Last updated: 22-Feb-17
In honour of our anniversary, the team at RunUltra got together to compile the list of what we think are the ten best ultras in the world. It was a lot of fun doing it, and there was some pretty fierce debate. So, here goes…
1. Marathon Des Sables – Sahara
With the debatable epithet “The Toughest Footrace on Earth” this is a no brainer, 30 years in the making, the combination of the heat the dust and the damn flies had to put the Marathon des Sables in there at top spot. The sheer size of the race and its epic nature means it is on a lot of people’s bucket list. It is 250km in 6 days, self-supported across the Sahara desert in Morocco, in temperatures of 50C+. The highlight of the race is always the long day when they throw in a sneaky double marathon. Feet are destroyed, but lifelong friendships are made.
Photo credit: RunUltra.
2. UTMB, Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc – French Alps
Let’s face it, the UTMB is a monster and every mountain ultra runner wants to get it under their belt. 166km with 9,600 metres of ascent. 2000 runners set off and the elites do the loop through 7 valleys, 71 glaciers and 400 summits in 20 hours or so. For ordinary superhumans it usually takes around 30 – 45 hours. You need to be part mountain goat and have an iron will to get round this one, but if you do, then you have guaranteed bragging rights for life.
Photo credit: © The North Face® Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc® – Pascal Tournaire.
3. Badwater 135 – United States
This bad boy is only to be undertaken by the very hardiest. It is a 217 km course starting at 86m below sea level in the Badwater Basin, in California’s Death Valley. It ends at 2548m. The heat averages around 49C. You have to bring your own crew, preferably with ice bath and the use of any intravenous liquids disqualifies you from the event. The time limit for the Badwater 135 is 48 hours. A great race for women – in 2002 and 2003 Pam Reed was the overall winner. Girl Power!
Photo credit: Chris Kostman Badwater.com ©AdventureCORPS
4. The Druid Challenge – England
This great run cuts across a swathe of beautiful English countryside from Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire to Swindon in Wiltshire along the Ridgeway Route, one of the oldest pathways in the country. The full race of the Druid Challenge is 135 km / 84 miles over three days with overnight accommodation in the relative comfort of leisure centre halls. It’s held in November so the weather can be a bit dodgy. Definitely one to pack the waterproofs for.
Photo credit: XNRG.
5. Comrades – South Africa
At the half way point we have Comrades. This one is a perennial favourite, even though it is (dare we say it) a road race. Around 90km long and based in South Africa, it has been going since 1921, when 34 hardy souls took it on. Now there are 23,000 runners annually. The cut off is 12 hours and, sadly, not everyone makes it. The spirit of this race is fantastic and is summed up by the Bantu word “ubuntu” which means “human kindness”. The race direction alternates every year – you may want to start with a “downhill” year!
Photo credit: Comrades.
6. Everest Trail Run – Himalayas, Nepal
When you tell another runner you are going to do this race, their reaction is always, “Ooh, I fancy that!” With a vertical range of more that 25 kms along a 160km route in 6 days against a backdrop of the most beautiful and iconic mountains in the world. If you want an adventure, this is it. If you want to deprive your lungs of oxygen, sign up here for the Everest Trail Run. The highest point is a lung-busting 4,200 metres up. You run over rocks and snow and the temperatures are a challenge with hot days and freezing nights. Incomparable scenery for a once in a lifetime run.
Photo credit: RunUltra.
7. Spartathlon – Greece
With the best tagline of any ultra: “Following in the footsteps of Pheidippides.” If you can say that 5 times at mile 27, you know you are ok. In 490 BC, Pheidippides was sent to Sparta to request help when the Persians landed at Marathon in Greece with conquest on their minds. He ran about 245km in two days to save the day. He then ran the 40 km from the battlefield near Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over Persia. And thus, the Marathon was born. Good news for Greece but bad news for Pheidippides, he reportedly then collapsed and died… Spartathlon follows in his 245km footsteps.
Photo credit: Spartathlon.gr.
8. The Coastal Challenge – Costa Rica
One minute you will be sweltering in jungle humidity, the next you’ll be running up alpine trails, across waterfalls through riverbeds and along pristine white beaches. The Coastal Challenge takes you through the whole gamut of ecosystems. It is 263km in 6 days and there are two levels – you can do Expedition (hardcore) or Adventure (hardcore fun). Vivid green rainforests, formidable volcanoes and a host of wildlife and birds. Lift up your head long enough to see the brilliant flash of parrots flying overhead or look closely at the trees, at sleepy sloth that hang from branches.
Photo credit: RunUltra.
9. Western States – California, United States
Man against horse. The Western States Endurance race started off as a horse race. Then in 1973, Gordy Ainsleigh’s horse pulled up lame at mile 29. Next year he ran it. It is a 100 miler across the trails of California starting in Squaw Valley and finishing in Auburn with 5,500 metres of ascent. It is also famous for its bling. The bronze belt buckle for finishing this brutal event in under 30 hours, and the silver for under 24 hours are hard won and highly prized.
Photo credit: Let’s Wander Photography.
10. Transvulcania – Canary Islands, Spain
Held in La Palma (Canary Islands), it is one of the shorter ultras at 73km but the landscape is rugged. It starts at sea level, and the accumulated elevation is 8,086 metres. Lots of ascending and descending, so one to get your climbing legs on for. 20% of participants don’t make it… You are guaranteed an amazing day out in the mountains with the Transvulcania. Lots of volcanic rock, black beaches, stunning views and a great finish.
Photo credit: Ian Corless.
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