What is an Ultra-marathon? – Part 1

What is an ultra-marathon? How long is it? Who can run in it?

These three questions and even more are often asked about the sport of ultra-marathons. Recently the term seems to be getting more and more popular, but for those that think these amazing running events are a new concept think again, ultra-marathons are at least a century old.

Tommy Chen wins Chilean desert ultra marathon

The simple answer is that an ultra-marathon is any race that is over 26.2 miles (the official length of a marathon). As far as who can run in one is up for debate, but really anybody who is physically fit enough to participate. In this blog we will be discussing what constitutes such a race and what rules and regulations guide participants who wish to run in an ultra-marathon. Believe it or not, there are standard and non-standard ultra-marathon events. Standard events are:

  • 50 kilometers
  • 100 kilometers
  • 150 kilometers
  • 200 kilometers
  • 1,000 kilometers

These standard lengths are also applicable in miles of the same length which adds another five standard events. Also, these are standard timed events which include:

  • 24 hours
  • 48 hours
  • Six days

But basically, ultra-marathons can be run over any distance or length of time, in a way trying to answer how long is a ultra-marathon is like trying to answer, how long is a piece of string? The rough guidelines are that a ultra-marathon starts at 50 kilometers and ends at different variations.

The Ultimate Ultra

The longest organized ultra-marathon currently held in the world is the Ultimate Ultra, which is an amazing 2092 kilometers long. The odd number is a reflection that it is run in New York which still uses imperial measurements, and in the USA the race is one thousand, three hundred miles. There is another recognized race in the USA which is called the Trans American Footrace, which is competed in daily stages from Los Angeles all the way to New York. This race takes sixty-four days to complete and covers nearly five thousand kilometers.

Rules and Regulations

Rules and regulations are fairly flexible on ultra-marathon runs, and they can be on tracks, trails and roads. They can be almost in any configuration, such as out and back, point to point or on loop courses. The Ultimate Ultra takes place on a loop track in Sri Chinmoy. Competitors are allowed to go as you please, which allows them carte blanche to basically compete any way they want to. This means they can stop to eat, take a comfort break, and even take a nap should they so desire. There are no penalty points for any such action, and due to the lengths of some of the races this is fully understandable.

Men and women also compete in the same event together, but back in the time when the sport was called pedestrianism, the sexes used to compete separately. In part two of our blog we find out even more facts about this fascinating sport, including the different categories involved.