There are numerous reasons for the ultra marathon boom of the last few years.
The popular book from Dean Karnazes, Ultramarathon Man, has been an inspiration to many. Born to Run has definitely gotten people out the door and running. More sponsorship dollars are coming into the sport. And people are looking for another new challenge.
For those runners looking to move onto something different, ultra marathons are a popular destination. Below is a short list of some great choices for athletes looking either to complete their first ultra, or set a new ultra distance Personal Record.
Good entry level 50k events
Blues Cruise This is a very runnable and fairly nontechnical 50k trail race in Pennsylvania. The aid stations are often manned by other ultra marathoners, so they know how to service the needs of the runners very well. A majority of the course is shaded and the temperatures will probably be in the 80s during the day. The race also features a 7.5 hour cut off time. You can’t walk the entire race, but you should not be in a huge rush to finish either. Race reports: Running Moose Lets Run Homey
Ridgecrest The Over the Hill Track Club puts this December race on in California. The race is another good first time event since it is not terribly technical nor hilly. The runners spend most of their time on desert roads and trails. Due to the location and time of year, temps are cooler. Being a looped course, the athletes have access to their home aid station as well as other stations on course every 3 miles. Race Report: Vanessa Runs
Skyline This is another great ultra in California (there are many) that features 7 aid stations and a scenic and only moderately hilly course with an 8 hour cut off. One nice thing about this event is that it features race day registration. Gone is the requirement to sign up for an event 6 months in advance, get injured, and lose the money from the race entry. With the Skyline Ultra, feel free to wait until the last minute. Race Report: Sarah Lavender Smith
If you want to spend some more time on your feet, or have perhaps completed the 50k distance, here are some faster 50 mile options. Many of the races listed on this page have multiple distance options too!
Lean Horse This is a rails to trails course in western South Dakota. Due to it being an old railway route, I believe you never run anything more than a 3% grade. Of course that adds the challenge of not always being aware of when you are climbing or descending! The out and back course features aid stations roughly every 5 miles and is almost completely on gravel trail. There is also a 50k and 100 mile this day as well. Race Reports: Run It Fast Dirt Runner
American River Taking place in California, this is the second largest 50 mile event in the country. The course is generally flat and only really climbs during the last few miles. The course is not technical, featuring paved road, bike path, single track trails, decomposed granite, and dirt. Race Reports: LA Runner The Runner's Trip
Bear Chase This race in Colorado features ranges from a 50mile all the way down to a 10k. The course is fairly fast and simple, the 50 mile only gains 3400 feet. This event is cup free. While this does require runners to provide their own bottles (which you should carry anyway) it saves the race money and helps cut down waste and garbage. Race Report: Sips From a Tall Drink of Water
Firetrails Featuring great goodie bags and awesome aid stations, this northern California ultra is a good choice for a beginner or for someone looking for a PR. The course is an out and back featuring great views of San Francisco and Mt. Diablo with single track, fire roads, and a bit of pavement, all with 7800 feet of climbing. Race Reports: Dave Mackey Run Your Potential
Rocky Raccoon This Texas race is famous for fast times and good first experiences. The 50 has a generous 29 hour cut off, so take a nap if you wish. The looped course means you visit your home aid station more than once, making it easy to see friends and family. Featuring jeep roads and single track, there is little elevation gain. Race Reports: Zen Triathlon Ultra Tortoise
Timed Ultra Marathons Another option is to choose a timed event for your first race. These are often held on short loops on generally forgiving terrain. You could see any from 5 mile routes to quarter mile laps around a high school track! The important thing is that every lap takes you right back to your home aid station where friends, family, and pacers can be waiting for you to cheer you on and tend to your needs. Mind The Ducks 12 Hour
If you know of an ultra that should be added to the above list, post about it below!
And where ever and to which ever race your feet take you, remember to Run Real!