Written By Sam Heward
Sam is one of the Ultra X Co-Founders. If he's not actually out running, chances are he's busy writing about it (or plotting Ultra X strategy!)
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. Ultra X here are 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 2020 and which events need to be on every runners ultimate bucket list.
Ultra X Sri Lanka
21-28 March 2020
250km (5 days)
How could this list be complete without an Ultra X event on it! The inaugural Ultra X Sri Lanka took place in 2019 and was a huge success. This five day multi stage ultra marathon is the only event of its type in a country nicknamed ‘The Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ and it takes competitors through tea plantations, 10,000 year old rainforests and down rushing rivers.
During this week competitors will get to experience in full the place, the people and the beauty of this iconic country, steeped in rich history and colour.
Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji
24-25 April 2020
The Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji is part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour and is a hit with well-known ultra runners. Starting out at Ohike Kouen, the race covers the entire circumference of Mt. Fuji through undulating mountain trails, local footpaths and forest roads. In order to complete the race, runners head counter-clockwise into Kawaguchiko, Fujikawaguchiko-cho, and then into Yamanashi Prefecture.
The race can accommodate up to 1,400 runners, but it’s a serious task. In 2015, when over 1,300 started, only 564 finished. This is not a race for first timers! Having said that, the 360-degree view of world heritage site, Mt. Fuji, available from the trail is enough to tempt anyone to enter.
Everest Trail Race
11-23 November 2020
Set against one of the most iconic and awe-inspiring backdrops on the planet, the Everest Trail Race ranks as one of the most unique multi-stage ultras in the world. The ETR is a partially supported multi stage ultra marathon, with a change in altitude of more than 28,000m!
Runners carry their clothing and sleeping bag over the course, whilst the organisation supports them with food, accommodation and logistical support throughout the race. Entry doesn’t come cheap at £2,750 (without flights), but for breathtaking views of not only one, but several, of the world’s tallest mountains it might be considered a snip to some…
21-28 June 2020
250km (7 days)
This seven day footrace covers 250km across the world’s largest and most dangerous desert. Competitors will weave their way across wide Mongolian steppes, sand dunes and great rock valleys as they cross the varied course. The race makes its way across the battlefield of Genghis Khan towards the UNESCO World Heritage Centre of the Orkhon Valley and further to the ancient city of Karakorum, and, at times, competitors will sleep in traditional Mongolian Gers.
If that’s not enough to get your heart pumping, runners must deal with extreme temperature fluctuations, braving the heat of the desert as well as extreme cold, wind, and even snow — all on the same route!
Gaoligong by UTMB
21 March 2020
Gaoligong by UTMB is the ‘daughter race’ of the ‘Olympics of trail running’ Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, (UTMB), itself a global festival of the sport held in the Alps around Chamonix in France. The event is based around one of most famous Taoist mountains in China in the Sichuan province and the gateway to Tibet.
Finishing the 100 mile distance gives runners a guaranteed entry to the coveted UTMB — a dream for most trail runners. So, if that is your goal, why not combine it with a trip to China’s most popular tourist destination?
La Ultra – The High
17 August 2020
The High is another multi-stage ultra marathon which takes place on the Great Himalayan range of India and this one might be the most brutal out there! Most of the run is done with 50% less oxygen than at sea level, temperatures can vary from from -12 to 40°C and at its highest point the race will take competitors through Khardung La, the world’s highest motorable pass at 5,359m!
Only around half of those who start the race will finish each year. This one is certainly not for the faint hearted. The race is non-stop with categories of 111km, 222km and 333km and for 2020 there is set to be a 555km!
There are just too many great ultra marathon races in Hong Kong to pick one. If you are reading this and haven’t already signed up it will most likely be too late for our favourites in 2020, which tend to be grouped around the beginning of the year when the climate is ideal for hitting the trails. However, they are worth tracking online or considering for race diaries in 2021 and beyond.
The Vibram Hong Kong 100, perhaps the most competitive of the bunch, kicks off the Ultra-Trail World Tour, taking runners over white sandy beaches and through bamboo thickets before building in elevation along the steep ridges of Ma On Shan, where paragliders can be seen flying over the grassy Ngong Ping plateau in the distance.
9 Dragons follows on, only two weeks later, a transliteration of the Chinese gau lung “Nine Dragons”. Kowloon is named for the eight mountains which rear up behind the plateau, and the winner of the 50/50 (two of the three ultra marathon distance events over the weekend) is crowned the ninth Dragon.
The HK4TUC takes place over Lunar New Year. Runners cover all four major trails in Hong Kong — the MacLehose, Wilson, Hong Kong and Lantau trails. There are no checkpoints, nor support on the trails, but they are allowed help when travelling between the trails. If they reach the end in under 60 hours, they are deemed a “finisher”, and if they finish in under 72, they are a “survivor”. For those who are really looking to punish themselves the Hong Kong Four Trail’s is a must!
Special Mention: Ultra-Trail Australia (UTA)
14-17 May 2020
In the Blue Mountains National Park in New South Wales this 100km course is an absolute belter. In a country that boasts some of the world’s most spectacular scenery and wildlife, the Blue Mountains National Park is the most beautiful region of the lot. The World Heritage Area makes for a stunning ultra marathon, steeped in rich aboriginal history.
At this stage it is uncertain whether the 2020 edition will go ahead given a significant part of the 2020 Ultra-Trail Australia 100km course has been directly affected by fires. The thoughts of everyone Ultra X are with those who have been impacted by bushfires across the country and we hope that Australia and Ultra-Trail Australia are able to fully bounce back. If the event doesn’t happen in 2020, it is still a true bucket lister for any year.
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