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.
An ultra marathon is any race longer than the traditional 42.2km marathon distance. However, due to mankind’s (and particularly athlete’s) love of arbitrary numbers, the 100 mile race distance has become a popular format, offering the ultimate test for those wanting to push themselves to the very limit. Here are some of the best.
Western States 100
Squaw Valley, California
26-27 June 2021
The USA has many of the world’s best 100 milers, so where better than the US to start this list?
Western States 100 is one of the premier 100 milers in the world. This big name ultra attracts some of the best runners around the world to California alongside hundreds of other keen ultra runners. The race claims to be the oldest 100 mile trail race with the race going back to 1974, when the sport was in its infancy. The route has amazingly stayed the same since 1986, allowing runners no excuses for not preparing for ‘Emigrant Pass’ and its 2,550ft of elevation in only 4.5 miles!
Starting in Squaw Valley near the site of the 1960 winter Olympics and finishing 100 miles later in Auburn, runners certainly get a good explore of the Californian wilderness. The range in elevation means some miles are run on snow and others on scorching hot trails.
Runners have 30 hours to complete the route, which, despite the considerable elevation, is generally considered ‘runnable’ (by the elites, anyway).
Being such a classic means that if you are a first time entrant you better be lucky as you only have a 1.3% chance of getting in via the ballot. Good luck!
16 July 2021
Hardrock fits the description. Set In the hard and rocky terrain of Colorado, competitors set out on a looped course of dirt trails and cross country running along the San Juan Range of the Rocky Mountains.
The mountainous terrain provides an elevation profile of 10,000m and runners also must contend with going beyond 3,700m of altitude 13 times! However, it all becomes worth it when you stand 4,285m above on Handies peak looking into the valley down below.
To finish the race competitors must kiss the infamous ‘Hardrock’ at the end — a picture of a ram’s head painted on a large block of stone mining debris.
We recommend trying this tough and unique race. However, maybe not for your first event!
If you are looking for a great place for a relaxing holiday after a gruelling 100 miler this is probably the race for you. The race is organised by the Hawaiian Ultra Running Team who happen to have one of the best acronyms out there (HURT).
Set on the semi tropical Hawaiian island of O’ahu, runners take on a five lap course through the tropical trails which were created by the Nā Ala Hele program — which turned traces of pig trails through the rainforest into people-friendly paths.
99% of these paths are single tracked, which has the added bonus of making it virtually impossible to get lost. However, this race can still ‘hurt’ you, the terrain is very technical with lots of sudden hairpin turns on soft baked sloppy clay.
Leadville Trail 100
21-22 August 2021
When the local mine closed, the Leadville Trail 100 race was conceived as a way of revitalising the economy by increasing the number of tourists to the area. Now it has become one of the iconic 100 milers in the world, an extremely popular race especially amongst US ultra runners, with over 800 taking on the course each year. However, less than half make it to the end…
Known as the ‘Race Across The Sky’ for taking runners through the most extreme sections of the Rocky mountains with elevations ranging from 2,800m to 3,800m.
The course follows an out and back route along the Colorado Trail, characterised by technical terrain with long and steep climbs, the most famous of which is the 3,740m high Hope Pass. Leadville is known as the ‘Two-Mile-High-City’, being 3,100m above sea level, making running this ultra marathon ultra hard. Serious altitude training is recommended before this race.
North Downs Way 100
7 August 2021
With so many Centurion running events it would be hard to choose a single race. However, our favourite must be the North Downs Way 100, starting off in picturesque Farnham and ending with 400m around an athletics track in Ashford. The race has plenty of aid stations along the way to cater for all your needs, so you will not need to bring your own crew for this demanding race.
The Centurion Running series was started in 2011 by James Elson to fill the ever-increasing demand for ultra marathons in the south east of England as the number of local runners taking up the distance has steadily increased. Today the race is recognised as one of the best 100 milers in the UK and attracts top racers such as Mark Darbyshire (also course record holder at Ultra X 125 England) who holds the men’s record of 15:18:41, and Debbie Martin-Consani holding the women’s record in a speedy 18:34:54. This race should be on the bucket list of any UK based ultra runner.
4 June 2021
Ultra-Trail Snowdonia is a new edition to the Ultra-Trail World Tour in 2021, becoming the UK’s first appearance in the series. Ultra-Trail Snowdonia represents the ultimate grand-tour of the mountains of Snowdonia National Park, taking in most of the notable peaks and trails in the north of the National Park.
With a staggering 10,000m+ elevation over a technical 165km route, it really is “beautiful beyond belief and savage beyond reason”.
Chicamocha Canyon Race
15 June 2021
Arguably the best 100 miler in South America, the Chicamocha Canyon Race is Columbia’s first internationally recognised ultra marathon. Now in its eighth year, there are a selection of distances available from a half marathon up to the big 100 miler, the latter of which attracts over 800 runners.
Runners start the race by heading north into Columbia’s ravines before entering the famous Chicamocha canyon which the runners will remain in till the end of the race. The route allows competitors to explore the numerous ancient towns along the way.
In 2019, the route was changed to include some highly technical but beautiful new trails, the new route made for varied scenery including arid zones, forests, and endemic flora species of the canyon, such as the pot-bellied ceiba.
If that isn’t enough to convince you to join, perhaps six shiny UTMB points for anyone who finishes the full distance will.
Everest Trail Race
An extreme location for an extreme race! There couldn’t be a better backdrop than Everest itself for this 100 mile race.
Entry doesn’t come cheap at £2,570 (without flights), but for breathtaking views of not only one, but several, of the world’s tallest mountains it might be considered a bargain to some… oh and there’s 28,000 metres of elevation (no, that is not a typo).
France, Italy and Switzerland
27 August 2021
We could not have this list without mentioning Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc! One of the most prestigious ultra marathons and probably one of the toughest 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.
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 have collected enough qualifying points who take on this mammoth challenge every year too. If you are one of them, good luck – many take up to 46 hours to complete the race!
Want to see more incredible ultra marathons from every continent? Recently, we listed the:
You may also like…
Ultra X Azores 2022 was the next to last of our World Championships qualifying races this year. Check out who’s claimed a spot for the big event.
The full even report from Ultra X Sri Lanka 2022 by SriLankan Airlines, the only ultra marathon in “The Pearl of the Indian Ocean”.
Who qualified for the World Champs at Ultra X Sri Lanka 2022? Find out here!