Written By Jasper Johnson
Jasper is a new member of the Ultra X team. A keen middle distance runner who is looking to up the distance to an ultra marathon, Jasper enjoys writing about all things running.
Ultra marathons are any events longer in distance than a marathon (42.2km). However, as there is no upper limit, the range in event can vary significantly. Whilst there are now some insanely challenging races held across the globe, there are also many much more accessible events also classed as ultra marathons.
In this series, we’re looking at all events under the ultra marathon category: single-stage, multi-stage, 100 mile and more, to consider which are the best ultra marathons in the world in 2021 and which events need to be on every runner’s bucket list.
In this article we look at the best ultramarathons in Europe in 2021, including the ‘Olympics of trail running’, Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc.
Ultra X World Champs
5-13 June 2021
250km (5 days)
The Ultra X World Championships is the pinnacle of multi-stage ultramarathon racing. In June 2021, the world’s greatest ultra runners will race over five days and 250km to become the undisputed multi-day ultra King or Queen and to compete for a share of the £50,000 prize pot.
Nestled between the towering Julian Alps to the north and the Adriatic coast to the south, Vipava Valley is located in western Slovenia, just a few miles from the border of northern Italy. The steep slopes and high plateaus of the hills surrounding Ajdovscina provide stunning views over the bucolic winelands for which the area is famous.
The course takes competitors from the vine-laden landscapes of Vipava Valley north, to Soca Valley, named after the emerald green River Soca, considered one of the most beautiful rivers in Europe. From Tolmin, the route explores the rocky mountain trails of Soca Valley and the summits of the southern Julian Alps, situated within Slovenia’s largest protected area, Triglav National Park.
With a huge prize purse on offer, King of the Mountain and Sprint Champion segments, and the best names in the sport competing, this one is for the spectators as much as the competitors.
19 June 2021
Now in its ninth year, the Mozart 100 is a brilliant value-for-money ultra. The route is spectacular, made even more so by the fact that parts of the course were used in the filming of ‘The Sound of Music’ – so now you know what songs to put on your race day playlist!
You start and finish in the Kapitelplatz Square, slotted between Salzburg Cathedral and Hohensalzburg Fortress, creating a fantastic atmosphere. With a range of distances on offer from 13km 108km there is a race for everyone, so make sure you bring all your friends along with you.
If you are looking for a tough race with plenty of ITRA points, this is the one for you. Plus, the 2021 version will be interesting as it is the first year the event has been operated the ownership of the IRONMAN Group who completed the acquisition of the event in October 2020 as part of their continued foray into ultra running.
29 May 2021
With the 2020 Transylvania events cancelled, 2021 will be the seventh edition of this race series. Starting in the shadow of Count Dracula’s lair, Bran Castle, competitors make their way through this mountainous part of eastern Europe. This circular route takes runners around the Bucegi mountain range so prepare for some decent elevation during this race.
Eleven checkpoints line the route with encouraging staff to help you get round the course in time. This is a bit of a lesser known race, perhaps due to its location off the main trail running circuit. However, it certainly does not disappoint for scenery and excitement.
A great race to try if you are looking for something off the beaten track with a bit of a spooky element to it.
Montane Spine Race – Arctic
130km and 420km
This is the most extreme race that Montane Spine events have come up with yet. Spine haven’t released the entry criteria, but we have a feeling it’s going to be pretty exclusive!
Set in the cold, mountainous wilds of Arctic Sweden you will head down Sweden’s longest trail ‘The Kungsleden’. Continuing the Spine race tradition of non-stop racing and self reliance, this will be one of the toughest events of the year.
While formal entries aren’t being taken right now you can register your interest to get all the latest updates while giving you enough time to choose between the two distances and two categories available: 130km and 420km with individual and team options to choose from.
UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc)
France, Italy and Switzerland
27 August 2021
Probably one of the most prestigious ultra marathons and probably one of the most extreme as well. UTMB takes place every summer in the mountain resort of Chamonix and over 2,500 people descend on the alps every year to take on this iconic race.
The pinnacle of a seven day festival in which the town also hosts a variety of races from 50km to 350km, UTMB is the biggie! You have to qualify to compete, collecting at least 10 UTMB points by participating in other ultra marathons in order to enter the ballot for the main event.
UTMB attracts some of the best ultra runners in the globe to come and compete for the coveted UTMB title. However, there are plenty of mere mortals who take on this mammoth challenge every year too. Just be prepared to be out in the mountains for up to 46 hours to complete the race.
UTMR (Ultra Tour Monte Rosa)
Switzerland and Italy
1-4 September 2021
At 100 miles, UTMR is a classic long distance ultra. A circular route that takes runners anti-clockwise around Monte Rosa Massif, completing a circuit of 29 4,000m+ summits, making this one of the more mountainous ultras out there.
Offering a similar alternative to UTMB, the UTMR allows competitors to enjoy the high mountain passes usually covered in snow for most of the year whilst weaving between Italy and Switzerland.
Over the course of the event you will witness some of the most spectacular views in the alps, some of which has been the source of inspiration for many a poet and writer, as well as mountaineers. It’s directed by the great Lizzie Hawker and described by her as “the race I would have loved to run”… if you missed out on a UTMB ballot, this is the one for you!
Fire & Ice Ultra
30 August – 4 September 2021
250km (6 days)
True to its name, this 250km six day event starts in central Iceland, passes frozen glaciers and active volcanoes, and finishes by the hot springs in the north of the country.
Accommodation is sorted for you, as is navigation with the entire route marked. However, the rest is up to you! This is a self-suppored race, with competitors carrying everything they need: food, water, clothing etc. It certainly lives up to its slogan – “Iceland’s toughest footrace” – and is more an adventure than anything else.
25 September 2021
Based upon the historic route of Sparta to Athens made famous by Pheidippides – the ancient Athenian runner who ran from Athens to Sparta to seek help before the battle of marathon. Now in its 37th anniversary, Spartathlon is still epic as ever.
The race’s 75 aid stations (yes, you read that correctly) are placed every 3–5km and are provisioned with food, water, and other refreshments to keep you going as well as your own personal supplies. The race is very demanding, not only because of the distance, but also for the cut-off requirements and weather conditions.
Tor des Géants
Rigorous training and a physical as well as psychological capacity for self-reliance are essential requirements for taking part in this race.
Running through the Valle d’Aosta of Italy, runners are taken into extreme altitude trails of over 3,000m, with tough weather conditions including wind, ice and snow. Cconversely, on the lower altitude valley trails, runners can expect the sun to be beating down on them so remember to pack appropriately for this race. It will make or break you.
Don’t let this put you off though. The route has been perfectly selected to take you through the entire region, through both Gran Paradiso National and Mont Avic Regional Parks.
Ultra X 125 Azores
São Miguel, Azores (Portugal)
24-25 April 2021
125km (2 days)
Ultra X 125 Azores now includes a single-stage 50km option, making this one of the best located ultra marathons for runners looking to take their first step towards completing an ultra. Set on the island of São Miguel within the Azores archipelago, 1,000 miles into the Atlantic Ocean, you will be taken past stunning lagoons, through lush green fields and around active volcanoes.
Runners begin under Ponta Delgada’s city gates and head up into the hills. Saturday night is spent in a beautiful campsite located at sea level overlooking the ocean. On Sunday, runners will take on the 50km stage, climbing to the highest point on the island and finishing on the banks of Lagoa das Furnas. This is the ultimate weekend ultra and a great opportunity to see a part of the world you may never travel to otherwise, and what’s more, it offers incredible value-for-money.
Want to see more incredible ultra marathons from every continent? Recently, we listed the:
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