Written By LEWIS MASON
Lewis is currently studying English and Sport Science at Loughborough University and spending his placement year working with Ultra X. Having played representative rugby and cricket, Lewis is now looking to test himself on the trails.
At Ultra X we want to make the sport of Ultra Marathon running more accessible. We are all about the first timers, the committed hikers and the cut-off fighters! However, this does not mean that we can’t all admire and be inspired by the best Ultra runners in the world.
This article will take you through who we consider as the most decorated, inspirational and, quite simply, the best Ultra Marathon runners in the sport.
And remember, whatever stage of your ultra marathon journey you are on… all of these runners were at that same place at some point. We hope that the stories and experiences of all these runners will resonate with everyone, getting you to lace up your running trainers and get onto those trails.
Kilian Jornet is a Spanish Ultra marathon runner who has won the Skyrace World Championships, UTMB, Hardrock 100 and holds countless further records and awards.
Not only is Kilian a renowned Ultra trail runner, but he considers himself a general lover of mountains, competing in skiing and extreme skiing events during the winter. It is this love of mountains and versatility that has led to him being named National Geographic’s ‘Adventurer of the Year’ in both 2014 and 2018.
Kilian now believes it is his role to inspire others and protect nature, a message we at Ultra X can definitely get behind.
Jim Walmsley began his runner career as a middle-distance runner. He ran Cross Country the 5,000m, 10,000m and the steeplechase while attending the Air Force Academy. After Jim’s transition to Ultra-Trail running, the records and accolades began to tumble.
For four consecutive years (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019) he was named Ultrarunner of the Year and his dominance in the US has been incredible over this time.
Walmsley holds the course records for many ultra marathons, but perhaps is best known for his Western States pedigree which he has won three times, 2018, 2019 and 2021, breaking the course record twice..
The extent to which he has dominated the sport for a prolonged period means Jim Walmsley must truly be considered as one of the best Ultra Marathon runners on the planet.
Francois D’haene spent most of his youth in the French alps, he competed in many sports such as cross country, skiing, mountaineering and canyoning. In the search for a less structured sport with more freedom, Francois turned to trail running, and to this day believes the sport should be about pleasure.
Despite being focused on freedom and pleasure, rather than the competitive side of trail running Francoise has racked up a ridiculous CV of race victories. He is currently the course record holder at UTMB (which he has also won a record number of 4 times), has won Grand Raid on the Island of Reunion three times, and countless other competitive races.
With UTMB being known as one of the toughest races in the world, and the numerous victories throughout his career, Francois D’haene is definitely on the best Ultra Runners in the world!
Courtney Dauwalter’s journey from dropping out of her first 100 mile race at the 60 mile mark to becoming one of the best Ultra runners in the world demonstrates that this sport is all about resilience and hard work.
Breaking onto the scene in 2016, Courtney won the Run Rabbit Ultra marathon by 75 minutes and then broke the course record for the Javelina Jundred 100k. The victory at Run Rabbit Ultra marathon was repeated in 2017, once again demonstrating the extent of her resilience as she suffered from temporary blindness in the final 12 miles. Since then, she has gone from strength to strength, repeating her 2019 UTMB win earlier this year and breaking the course record in the process.
Not only do her victories and records mean Courtney Dauwalter makes her way onto this list, but her resilience and dedication means she is someone any runner of any standard can be inspired by.
Ultra X athlete and ultra running phenomenon Pau only began running when a knee injury at the age of 20 prevented him from continuing his participation in football. It was at this point that Pau ‘caught the bug’. Only 7 years later became the 2019 UTMB champion…
The Barcelona born runner has several top draw achievements including 1st in the Transgrancanaria ultra, 1st in the Eiger Ultra Trail and came close to breaking the 20 hour mark oon the 171km UTMB course in 2020 when the event was cancelled due to Covid.
After entering his first ultra in 2010, it took Xavier Thevenard only 3 years to be crowned UTMB champion in 2013. The French born ultra runner has gone on to win the event a further two times in 2015 and 2018. The mountains are clearly a breeze for this mountain runner who in 2019 won the Ultra Trail Mt Fuji.
To this day, Xavier remains the only person on the planet to have won all 4 categories of race at the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc. He won this crown through his victories at UTMB (2013, 2015, 2018), CCC (2010), TDS (2014) and OCC (2016).
Being the only person on the planet to achieve this feat, and his numerous other accolades means that Xavier Thevenard can make it on to this list and be considered one of the best ultra runners in the world.
After returning to the sport of running in 2013 after a time away from the sport, Beth’s career as a mountain and ultra runner has been highly successful. In 2021 Beth Pascal won the Western states 100 and the Canyons 100k during the same calendar year.
Many other victories have been achieved by Beth as she has won various races such as the Highland Fling, the North Downs Way 50 and the Eurafrica Trail race. Pascall also holds the course record for Bob Graham round with a staggering time of 14 hours and 34 minutes. The multitude of wins and course records means that Beth is definitely among the best runners currently on the planet.
Audrey Tanguy broke onto the Ultra running scene in 2018 when she won the 145 Kilometer TDS race in Chamonix. Since then, Tanguy hasn’t looked back as success has followed ever since. Tanguy repeated her victory at TDS the following year in 2019 cementing her place as one of the best female Ultra runners in the world.
In 2021 Tanguy won the Project Carbon X 100k race and finished 7th in the overall rankings for the race. Tanguy also became the champion of Le Tour de la Grande Casse in 2020 and continued with the success as she claimed the title of Les Drailles de la Galinette. Tanguy is definitely a highly successful and highly talented Ultra runner and one that we will continue to watch for at Ultra X
Being the first runner to win International Association of Ultrarunners world championships at 3 different categories, the 50km, 100km and 24 hours. This alone may warrant Herron’s place on this list; however she has a further career full of accomplishments and success.
Herron also holds course records for the Comrades marathon in 2017 and in 2019 broke the 100 mile road record by over an hour. This success continued and in 2019 Herron smashed the record for the Tarawera 100 in New Zealand, demonstrating an insane ability to be truly world class on varying terrains.
Her consistent wins and ability to dominate and set course records consistently demonstrates why Camille Herron has found her way onto this list.
Jacqui Bell, Ultra X athlete, is a multi-stage specialist. She was the youngest female to conquer Racing the Planet’s 4x Desert Grand Slam: this means Jacqui ran four 250km self-supported races across some of the harshest and most brutal deserts in the world. These include the sweltering Namibian, Gobi and Atacama Deserts and also the Antarctic.
Jacqui is also the youngest woman to run an ultra marathon on each of the seven continents and has won other events such as the Fire and Ice ultra.
With such a number of records already at such a young age we are excited to see what comes next and are proud to have as part of the Ultra X team.
Scott Jurek has won a multitude of some of the most famous races in the world. He has held the title for the Hardrock 100, the Badwater 135 mile and the 153 mile Spartathlon. Due to his stunning record the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run has almost become synonymous with Jurek as he has won the race for a record 7 consecutive years.
Jurek’s track record within the sport and the consistency of his performances and victories means that he comfortably makes the cut for the best ultra runners in the world in our eyes.
Joseph Gray is one of the most decorated runners in the US trail running and mountain running communities. He is a 16 time USA national champion runner while also winning the 2016 World Mountain Running Championships.
These achievements alone are sufficient to make it onto the list, however Gray’s contribution to the sport is much more than this. Gray was the first black runner to be selected for the USA’s world mountain running team, while also being the first black athlete to win the US national championships and has used this platform to raise awareness of the lack of diversity in the sport with significant impact.
As selected by a poll conducted by the World Mountain Running Association Gray has been named the best male mountain runner of all time. In the case the people have spoken, and therefore Gray makes his way onto this list as one of the best ultra runners on the planet.
Jasmin Paris is a British runner renowned on both the national fell running circuit and globally as a sky and ultra runner. If Jasmin wasn’t a household name after winning the 2016 Skyrunner World Series, she certainly was when she won the brutal winter Spine Race outright whilst juggling a full time job and a young child.
Jasmine has set course records for both the Bob Graham Round and the Ramsay Round and whilst she is already an established runner in the UK we expect to see much more from her over the next few years as she continues to break into the global mountain running scene.
Yiannis Kouros continues to be one of the biggest names in the Ultra Marathon World. Until earlier this year, when his record was broken, he held the 24-hour world record where he ran a staggering 303.306km since 1997. Records such as these have led to him being granted names such as ‘the Running God’, ‘the Golden Greek’ and ‘Successor to Phiedippes’.
Kouros won 4 Spartathlons and holds the top four fastest times for the prestigious event. With his first win, the race organisers held back the medal as they believed there was no way he could have completed the course legitimately in the time recorded. The next year Kouros was followed the whole way round the course and went on to beat his time from the previous year!
Despite not competing for some time he still holds numerous prestigious records, most of which are beyond belief of what any human is capable of. During the Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Kouros was challenged to begin the race 12 hours behind other competitors to see if he could win the race. Not only did Kouros accept the challenge, but he then went on to win the race by a full hour.
There is absolutely no doubt in our minds that Kouros can be considered one of the best ultra runners.
After running the Lidgöloppet 30 km race in her home nation and placing 126th it only took Mimmi Kotka 6 years before she won the CCC race in 2016. A year later Kotka returned to Chamonix and won the 2017 TDS race by nearly two and half hours, demolishing the former course record by 46 minutes.
Kotka has also gone on to win other events such as the Quartrail des Alpages 50 km, UTM Marão 55 km, Madeira Island Ultra-Trail 115 km and many others. For two consecutive events in 2019 and 2021 Kotka won the La 6000D 67 km. She is definitely an Ultra runner at the height of her career and dominating the field across large parts of Europe.
You may also like…
The USA is home to some of the most exhilarating 100 mile races in the world. Covering West Coast, East Coast, desert and mountains, we round up the top 5 ultra races in the USA.
Looking for your next 100 mile race? Our list of the best 100 mile ultra marathons will help you pick your trail. From Hardrock 100 to Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc,our Top 10 has something for everyone.
Want to run your first ultra marathon but unsure where to start? We breakdown the best ultra marathons for beginners in 2024.