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When does Ultra Running start?

Our survey said....
26.2 miles.
Is getting lost for 100 meters on a road marathon course and clocking up 26.27 miles make an ultra runner out of you? Are the Three Forts 27 mile marathon or various trail marathons where the "artistic licence" of race directors, driven mainly by what's practical mean that the total distance is likely to be a little bit more than 26.2 count as ultra running?
Well according to about 40% of the 200 people who responded to this survey, YES.
Hmmmm, to be honest I am a little suprised.
I don't mean to sound like one of those people who tries to make the sport I love sound more exclusive and harder to attain, quite the opposite, so much I have written on this blog is trying to encourage people to take it up more. However I do think that there is a seperate sport in "ultra" running over say marathon running and the step from one to another is not just crossing the 26.2 mile mark.
Perhaps it needs a different name? Perhaps I am starting to sound like one of those sad people forever banging on about what "counts" and what doesn't. 
No I am not going to become like one of those people. I'll stop that right now.
I think the results are interesting though. In addition to the 40% who say that running 26.3 miles is an ultra marathon another 35% say that 50k is enough. There were only 5 votes in total for "24 hours" and I think they may have all been me.
Regardless of what "it" is called I think there something magical about running all day and all night which is kind of what I was trying to get at with the 24 hours option. 
So what do you think? Does it even matter? 
No it really doesn't.

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Reader Comments (5)

..but you asked, "when does an ultra start?" ...not stop. So perhaps asking "how long beyond a marathon must you run for before you consider it an ultra?" may have given a different outcome? but then as long as people enjoy running and being out there...as you say, who cares?!

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterReda27

Interesting post James,

I guess everyone has their own definition or measure. I know that after a 50K and a 40m that I still didn't really consider myself an Ultrarunner.
I've also done a 24 hour run, but as I only covered 75 miles (and most healthy people could walk that in 24 hours) I still don't really consider it enough.
I think, for me the measure is in 2 parts - the distance and whether it could reasonably be viewed as run (i.e. mostly run) - so my personal definition is 100 miles in 24hrs or less - until I've done that, I'm 'aspiring'...

That said, what do we care if people call themselves an ultrarunner because they did 26.3 miles or 200 miles - Formula 3 motorsport is no less motorsport because the engines are smaller than Formula 1

.. Ken

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKen Hughes

I mostly agree with you Ken. However I feel your definition based on time to complete 100 miles falls apart a bit when you consider that some 100 mile runs must be much easier than others. Flat 100 milers such as the TP100 are obviously much easier to do a sub 24 than something like UTMB, UTSW etc… If you go down that route you could end up searching out races like many Triathletes do i.e. the flattest, fastest and in many cases most boring Ironman course! Not that I'm saying the TP100 is boring as I would really like to run it myself.
Interestingly a woman finished the SDW100m in 26:37 and she walked every step, that’s very fast walking over that course! I just looked it up and apparently good race walkers can cover the 100 mile distance in less than 24 hours. As 100 mile runs usually include at least a bit of walking on the hills even for the fastest, where does that leave us?

July 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames H

James H

Of course, you're correct - terrain, weather, route, navigation etc all come into it as well.

When I said my "personal measure", I didn't mean 'how I define other people as ultrarunners', I meant 'how I judge whether I am an ultrarunner' (not yet according to my measure...)
Those criteria are how I measure myself, based on the races I plan to enter / have entered (TP100 2013 being one I've entered and, SDW100, NDW100 and WHW race being ones I plan to enter)...

Not really sure how I judge whether another person is an ultrarunner or not (which I guess is the point of this post) - do you take it on face value, do you compare their efforts to your own personal measure, or try and understand their personal measure - tough to say..

.. Ken

July 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKen Hughes

A very interesting and thought-provoking post. I voted in the survey for over 50km because I think that if we are going to put labels on things then to continue the sprint, middle-distance, and marathon banding then I would put 50km as Ultra and over 200 as plain loco-running. We live in a label based society unfortunately and it seems that there are many people who look down on certain labels. As far as I'm concerned I'm with the other writers above....as long as people are moving then what does it matter. 50km to some is a normal session whilst for others 10km may be a long-term goal. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that it all depends on where you're looking from.

July 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlanzaguy

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