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Extreme races: These feet don’t lie

People from all over the world visit Norway every year to compete in “The Great Trial of Strength.”

The annual bicycle race is 540 kilometers (336 miles) long, but the length of the race is just part of why it’s such a grueling test.

“It's so extreme,” Norwegian photographer Espen Rasmussen said. “You start in Trondheim in the north, then you go up the mountains and you meet snow, rain, heavy wind, and then you finish in Oslo in the south.”

It is punishing on the body. Especially the feet, which Rasmussen took photos of minutes after people crossed the finish line.

“I started to think: What could kind of express the pain and the hardness these people are going through?” he said.

That pain can be seen, clear as day, on the bottoms of people’s feet. Blistered and calloused. Bandaged and bruised. Shriveled from the wet conditions. They are irrefutable evidence of how tough the race is.

Rasmussen said he got some weird looks when he asked racers he didn’t know to take off their shoes and socks after the race. Some couldn’t even do it, he said, because they were so tired. But many obliged.

“They're so exhausted, I think they kind of were just like: 'Yeah, yeah, whatever. Do it, but just quickly,’ ” he said.

Rasmussen also shot photos of people’s feet at the end of the Bislett Indoor Ultra Challenge, a race in Oslo where people run around an indoor track for 24 hours straight. And he’s been shooting the Jungle Marathon in Brazil, a weeklong race in the Amazon rainforest. It’s part of his ongoing photo project “Pain.”

He said he’s just fascinated with extreme races and the people who participate in them.

“Why do men want to push themselves — their bodies, their minds — in a more extreme way?” he said. “I mean, before it was good if you managed to fulfill a normal marathon. These days, you kind of have to do the more and more extreme events to kind of say that I'm happy with myself and you get kind of the response you want from your surroundings.”

While all sorts of people compete in these events, Rasmussen said it seems as though it’s mostly men in their 40s.

“Most of these men, they want to accomplish something extreme,” he said. “Many of them work in an office, sit on the chair for eight or nine hours a day working on the computer. So they want to push their bodies.”

“And I think it's also kind of a sign of the Western world: We have everything, you know? … You have the car, you have the house, you have the family, you have the money, you have everything else. What's next?”

Rasmussen also has another theory about why people want to push themselves to their absolute limit.

“Since we’ve been on this planet, we try to avoid pain, we try to avoid this hardness,” he said. “But these days, men, people, suddenly they're trying to feel it again, you know? I think it's a kind of a way to feel alive.”

- Kyle Almond, CNN