Classic ultramarathons every trail runner should know and perhaps have on their racing bucket list.
As an ultrarunner for over 15 years, I have raced some of the most well-known events in the sport. The majority of the ultramarathons I have competed in, however, are lesser known or more community based. Famous races can be great for competition, prestige, and challenge. There is nothing like entering the stadium at Comrades to a deafening crowd urging you forward or running around the track towards the finish at Western States. That said, some of my best memories in this sport have been at lesser-known events, such as my podium at Two Oceans Marathon, where I ran my way from 7th to 3rd place in the last 5km of the race.
Too often in our sport we become focused on a small handful of races and forget there are amazing events, such as these included below, that are incredibly challenging, offer an exceptional experience, and are supported by amazing and welcoming communities. I’m calling these, “the Iconics“ a personally selected mix of races every trail runner should know about and perhaps have on their racing bucket list.
Le Grizz 50 miler is one of the oldest 50mile races in the country and it was the first in Montana. Originating in 1982, this rolling gravel course has produced some incredibly fast times throughout the years, although the women’s course record, set by Bobbie Dixon, has stood at 6:37:53 since 1985. That ranks 4th on the list of the longest standing US course records. The race is held in early October. Learn more here.
Two Oceans Marathon is not actually a marathon but a 56km race held in Cape Town, South Africa. Started in 1970, this race has grown into one of the bigger ultras in the world with over 11,000 participants. Whether you are an international speedster eyeing a big payday or just wanting to experience the scenic beauty of the Cape Peninsula, this is a must-race for all. And, if roads aren’t your thing, in recent years a trail race was added to the event boasting over 1,000 participants. Learn more here.
Quietly being held on the first Saturday in May for the past 4 decades, Strolling Jim “40 miler” is one of the most competitive and fastest road races in the country. Held in Wartrace, TN this race was thought to have an almost untouchable course record on the men’s side of 3:59 (which is 5:48/mile for 41.2 miles) set by Andy Jones in 1991. However, the record fell in 2021 when Zach Beavin returned to the race for a second time and ran an incredible 3:55:44, earning $6000 for his efforts. This race was started by Laz Lake in 1979. Learn more here.
The West Highland Way Race is a true classic. Started in 1985, this race runs between Milngavie (north of Glasgow) and Fort Williams in the Scottish Highlands. The West Highland Way is Scotland’s most popular long distance hiking trail and this race began just a few years after the trail was established. At a distance of 95 miles with 14,000 feet of elevation gain, this race is a tour of some of the most breathtaking and rugged places in the entire country. Learn more here.
The Miwok 100km is held in the rolling hills of the Headlands and the lush, green landscape of Mount Tamalpais, just north of San Francisco and was started in 1996. The race quickly established itself as one of the “must-run” races in the country and was frequently a part of the buildup for top Western States runners. For many years, this race provided speedy runners an opportunity to win their way into Western States as part of the Montrail Ultra Cup series (which has been replaced by the HOKA Golden Ticket series). The race has over 11,000 feet of climbing on mostly single-track trails and dirt roads that showcase the best of the Bay Area. Learn more here.
The Collegiate Peaks 50 mile was established in 1991, although the course was modified in 2016 due to Forest Service and BLM restrictions. The current course is 51.4 miles and starts in Buena Vista, Colorado which means the entire race is run at or above 8,000 feet of elevation. The two-loop course has over 7,000 feet of climbing and tops out at over 9,000 feet of elevation twice each loop. It is run on a mix of country road, fire roads and trails. An absolute stunner of a course that will literally take your breath away! Learn more here.
Mountain Masochist is one of the best trail races on the east coast. The 50-mile course begins and ends in Montebello, VA and traverses through some of the most scenic parts of the Blue Ridge at the height of fall. The race was started in 1985 by David Horton and has been highly challenging and competitive ever since. Learn more here.
2022 will be the 20th anniversary of this Oregon early season classic. The race promises an “old school ultra-experience with all the perks of the newest races” and it certainly delivers. This 50km is held in early February and doles out all the mud a trail runner could ask for. The course does two loops of Hagg Lake which is just a short drive away from Portland, Oregon and draws some of the best runners from all over the Northwest and beyond. Learn more here.
Leona Divide 50 mile is one of the truly classic Southern California races. Started in 1992, this race traverses through the Angeles National Forest near Lake Hughes and even runs along a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. Held in late April, this race has almost 8,000 feet of ascent. Learn more here.
Old Dominion 100 miler is an often overlooked race that is part of the well-known and iconic Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. Started in 1979, it was founded to give east coast runners an opportunity to complete a 100-mile race in 24 hours or less. Starting and finishing in Woodstock, Virginia this race covers all manners of terrain and is not solely a trail race or a road race, making it challenging for every kind of ultrarunner. Learn more here.