[uhl-truh-mar-uh-thon, -thuhn]
An ultramarathon (also called ultra distance) is any sporting event involving running longer than the traditional marathon length of 42.195 kilometers (26.21875 miles, 46,145 yards).

There are two general types of ultramarathon events: those that cover a specified distance, and events that take place during specified time (with the winner covering the most distance in that time). The most common distances are 50 and 100 miles, or 50 and 100 kilometers. Other distances/times include double marathons, 24-hour races, and multiday races of 1000 miles or even longer. The format of these events and the courses covered are quite variable, ranging from single or multiple loops (some as short as a 400 meter track), to point-to-point road or trail races, to cross-country rogaines. Many ultramarathons, especially trail challenges, are characterized by severe course obstacles, such as inclement weather, elevation change, or rugged terrain. Many of these races are run on dirt roads or mountain paths, though some are run on paved roads as well. Usually, there are aid stations every five to fifteen km apart, where runners can replenish food and drink supplies or take a short break.

Timed events range from 6, 12, and 24 hours to 3 and 6 days (known as multi-day events). Timed events are generally run on a track or a short road course, often one mile or less.

The International Association of Ultra Runners (IAU) organises the World Championships for various ultramarathon distances, including 50K, 100K, 24 hours, and 48 hours. These events are sanctioned by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the world governing body of track and field. Many countries around the world have their own ultrarunning organization, often the national athletics federation of that country, or are sanctioned by such national athletics organizations. World records for distances, times and ages are tracked by the IAU.

Ultramarathons over the world

Ultramarathons are run all over the world and over 70,000 people complete ultramarathons every year. A list of the most popular ultra marathons can be found under the subsection "Well-known ultramarathons" below.



Several ultra distance events are held in Africa. South Africa hosts the world's oldest and largest ultramarathon, the 89km Comrades Marathon. Approximately 12,000 runners complete Comrades each year, with approximately 20,000 in 2000. It also hosts the 56 kilometre long Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town in the southern autumn which attracts approximately 7,000 runners.


Ultrarunning has become quite popular in Asia recently, and countries and regions such as Taiwan, Japan, and Korea have hosted IAU World Championships in the last few years. Korea's first ultramarathon was held in 2000. India's first ultra marathon was held in 2007, in Bangalore.

The Annapurna 100 kilometer race in Pokhara, Nepal is considered the most difficult 100k ultramarathon in the world.

Australia and New Zealand

The first ultramarathon held in Australia and New Zealand was likely a track 100km in New Zealand. Today, Australia and New Zealand are host to approximately 100 ultramarathons each year. One of the most famous Australian ultra Marathons was the Westfield Ultra Marathon, an annual race between Sydney and Melbourne which was contested between 1983 and 1991. Greek runner Yiannis Kouros won the event five times during that period. Australia is also the home of one of the oldest six-day races in the world, the Cliff Young Australian 6-day race, held in Colac, Victoria. The race is held on a 400 meter circuit at the Memorial Square in the centre of Colac, and has seen many epic battles since its inception in 1984. The 20th Cliff Young Australian 6-day race was held between the 20-26 November 2005. During that event Kouros beat his existing world record 6-day track mark and set a new mark of 1036.851 km.


Ultrarunning is also quite popular in Europe, where over 200 ultramarathons are held each year. Among the biggest are the Ultra Trail Tour du Mont Blanc which consists of a 150km loop around Mont Blanc including 8500m total elevation gain, the 100k of Bienne and the 72.7k Rennsteiglauf in the Thuringian Forest. The second oldest ultramarathon in the world, London to Brighton, was widely considered to be among the most prestigious titles until its retirement in 2005. The earliest written documentation of ultrarunners came from Icelandic sagas. The history of ultrarunners and walkers from the Victorian Era has also been documented. The IAU hosts annual European Championships for the 50k, 100k and 24 hours. The European Ultramarathon Cup (ECU) is an annual series covering several of the biggest races in different European vountries. An extreme challenge in Germany is the annually multiday Deutschlandlauf (Germany Run) over 1200km.


Due to logistics, environmental concerns and travel costs (also for organisers) there are only a handful of ultramarathons in Antarctica including: The Last Desert, a multi-stage footrace, and the Antarctic Ice Marathon - a marathon and 100 kilometer race.

North America

There are several hundred ultramarathons held annually in North America. One of the most popular is the Western States Endurance Run, the world's oldest 100-mile trail run. The race began unofficially in 1974, when local horseman Gordy Ainsleigh's horse for the 100-mile Tevis Cup horse race came up lame. He decided to travel the course on foot, finishing in 23 hours and 47 minutes.

One of the first documented ultramarathons in North America was held in 1926, as part of the Central American Games. Tomas Zafiro and Leoncio San Miguel, both Tarahumara Indians, ran 100K from Pachuca to Mexico City in 9 hours and 37 minutes. At the time, the Mexican government petitioned to include the 100K in the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, however nothing came of these efforts.

In 1928, sports agent C. C. Pyle organized the first of two editions of the 3455-mile-long Bunion Derby (the first went along U.S. Route 66 from Los Angeles to Chicago before heading toward New York; the 1929 Derby reversed the route). Neither the race nor the accompanying vaudeville show was a financial success.

In April 2006, the American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame was established by the American Ultrarunning Association (AUA). Candidates for the Hall of Fame are chosen from the 'modern era' of American ultras, beginning with the New York Road Runners Club 30 Mile race held in 1958. The Inaugural inductees were Ted Corbitt, a former US Olympian, winner of the aforementioned race in 3:04:13, and co-founder of the Road Runners Club of America, and Sandra Kiddy, who kicked off her ultra career at age 42 with a world record at 50 kilometers, 3:36:56, and who went on to set a string of US and world ultra records.

Well-known ultramarathons

Road and dirt paths

Mountain and trails

Extreme conditions

Very long events and multidays

World or national-record holding or world-championship-winning ultramarathon runners

  • Tomoe Abe, 100k female world record holder (6:33:11)
  • Gordy Ansleigh, Western States Endurance Run pioneer, 'inventor' of the trail ultramarathon
  • Suprabha Beckjord 3100 mile race record holder
  • Edit Berces, world record holder, 24 hour treadmill; holds several Hungarian records
  • Ted Corbitt, "father of American ultrarunning"; 1952 US Olympic team member; former American world record holder at various distances
  • Bruce Fordyce, nine time Comrades Marathon winner; African 100K record holder (6:25:07)
  • Wally Hayward, Multiple winner of Comrades Marathon, London to Brighton, many other ultramarathons; set early world records
  • Dr. Bernd Heinrich, US 100 mile track record holder (12:27:01), naturalist
  • Scott Jurek, seven time winner and current course record holder of the Western States Endurance Run; two-time winner and former course record holder of the Badwater Ultramarathon; winner and former course record holder of the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run; two-time winner of the Spartathlon 152-mile race from Athens to Sparta, Greece
  • Vladimir Kotov, former Comrades Marathon winner
  • Yiannis Kouros, multi-day race legend, holder of numerous world records and world bests from 24 hours to 1,000 miles, course record holder of the Spartathlon since its inception in 1983
  • Frith van der Merwe, set Comrades Marathon records for both directions
  • Stu Mittleman, US record holder for six day race (578 miles)
  • Arthur Newton, 5 times Comrades Marathon winner
  • Jesper Olsen, has run around the world in 22 months (2004-'05); won the Australian 6-days race (2004).
  • Ann Trason, thirteen time Western States Endurance Run winner and current female course record holder; holds numerous world records, including 100 mile (13:47:41 1991), 50 mile (5:40:18, 1991) , and 12 Hours (147.6k, 1991); American 100k record holder (7:00:48)
  • Cliff Young, former winner Westfield Sydney to Melbourne; holds numerous world age records


Extra long distance bicycle races are also referred to as "ultramarathons" or "ultracycling" events. In cycling, there is no specific distance that is directly analogous to runners' 26 miles (42 km), so the definition of cycling ultramarathon is not set in stone. Generally, all events that last 12 hours or longer or cover distances of over 200 miles (so-called "double century") can be considered ultramarathons. Some examples of ultramarathons include Race Across America and its qualifying races


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