for a reason other than to maximize climbing. Thus, a route created by Jan Heine would be automatically disqualified (facetious, but you get the point); and
- finite-mileage road ride/race events, excluding dirt road randonnee-type rides and 24-hour races.