The endeavour is a brand new, 50 miles, one day event being launched by Brit firm Rat Race Adventure Sports, which could put Panama on the UK adventure tourism map.
Due to take place in the sweltering heat of Central America next summer, the company says it represents the evolution of so-called ‘mud runs’ and other endurance challenges, as racers seek ever wilder, yet achievable, physical challenges.
And whoever does reach the finish line first could also be a world record holder – as the 48-mile-long Panama Canal zone, one of the world’s most famous trade routes, has yet to be traversed on foot.
The challenge, dubbed ‘The Canal’, is the brainchild of Rat Race founder Jim Mee, who’s just returned from Panama where he’s working on final planning.
Now Jim, headquartered in York, says he expects interest in the race to be high, with the event coming as part of a four-day adventure travel tour.
He explains: “Make no mistake, this is a real adventure.
“But it’s also a challenge most people can achieve. We’re not throwing competitors into the Amazon basin, where they’re a seven-day trek to the nearest hospital.
“This is a week, in and out, and a bite sized chunk of something truly epic. It’s still a bit bite though!”
Part of the route follows the canal itself and part of it goes into pristine primary jungle.
Other sections will need to be navigated via kayak as competitors take to a crocodile-infested lake in the central section of the Canal zone.
Meanwhile racers will also cut a narrow swathe through otherwise impenetrable forest.
Jim adds: “There’s a growing body of people out there who want to push the envelope, and it’s not necessarily about the arduousness of the challenge, it’s about going to places they would never have dreamed of going and achieving something truly memorable. They will be proud of their accomplishment and will literally never forget this type of challenge.
“Everyone’s heard of Panama, but not many people from the UK have been there, unless you work in banking or shipping, even though it’s relatively easy to fly there.
“And the Panama Canal is such an exotic setting for a race; there’s jungle, there’s lake, there’s crocodiles, and there’s the really cool urban landscape of Panama City.
“It’s an untapped adventure zone for us.
“Parts of the route have been totally claimed by the jungle. There’s no words to explain just how thick it is, and this will make up a section around 10km in length.
“That will feel like a real expedition – no one has been there for decades.”
When Jim and colleague Alex Reilly did their reconnaissance mission last month they were certainly aware of that fact, having to break trail through the inhospitable tangle.
And the other dangers are obvious.
Jim says: “There are crocodiles – and there are some extremely large ones – in the canal.
“In 2014 a specimen was caught and pulled out of the canal which was truly enormous, thought to be among the world’s biggest.
“The locals are certainly wary of them. When you ask them about crocs some of them say, ‘You’re going on the lake? You do know they can eat a man..?’ And some of them are really not too fazed by them at all.
“And, yes, there are stories of people getting eaten. But people still kayak on Gatun Lake and from what we can gather the crocs won’t attack humans because they’re already well fed.
“For us there’s risk, but it’s manageable.
“Meanwhile, in the jungle, there are Fer-de-lance snakes, which are highly venomous and also aggressive.
“Then there’s spiders, scorpions, wild pigs, and reports of jaguars. We’re not too sure Big cats are an immediate threat but further east, they have been known to attack humans.”
The safety of Rat Racers is, though, paramount.
Jim states: “There will be a lot of safety cover for the kayak stages, and we’ll have people in the jungle who know the jungle. And we’ll also have a large security presence, while the Canal zone itself is very well policed.”
The route also dissects the mouth of the Rio Chagres, a jungle river which also sits at the heart of an old cross-country route used 600 years ago by the Spanish conquistadors.
And competitors will also be following in the blistered footsteps of gold-loving English sea captain Sir Francis Drake, who died of dysentery in 1596 off the coast of Portobelo, Panama, and who’s fabled coffin remains there to this day, ever searched for by divers.
“Drake, Henry Morgan and swashbuckling tales of still-hidden Spanish loot abound in these parts. The place is legendary in so many ways. So there’s real history in amongst those trees and vines. It’s so rich in heritage, before you even factor in this vast shipping lane that is World-famous in its own right.”
It will cost in the region of £2,000 to take part in the Rat Race event, which includes transfers, hotels, tours, and the after party, but won’t include flights.
Flights from London to Panama, via Madrid, cost around £350 per person while it’s also only a three-hour flight to Panama from Miami.
There will be 200 places available to entrants when the race officially launches.
Meanwhile The Canal race is just the first event in a planned ‘Rat Race Bucket List’ of similar challenges, with further races to be announced in the Arctic Circle, covering 300km on skis and snowbike, and a foot race in the Namibian desert, home to the world’s highest sand dunes and terrain Jim describes as ‘pretty extreme’.
He says: “This is a bit of a pivot for us as an adventure company, which will form part of our ‘Bucket List’ series of challenges.
“With The Canal plus some other iconic races in far-flung spots, we will be able to offer jungle, polar and desert expedition-style events from the outset and to us that’s a pretty good trilogy.”
THE CANAL – Prospective Itinerary:
Day 1 – Arrive in Panama, transfer to hotel in Panama City. Optional sea kayaking excursion or canal tour.
Day 2 – Transit of the entire canal in a boat, with briefing, registration and kit checks for competitors
Day 3 – The event: Bus to the start at Agua Clara Locks. 11km run. 20km kayak paddle. 35km jungle trek/ road run. Finish Miraflores Locks near Panama City.
Day 4 – Rest day followed by potential for further excursions. End of event Party
Website – http://ratrace.com