How Long Is An Ultra Marathon? The Ultramarathon Distance Explained

How Long Is An Ultra Marathon?

While running has always been a popular form of exercise, “ultrarunning” is the new fad sweeping the nation. 

Ultrarunning is the activity of racing in ultramarathons, the ultimate challenge for any professional or highly skilled runner. 

But what exactly does it mean to run an ultramarathon? Keep reading to find out all about this extreme form of the marathon. 

  • There is a boom in ultra running around the world.
  • Various races are included in the term, from mountain trails to paved roads.
  • An ultramarathon typically starts at 50K and goes up from there (so it is more than a marathon which is 42K / 26 miles).
  • Common ultramarathon distances are 50K, 100K, 50 miles (80 kilometers), and 100 miles (160 kilometers).
  • Ultra races can also be time-based (like 6, 12, or 24 hours) or even multi-day events.

How Long Is an Ultramarathon? 

Basically, any running race longer than a marathon is called an ultramarathon (a marathon is 42.195 kilometers / 26.2 miles).

In general, ultramarathon races begin at 50 kilometers and continue to increase in the distance from there.

The standard distances are 50 kilometers, 100 kilometers, and 100 miles (161 kilometers).

While the marathon has a fixed distance of 26.2 miles, ultramarathons can be anywhere between their typical lengths and also far beyond 100 miles.

Examples of Ultra Marathon Races and Distances

The Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, a 100-miler, is actually 171 kilometers long. It is a world-famous trail ultramarathon that has a reputation for being one of the most competitive.

The distance of the Hong Kong 100 ultra trail race is 103 kilometers.

The Marathon des Sables follows the style of 250 kilometers broken up into 7 days of racing. Each day, runners cover a variety of distances, some of which are less than an ultramarathon, and then they rest and do more the next day.

As the sport’s popularity increases, more people are looking for ways to test its limits. One example is the non-stop 298-kilometer Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge, which takes place without help on the trails.

The time it takes runners to complete the course often falls between 48 and 70 hours.

What Is an FKT in Ultra Running?

The phrase “Fastest Known Time,” or “FKT,” refers to a record for a particular course in ultra running.

Runners frequently compete in ultramarathons outside of organized competitions simply for enjoyment, to set a personal best or a Fastest Known Time. 

This could be anything from the 44-kilometer Hong Kong Trail, which takes a few hours, to the 4,172-kilometer Pacific Crest Trail, which has an FKT of almost two months. Both of these trails are considered to be world records.

Times and routes for FKT are maintained by:

A route approved for FKT must be attractive enough for other people to want to do it. If you’re just following neighborhood routes, it’s more of a Strava segment.

Ultramarathon Trails 

How Long Is An Ultra Marathon?

Because an ultramarathon can technically go on forever, that means that an endless number of terrains could be run on.

An ultramarathon may take place on a road, a flat surface, a track, pavement, a mountain route, snow, or anything else. 

The 246-kilometer Spartathlon is a well-known example of an ultramarathon that is run on roads.

It follows the traditional course that was traveled by Pheidippides, who ran from Athens to Sparta before the Battle of Marathon in Ancient Greece, so inventing the marathon. Pheidippides went from Athens to Sparta before the battle.

The Ultra Marathon du Mont Blanc, which takes place in the Alps and boasts a cumulative height increase of 10,040 meters, is the mountain ultramarathon that receives the greatest media attention.

The duration of the race, as opposed to the distance covered, is typically the primary focus of track ultras. You may, for instance, see how far you can travel in one day by running around and around the same track continuously.

When Zach Bitter ran the 100-mile race that led to him setting the world record, which has since been surpassed, he did so on a track that was 443 meters in length and completed 363 laps.

The distances and terrains are so drastically different from one race to the next that they constitute entirely new sports.

Comparing Kilian Jornet, who is considered to be one of the best ultra-mountain runners of all time, to Yiannis Kouros, who is considered to be one of the best ultra-road runners of all time, is like comparing apples to oranges.

Both athletes are considered to be at the top of their game.

What’s Harder, a Marathon or an Ultramarathon?

The term “ultra” refers to the length of the race rather than its difficulty. A marathon of any distance is not that much more difficult than an ultramarathon, even though an ultramarathon is quite difficult.

If you want to finish your marathon in a certain and challenging time, you will need to adhere to a specific split, keep your legs spinning as much as possible, and always keep your focus on your pace while pushing your body to its limits.

The type of terrain that you’re running on will also make the race easier or harder. Compared to a marathon run on a paved road, an ultra-mountain marathon would be way harder and require far more training and experience. 

People who have little running experience have the misconception that ultramarathons are the “next step” for runners who’re searching for a more difficult race. 

Finding a shorter time is equally as difficult as finding a long distance to go in the same amount of time. It all depends on the runner to choose which one is more challenging than the other. The same may be said about the sport of ultrarunning.

Ruth Croft, one of the best runners in the world, routinely wins events that are approximately 50 kilometers long. After she “finished” a 50-kilometer race, she was hounded with questions about when she would do a 100-miler.

Croft resisted the temptation to give in to the pressure to run further before she was prepared because she was aware that the two measures of performance, speed, and distance, are not always comparable.

The Bottom Line 

The simple definition of “longer than a marathon” doesn’t do justice to the vast range of competitions that fall under the category of “ultramarathons”.

This kind of marathon can be run on all terrains, in all weather conditions, and over a technically endless distance. 

While they’re far too difficult for a beginner runner, those who’ve competed in marathons before and have some skill and training in this sport should be able to complete an ultramarathon, though even more prep work may be needed.

Here you can read about the hardest ultra-marathons in the US.

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