Written By KIT O CALLAGHAN
Kit is a recent Broadcast Journalism graduate and our newest placement student. An outdoor enthusiast, he gets stuck in to all things sports media; most recently covering mountaineering, American football, and ultra running.
BEST ULTRA MARATHONS IN THE WORLD
When we think of the best Ultra Marathons on earth, we usually think of the most incredible X-country terrain. Jagged mountains, steep valleys, cascading waterfalls that produce a deafening roar as we run by them. But the experience we take home from an ultra-marathon relies on so much more than just the location. It’s the people. Not just those we run with, but those who do the planning. The ability to adapt in unforgiving environments to ensure safety, as well as maximizing the runners experience. Due to this, I have compiled a comprehensive list of the absolute best ultramarathons in the world, taking in all these factors.
Here’s your definitive guide to the Top 10 Ultra Marathons on Planet Earth for 2024/5.
10) Ultra X 110 Scotland
With the mystical allure of Loch Ness as its backdrop, Ultra X 110 Scotland is not one to be missed. The course’s challenging terrain, meandering through undulating landscapes and mist-shrouded trails, follows the geological fault line of the Great Glen Way. Formed more than 400 million years ago, the course takes you from Fort William to Moray Firth.
DISTANCE: 110km – 2 Days or 50km –1 day
DATES: 4th-5th May 2024
POSITIVES: Beautiful, historic course that is accessible for all abilities, 2 distance options
NEGATIVES: Often unpredictable weathe
9) The Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc (UTMB World Series Finals )
Now entering its 20th year, the UTMB is one of the biggest ultra marathons on the planet. Taking place during a week-long trail running and mountain festival around Chamonix, France, it usually welcomes over 2,500 competitors to the start line. The race attracts the very best of the best, and requires qualifying points from previous trail races, but the reward is unmatched. A beautiful, 100+mile course following the route of the Tour du Mont Blanc, and certainly deserving of a place on this list.
DATES: 26th August – 1st September 2024
POSITIVES: One of the most established ultras in the world, with beautiful scenes of the French Alps
NEGATIVES: Tough qualifying procedure requiring points from previous races
8) The Jungle Ultra
Set at Manu National Park, deep in the Amazonian rainforest, the impenetrable nature of this jungle makes this a contender for the title of toughest ultramarathon in the world. Competitors will face 77%+ humidity throughout the monstrous 230km distance. Over 5 days you’ll be taking in cloud forests, mountains, and valleys. There will be arduous undergrowth, deep mud and river crossings to navigate, heavy rain throughout the challenge is almost a certainty, and you might even run under nightfall. This is a wild course, where you will have to be almost entirely self-sufficient, so it is a test of endurance in the most extreme conditions, all whilst surrounded by the most incredible wildlife.
DISTANCE: 230km – 5 Days
DATES: 1st-2nd June 2024
POSITIVES: Vastly unexplored jungle and utterly unique wildlife, flora and fauna.
NEGATIVES: At 77%+ humidity, it is incredibly hot, sticky, and uncomfortable conditions
7) Western States Endurance Run
This is known as one of the world’s toughest single-stage endurance races, taking on the rugged ranges and canyons of California. The race is born from myth, started in 1974, after a man’s horse went lame before a 24-hour race, so he ran it on foot instead (18 minutes inside the time limit!). Nowadays, runners compete for one of the legendary belt-buckles: bronze for finishing in under 30 hours, silver for finishing in under 24 hours. Running the Western States remains one of the undisputed crown jewels of human endurance challenges.
DISTANCE: 160km – 1 Day
DATES: June 29th – 30th 2024
POSITIVES: Incredible scenery, and a unique history providing a fantastic finishers buckle
NEGATIVES: Single stage so no time to rest!
6) The Last Desert – Antarctica
The Last Desert is the only multi-stage race on the Antarctic continent. The race combines the raw beauty of untouched wilderness with the formidable challenge of extreme conditions. The weather is consistently unpredictable, and the race can see frequent changes to its course and distance with just a days’ notice. However, you can guarantee that a race across the ‘White Desert’ is not one that you would EVER forget. Over the 250km distance you may see whales, seals, birds, as well as the towering fields of ice and rock.
DATES: 26th November 2024
POSITIVES: The only multi-stage race on the Antarctic Continent
NEGATIVES: Extreme cold, unpredictable weathe
ooted in history, this event retraces the footsteps of Pheidippides, commemorating his legendary run from Athens to Sparta in 490 BC. Covering 246 kilometres through diverse terrain, it is a true test of human limits. The challenge is unrelenting, demanding runners to conquer scorching roads, mountain passages, and sleep deprivation. Runners have just 36 hours to complete the distance so you can expect to be running through the night if you want to be one of the less than 50% of those who finish the brutal ultra.
DISTANCE: 246km – 36 hours
DATES: 28th-29th September 2024
POSITIVES: Historic race that takes you through beautiful ancient passages
NEGATIVES: It’s brutal. REALLY brutal
4) Everest Trail Race
Taking in the unrivalled magnificence of the high Himalaya, the Everest Trail Race comes with a change in altitude of over 28,000m over its 6 days. Yes, metres. At the high points, the altitude will be over 4000m above sea level making this one of the hardest ultramarathons on the list, and presenting its competitors with a completely new challenge. Competitors camp overnight in their own tents, which are transported from stage to stage by the organisers, however the competitors must carry their own clothing and sleeping bag. Food is provided throughout the race.
DISTANCE: 170km – 6 days
DATES: 11th-23rd November 2024
POSITIVES: A wholly unique experience in the high Himalayas, food is provided
NEGATIVES: High altitude presents an additional risk to runners
3) Marathon Des Sables, Morocco
Covering around 250 kilometres across the stunning yet unforgiving Sahara Desert, it challenges participants physically, mentally, and emotionally. The diverse terrain of towering dunes, scorching sands, and rocky expanses pushes runners to their limits. This is one of the longest ultramarathons on our list, but beyond the gruelling distances, the
race also demands self-sufficiency, with competitors carrying their supplies. Stripped of distractions, stripped of the noise that fills our everyday lives, the runners are left with the raw fabric of their own thoughts. Each stride is an existential inquiry. The pain that gnaws at their muscles, the exhaustion that clouds their minds — these are not adversaries, but companions in the journey. They prompt contemplation: What does it mean to endure? What does it mean to persist against the odds? A desert ultra will certainly provide the answers.
DISTANCE: 250km – 6 Days
DATES: 12-22nd April 2024
POSITIVES: Well established, with around 1000 runners per year
NEGATIVES: Temperature can reach 50˚ C, very little protection from the elements
2) Comrades Ultra Marathon
The Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa stands as a testament to human endurance and camaraderie, making it one of the planet’s premier ultra marathons. Its historic roots, stretching back to 1921, embed it with unmatched significance. The course, alternating annually between uphill and downhill routes, tests athletes’ physical and mental fortitude, while traversing breathtaking landscapes. The brutal cut off policy brings runners together in a new way to push through the pain barrier, for being just one second over the cut off time means disqualification from the race.
DISTANCE: 90km – 1 Day
DATES: 21st November 2024
POSITIVES: Oldest ultra on planet earth, world famous
NEGATIVES: Strict qualifying criteria and cutoffs, not for the amateur runner.
1) Ultra X Tanzania
Whilst this race only had its debut in 2023 as a 5 day, 250km race, moving forward it takes on a shorter 220km format. What truly sets Ultra X Tanzania as a race apart is its profound connection to the local people and villages. Runners not only battle up rugged terrain and parts of the daunting Mount Kilimanjaro, but they also engage with Tanzanian communities, fostering a deep appreciation for their way of life. The event isn’t just a race; it’s an immersive journey that embraces the spirit of exploration and camaraderie. Participants weave through ever-changing landscapes, from dusty savannas to lush rainforests, forging an intimate bond with Tanzania’s diverse ecosystems. Moreover, the race’s commitment to sustainability and responsible tourism resonates with a global audience, setting an example for responsible sporting events. Ultra X Tanzania isn’t solely a test of physical endurance; it’s a transformative odyssey that celebrates human resilience, cultural exchange, and the raw magnificence of Earth’s terrain. It returns for a 2nd edition at the end of February 2024.
DISTANCE: 220km – 5 Days
DATES: 26th Feb – 1st March
POSITIVES: A truly unforgettable experience
0) Ultra X Rwanda
Ending this list with a bonus race, Ultra X Rwanda takes place for the first time in January 2025. It may seem strange putting a race that has never happened before in the ‘Top 10’ list for the best ultramarathons in the world, but if Ultra X Tanzania is anything to go by, this race is rightly deserving of a mention. Ultra X Rwanda proves to be much more than just a race. It takes place in the North of the country, near the Volcanoes National Park (where the famous mountain gorillas are based) and the twin lakes: Lake Ruhondo and Lake Burera. Over the Friday-Monday you will be catered for by Ultra X and experience the very best of Rwandan hospitality. After the race, there is even an opportunity to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial and the famous Akagera National Park if you purchase the add-on package.
DISTANCE: 110km – 2 days or 50km – 1 day
DATES: 25th-26th January 2025
POSITIVES: The full race experience and two distance options.
NEGATIVES: First edition (we actually think this is a positive though!)
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Sam is one of the work placement students here at Ultra X. He is an International Business student at Loughborough University and loves all things sport, recently trail running and rugby. He has always had a keen passion for the outdoors and loves being at our events!...
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