A competition deemed "human will against nature" by its founder (the first person to ever sail, solo, nonstop around the world) officially kicked off today in London, with a motley assortment of mostly run-of-the-mill folks vying to win the 40,000-nautical-mile contest that will reach six continents, NBC News notes. The contenders for the Clipper Round the World event, featuring 12 teams racing on 70-foot Clipper yachts (each fortified with an expert skipper), range in age from 18 to 74 and include a Muslim woman who needs to pray five times a day, a deaf British man, and a 68-year-old woman who's been building muscle strength via pole-dancing (she's the one on her crew designated to ascend the mast to fix the sails). Perhaps most surprising: A good number of the 700 competitors—NBC pegs it at 40%—have zero sailing experience; two South Africans in the race had never even seen the ocean before joining (all contenders undergo training before the race).
All of which sounds frightening when you consider the dangers and grueling regimen of the race, finishing up in London next July. Contenders can expect little sleep, extreme discomfort, and an enormous amount of required energy—NBC says they'll each burn about 5,000 calories a day. They'll also sleep tied into their beds (when yachts are booking, they tilt at 45-degree angles), and they'll only bathe when it rains. There's also the very real risk of falling into Poseidon's clutches. "The sea does not distinguish between Olympians or novices," the site reads. "There is nowhere to hide—if Mother Nature throws down the gauntlet, you must be ready." It sounds like competitors are up for the task. "They've come up with loads of ideas to support me," Gavin Reid, the deaf UK man, says of his teammates. "One of my crew members came up with the idea of glow-in-the-dark lipstick so I can lip-read at night." (Too extreme for you? Try chugging four beers while running a mile.)