What are Ultramarathon Races?
An ultramarathon is defined as any running event longer than the traditional marathon race distance of 42.2K, or 26.2 miles – which, interestingly enough is equivalent to running the length of a football field 461 times.
Most, but not all, ultramarathons are run in forest trails. There are far more “trail ultras” than “road ultras”. For many runners, running in the nature is far superior to running in the crowded, vehicular streets.
One important element of ultramarathons is the aid station. Aid stations are placed at various mileage intervals along the race course and are designed to provide water, electrolyte aid and food for runners. At some of the longer races, aid stations also consist of doctors and caretakers there to provide medical assistance, foot repair and counseling for runners in distress. Aid stations volunteers can have a huge impact on the runner and especially in later stages of the race. The right food, the right words of encouragement and sometimes just a mere smile can be enough to keep the runner moving.
Here’s a shout-out to all the aid station volunteers – we love you!
Ultramarathons are typically run in two different types of formats, distance events and timed events.
Ultramarathon Distance Events
Distance events are the most common ultra races and most familiar for runners new to the sport of endurance running. The idea, as expected, is to run a specified distance in the least amount of time. Typical race distances range from thirty-one miles to 100 miles; but there are also extremes ultra races which are multi-day, self-transcendence races as long as 3100 miles.
Some popular distance ultramarathons are:
- Western States Endurance Run – 100 miles from Squaw Valley to Auburn, California
- Mountain Masochist Trail Run – 50-mile race in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia
- Way Too Cool 50K – 31-ish mile race in Cool, California
Ultramarathon Timed Events
These events are designed to see how far a runner can go in definitive amount of time. Timed events tend to be more popular outside of the United States. Races ranging from 6-hour races to as 24-hour are the norm, with some popular 48-hour and 72-hour races run right through the New Year in Arizona.
Whether running a timed event or distance event, ultramarathoners typically come in three flavors, the front-of-the-pack, the middle-of-the-pack and the back-of-the-pack.
Some popular timed ultramarathon races are:
- Across the Years – a 72/48/24-mile footrace run right through the New Year holiday in Litchfield Park, Arizona
- Self-Transcendence Six and Ten Day Races – Multi-day, self-transcendence races run on short loop, over and over again, in New York City
- San Francisco One Day – 12/24-hour running event known for it’s beauty and spectacular views
Front-of-the-pack runners: Elite runners with much experience and even more speed.
Middle-of-the-pack runners: Usually, experienced runners whom many times are competing less with the field of participants and more with themselves to improve their race times over previous race attempts.
Back-of-the-pack runners: This group tends to consist of the bigger, older and of course slower folks. For a large number of runners in this group, finishing the race in one piece in the ultimate goal, with a nod in the direction of time accumulation. For many of the runners in this group, the experience is the reward.