Because they’re part of a special group of globe-trotting athletes who road-test the world’s toughest adventure races before they’re even launched to the general public.
And – if you’re feeling brave – you can join them!
In his day job Darren Grigas, 41, is a property investor from Peterborough while Allie Bailey is a 37-year-old freelance project manager from north London.
But in their spare time they become hardcore race explorers.
In the space of just three weeks late last year (2018) they stepped away from their desks to complete a series of back-to-back ultra-marathons in locations that’d put Bear Grylls to shame – while also bagging two world firsts in the process.
Their incredible excursions saw them making the first ever foot crossing of an uninhabited stretch of the Namib Desert, covering 127 miles in four days and ascending half the height of Everest.
Just days later, they made the first ever foot-traverse of the Panama Canal, trekking 50 miles in just a day and narrowly avoiding 10 ft long man-eating crocodiles.
And they also found time to complete a ‘three peaks’ mountain challenge in South Africa while also spending a week dodging deadly snakes and spiders in the jungles of Central America.
Darren and Allie did so because they are official ‘test pilots’ for UK firm Rat Race Adventure Sports.
Having pioneered these new routes, the races can now be launched as official events for paying punters.
And Darren – a dad-of-two who covered more than 300 miles on foot, and ascended 50,000 ft in height, in just 13 days – says: “Each of these individual events are pretty epic on their own.
“But doing them all back-to-back is something else.
“Typically, you’ll do one of these challenges, go home, and sleep for a week and eat as much as you can while feeling knackered.
“Instead we got on a 12 hour flight and did the same thing in a different location!
“Being a Rat Race test pilot requires a certain amount of stamina, and it’s not for the faint hearted. But to go out to these locations and be the first to complete these routes is very, very special.”
Allie took up running just a few years ago, as a way to improve her mental health, and last year became the first woman to run across the 100-mile long Khövsgöl Nuur frozen lake in Mongolia – braving temperatures as low as minus – 47ºc – as part of her job as a Rat Race ambassador.
She says: “Completing these routes in Namibia, Panama and Mongolia really pushed us to the limits.
“The jungles of Panama in particular were a real test of endurance for me.
“But it’s part and parcel of being an adventure race test pilot. We’ve got to make sure these events are ‘doable’ before the general public is let loose on them.
“And that often means running the gauntlet of dangerous animals, unassailable pathways and heat exhaustion.”
November 20, Darren and Allie – as well as Rat Race founder Jim Mee – set-off on a new 127-mile long journey into Namibia’s inhospitable Namib desert.
After four-and-a-half days negotiating 40ºC heat and the world’s biggest sand dunes they racked-up 15,000 ft of ascent before arriving on the famous Skeleton Coast.
This route will now become ‘Race to the Wreck’, with the first event taking place in November this year.
Darren says: “The easiest way to describe what it’s like to climb these enormous sand dunes is to imagine going up an escalator the wrong way, in a heatwave, with tired legs.”
Allie adds: “On the first day we set out at 6.30am and it was already 30 degrees. Upon packing up camp we found two yellow scorpions had crawled under our groundsheets. We’d lucked out – they are very, very poisonous!”
On November 26 the team arrived in Cape Town to complete a ‘three peaks’ challenge, covering 12 miles and 5,500ft of ascent as Darren and Allie scaled Table Mountain, Signal Hill and Lion’s Head.
Darren adds: “It was a light run compared with what we’d just done in Namibia.”
International flights then took Darren and the team to Panama, where on November 29th they embarked on a one day, full traverse of the famous Panama Canal on foot and via kayak – the first time such a trip has ever been done.
It was on this 50-mile, day-long journey they encountered massive crocodiles in the warm waters, and Darren adds: “The most worrying part was seeing a 10ft long croc at the precise location where we had to get out of the kayaks and wade through shallow water to the start of the jungle.
“I heard a snap – and it was a big one. We were in their prime hunting spot. The vegetation was just as nasty, too, covered in needles three inches long.”
Just two days later, the Rat Race test pilots then embarked on a 200km coast-to-coast crossing of western Panama, travelling from the Pacific shores in the south to the Caribbean in the north, passing through pristine rainforest, home to jaguar, puma and howler monkey.
This mission would test the group to their very core, as they ascended 29,0000 ft over six days and made their way over a dormant volcano.
Darren was bitten by a mysterious spider and made what he called a “schoolboy error” of standing barefoot on his machete, running his heel down the blade on the very first day, suffering a deep wound to his foot which caused him pain from that moment on.
They also had to dodge deadly snakes which inhabit the jungle, including the fearsome The Fer-De-Lance, as well as coral snakes and tree vipers.
Allie says: “All that separated us from the wildlife was a thin net. One night it rained so hard my hammock slipped and I woke up on the floor, but I was just too exhausted to get up and re-erect it. I made a few new bug friends on the jungle floor that night”
Darren adds: “I’d never gone from event to event to event like this before, and I was really feeling it. We all were.
“And we were out in the jungle on our own, where the only help we had was each other.”
One member of the team suffered such extreme heat exhaustion as they neared the finish line he collapsed, just 800 metres from the exit point, sparking a medical emergency.
Rat Race leader Jim, who was joined by partner Danielle Brodie in Namibia, adds: “We’d ascended and descended the height of Everest, in extreme heat and really tricky conditions, while carrying heavy packs.
“One of the guys battled through everything that the jungle threw at him but simply collapsed on the last day. His body shut down, he couldn’t see properly and he lost the feeling in his legs.
“We laid him down in a river and got him cooled down. It was pretty serious for a while, but we all work together to ensure the team can respond when someone needs help.
“This whole trip was the toughest thing any of us had done.”
If that sounds like enough adventure to last a lifetime, the Rat Race test pilots will soon be making their way to other far-flung locations to pioneer new ‘Bucket List’ events.
They include potential races in Kamchatka, eastern Russia, where the bears outnumber humans, as well as Haida Gwaii, an archipelago of mysterious islands off Canada’s British Columbia, plus Bikini Atoll, a notorious former nuclear testing ground in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Jim says: “We comb the planet looking for the next wave of seriously out-there adventures, and we rely on a few hardy souls to come with us and be test-pilots on these amazing new trips.
“It’s true trailblazing, and our test pilots are always bagging world firsts as they literally travel in some cases where no Human has gone before”
To get involved yourself, head to: http://ratrace.com/bucketlist/