The sport of ultrarunning is growing in popularity with every passing year. The numbers running the “ultra” distances is growing steadily and some of the major races around the world mimic numbers one would see at major marathons.
The reason for the popularity is multi-fold. The distances encompassing ultrarunning is no more an unimaginable feat. It is a very doable impressive accomplishment. To add to the wow factor, the extended distances allow for multifaceted adventurous, challenging and scenic events.
Comrades Marathon boasts as being the biggest ultramarathon in the world. This 89km race organized up or down in the Kwazulu-Natal Province of South Africa brings athletes together from all around the world. Southern part of Africa has taken a leading role in organizing fewer but bigger races.
While East Africa, with Kenya and Ethiopia, remains to be the hub of middle to long distance running. South Africa, Zimbabwe and Lesotho are leading the charge for ultrarunning bragging rights on the continent. Hundreds of ultra athletes from other parts of the continent are making South Africa their training facility. This is quite relevant, given that some of the biggest races in the world in Comrades and Two Oceans come from the southern tip of the continent.
Europe has been the center of ultrarunning for more than a third of a century. With a huge number of landlocked countries, ultrarunning enthusiasts can not only drive to neighbouring countries, but in some instances also run through several nations within an ultra event. The Tour du Mont Blanc, a 170km run in the famous mountain, takes racers through Switzerland, Italy and France.
A turnout of a few hundred for a Saturday morning ultra trail race is not uncommon in Europe. The French Alps boast huge attendees for the trail series in the mountains. Back in the cities, races like the Torhout 100km in Belgium and its counterpart in Winschoten, the Netherlands keep the ultrarunning banner flying high on the road version of the race. These races are community events where neighbourhoods after neighbourhoods embrace the festivities.
Asia is slowly becoming a powerhouse in international ultrarunning. Japan has staged teams in both the 100km and 24 Hour events performing extremely well and making the podium on a regular schedule. East Asian countries including Philippines, Taiwan and Mongolia have taken an active interest in the sport.
South Korean ultrarunning enthusiasts have undertaken the grand slam of ultrarunning, where athletes run across the country diagonally to augment the distance of the event, followed by spiral runs starting in the middle of the nation working outwards. India and Malaysia are countries that are joining the ultrarunning force with enhanced interest to be active members of the post-marathon running world.
Australia and New Zealand are veteran ultrarunning nations and they have taken a very active interest in the sport. The national organizations have gone on an exponential increase in their memberships with the national series of races and other incentives for their members. The races have regular turnouts with records and results that are meticulously maintained.
North America has embraced the sport and this has been evident by the number of ultra races around the continent. Western States, Run for the Toad, Badwater and JFK 50 Miler are some of the well-known races from the area. Trail Running is as popular as road races and track events. This has given the athletes a myriad of terrain to run on during the ultra events.
South America has been an active member of the ultrarunning community. The continent has always attracted the adventurous to try something different from the everyday ultras in our backyards. The Atacama Desert Crossing and the Jungle Ultra through the Amazon Forest are very popular events from that part of the world.
Ultrarunning is a sport that embraces the environment and the available terrain. South America with Australia have embraced this fact wholeheartedly. The continents have attracted runners from around the globe, combining the serenity of the environment, to the challenges of the distance. This spells a vacation for ultrarunning enthusiasts.
One knows that ultrarunning is on the rise when an ultrarunner can pick a 100km event to run in Antarctica. The event is undoubtedly one of the most difficult ultras in the world and it fulfills the vision of the ultimate ultrarunner to run an ultra on every continent.
The sport is well recognized in the international arena. The sport is run in several countries around the world. And the sport is not the event totally unheard of within the international running community. Ultrarunning is getting its due recognition and is respected with individuals familiar with the sport.
Ultrarunning is on upward swing around the globe. It is quite an interesting time to be a student of the sport and see it from the insider’s view. It has come leaps and bounds in the last couple of decades and the future looks extremely bright for our sport.
It will be fascinating to see if the sport, as an entity, continues to overcome challenges mimicking the determination of the members that embrace this sport.