Ultrarunning Is Dead

For most of the past three decades, it has made a lot of sense to combine all running that is longer than 26.2 miles into one category and call it Ultrarunning. The number of people running Ultramarathons has, until recently, been very small. The majority of these folks were not regularly running shorter races, and many people who were regularly running sub-ultra-distance races didn’t even know ultramarathons existed to the extent that they did. It was such a niche thing to run longer than a marathon that it made perfect sense for it to have one simple designation and leave it at that.

In the past 5 years, however, the number of total ultramarathon finishes has increased at a rate far greater than any other time in the nearly 50 year modern history of the sport. One thing that has not increased nearly as rapidly, though, is the number of finishes in road ultras, leading to an ever growing disparity between trail ultra and road ultra. This growing disparity has been fueled largely by the exponential growth in trail running in general, but it also seems quite certain that ultra trail running has grown at a much faster rate (as compared to all ultrarunning) than has sub-ultra trail running (as compared to all sub-ultra running).

There may be a few reasons for this, but I think the most likely is that a few of the key reasons why people like to run trails (less impact, more variety, to get to remote places) go hand in hand with running really far. In short, I think you have a symbiotic relationship in which the less impact and more variety allow you to run much farther, and the farther you run, the more remote places you can get to. Therefore, as trail running has exploded in popularity, it has fueled an even more rapid growth in ultrarunning, not because people are specifically wanting to run really far, but because trail running and running really far go so well together.

This has led to a vastly different demographic in ultrarunning than has ever existed. The percentage of ultrarunners who have never run a road ultra has grown incredibly in the past decade. More ultrarunners than ever before identify themselves primarily as trail runners and secondarily as ultrarunners. And for these reasons, I think the ultrarunner classification is antiquated and inaccurate. As more and more “ultrarunners” are in the sport simply because they like running trails, and would much sooner run a 10-mile trail race than a 50 or 100-mile road race, it makes more and more sense to go one of two directions: either get rid of the classification of ultrarunning all together or divide it into two categories (as many folks have started to do already): trail ultra and road ultra.

At the end of the day, it’s all just a label that doesn’t really mean much of anything, but I think the demographic of people running longer than 26.2 miles has changed so much in the past several years that if we are going to have these labels it just doesn’t make any sense to continue forward with an all encompassing label that does such a poor job of defining what/who you are talking about. In reality, it’s all just running, but if you’re going to break it down further, I think it makes a lot more sense to break it into trail running and road running than it does to continue with the category of ultrarunning, which does such a poor job of categorizing such a large percentage of people. I, for one, think of myself much more as a trail runner than I do as an ultrarunner. Especially when the category of ultrarunning includes flat road races, which I am quite certain I am unlikely to run anytime soon.

I’m curious, though: how do you all see yourselves fitting into these genres of running, and am I the only one who thinks that the term ultrarunning is antiquated, and very poorly represents the bulk of the runners who are currently running long-distance races?

There are 131 comments

  1. tyler

    i think of myself first as a trail runner who runs ultra-whatevers. the term ultra- is something i apply to the race itself because, frankly, i find it a bit much to refer to myself as an ultra-anything.

    i see a loose analogy in the way i would refer to myself as a skier and not a Giant Slalom racer.

  2. Benj

    I am a runner. Some days I run on the road, some on the trail. Sometimes I run a 5k sometimes an 80k, I just run really…

    1. Graeme Colhoun

      100% agree Benj!! i've ran 100 milers on road, trail, around a track. I've run 5k's and 10k's….simply put, I just run:. I do not discriminate against distance or terrain:)

  3. Mark 'Doc'

    I humbly disagree. I run road ultras and trail ultras and enjoy both. I have finished 2 trail 100s and 4 road 100's. We do not classify marathoners as 'road' marathoners and 'trail' marathoners, we call them ,marathoners. There are lots of people who enjoy trail and road.

  4. Jeroen

    To me it makes no sense in changing the definition just because more people do it or because the reason pleople do it has changed.

    These definitions already exist, either descrbing where you run (trail, road etc.) or what distance.

    If someone calls himself a trailrunner that does very long distances: Great! If someone calls himself an ultrarunner that prefers trails: also fine.

  5. Brett

    And then you have races like IROC 100k that is a mix of both.

    I train on roads (because of where I live) and run races on trails (because of where they are). So I guess I am a low-mileage-road-training-ultra-runner-who-runs-ultra-races-on-trails…or LMRTURWRUROT for short.

    To keep it simple, I may change the classification to lower outside ultra distances for all road/trail, or LOUDFART for short.

  6. Brad

    I agree, my main reason for running ultra races is to be able to cover long distances on trails to remote places. The only roads are run are the roads from my house or work that lead to the trailheads. I am fortunate that in the summer I can run in Wilderness areas at elevations above 10,000 feet. In the winter I stay closer to home and run in the foothills. Entering races keeps me disciplined. I too consider myself a trail runner/mountaineer who runs ultra races to aid in training. I do not intend to run a road race and have never done so. I do like Bret's humor though so according to his analogy long outside ultra distance for trail or LOUDFAT.

  7. Win Bassett

    "At the end of the day, it’s all just a label that doesn’t really mean much of anything…" I agree with you here. As long as you're running, you're running.

  8. Reid Landes

    Though I prefer ultramarathons to shorter races, and trails to roads, part of my self-identity is as a “runner.” When others who show an interest in running think of me as an “ultra-runner” or “trail runner,” then I am not as approachable.

    “Oh. He only runs long distances. I can only go a mile… maybe.”

    “Oh. He runs on trails. I’d trip and fall.”

    It is a blessing to run on any surface for any distance. So at the end of the day, I will stick with "runner.”

  9. Chris

    I agree with Jeff. Trail running has enabled runners to run much farther and enjoy it.

    Also, the term 'ultra' has a bit of a self-important ring to it. When it was unheard of to run so far, it made sense, but it makes less sense the more standard it becomes.

    In the 80s, "extreme" skiing meant jumping off a 20 foot cliff, whereas now that term has pretty much disappeared because it's just not considered extreme anymore.

  10. Joe

    But, but…just saying trailrunning doesn't 1-up my '26.2 stickered-on-their-mini-vans' friends when I post 'just ran a trail race!' on Facebook. NO…it must be ULTRA.

  11. Trail Clown

    Even if 99% of ultrarunners are trail ultrarunners, ultrarunning is still a more broad term to the narrower categories of trail versus road ultrarunners. So even if you are like Geoff and only compete in trail ultras, you are still an ultrarunner first, a trail ultrarunner second. As long as the two narrower categories exist, then the broader term should live on. I think it's become a big deal because of the year-end awards and whether more weight should be given to road ultra winners versus trail ultra winners. And that is where I think things should be separated. So yes, Geoff is correct that the broad term is not very useful in terms of awards. But for the average Joe, being an ultrarunner still seems useful.

  12. Alex

    I agree whole heartedly with Geoff. I run on/ off trails to get to remote places, to experience the environment, to experience the freedom of travelling to such places under my own steam. From me these are the most important things, and thus 'running' is in many ways a by product of these aims and goals. It's just my preferred method of achieving the above. With that in mind, I'd be nowhere near satisfied/ comfortable covering the same distances solely on the road. Hence I'm a trail runner!

  13. Rob Youngren

    I disagree that trail running is ALWAYS less impacting than road running. Ever take a horrible spill and break a bone or suffer a severe laceration on trail? Ever feel totally pounded running down a talus or boulder field? I also disagree that road running is necessarily more impacting and damaging. Sort of a false perpetuating myth. Anyhow, I consider myself a "runner" first and foremost. I like running trails and I like running on roads, I even like bushwhacking through the woods on occasion. I like running 5 and 10kms. They help maintain my leg speed and turnover. While I'd most likely chose a trail run over a road run most of the time, I can honestly say some of the most amazing ultra experiences I've every had were on the roads, I think of my Badwater experience for one. Ultramarathoning simply means going beyond the marathon distance, ultrarunning means any extreme running event, regardless of distance. The two words often get confused. I think folks who reject doing any sort of road race simply because it's on the "road" are missing out on some awesome experiences. But too each their own.

    1. Steve Pero

      Totally agree with you, Rob. I spent the first 20 years of running, running road races in the Boston area and since have run trail races and ultra races. I'm now planning a road marathon in December after I get Hardrock and Bear out of the way. All my weekly training are road miles on a flat bike path in ABQ., where I can work on running faster than on any trail. It's all good! I am a runner!

      Steve( who has a plate in his arm from a trail race fall in 2000)

      1. Rob Youngren

        Definitely. Why on earth anybody would want to put on "blinders" when they run is beyond me. Keep and open mind, there are awesome places to discover Out There on both trails and roads. The surface doesn't matter but the attitude does!

      2. Rob Youngren

        Forgot to add. There was a guy we were running with at Strolling Jim 40 mile this past weekend, yes, yuck a ROAD ultramarathon! Gads! ;) Anyhow he said he didn't consider this event an ultra because it wasn't on trails??? And he was serious? WTF!!??

  14. Johnny K

    Agreed, labels are not really that important as many of us cross over all those lines. That said, I am completely in the demographic you describe. I'm relatively new to the sport and pretty much only run trails. 26.2 is a line on the measuring stick — I just like being out in the mountains.

  15. Wyatt Hornsby

    Interesting and thought-provoking columnn. I consider myself an "ultrarunner" but, unlike many in this sport, I LOVE running roads. Trail running tends to be more fun, but I consider the purest form of ultrarunning to be road races since that's how the sport formed in the modern era (think of the timed races in Madison Square Garden, the Bunion Derbies, etc.). There are still some great road ultras out there, such as the Spartathlon and Mad City 100K. Also, there are phenomenal 24-hour races like the North Coast 24 and a few lower-profile races like the Lt. JC Stonr 50K that are amazing road experiences.


  16. Matt

    Ultrarunning (for me) conjures up images that I remember from my childhood, when I saw a documentary about Max Telford running across Death Valley. My main memory was that he kept his shoes in a fridge – that has to be classified as ultra-something.

    Trail running sounds a more accurate way to describe what Geoff and all the other mountain men get up to – they run on trails, but happen to do it for 50, 60 or 100 miles. And they (and we) do it for other aims than merely covering distance, like the adventure, the feeling of getting out in nature etc, etc.

    I bet Scott Jurek – who of course has been successful on roads, trails and tracks – would be able to come up with a definitive answer.

  17. Alex from New Haven

    Couple of thoughts in no particular order:

    -Moving away from the label "ultra" seems like a good idea. Trail runner, runner, long distance runner, are more ego-neutral

    -Observation: I recently moved to New England and people here mix road, short trail and long trail frequently. Very different from CA where except for Dipsea I can't even think of an iconic, frequently run, short trail race.

    -I just did my first road ultra after 6 years of trail ultra. I really liked it, but, like shorter road races, it's about time, splits and competition more than "adventure". I like mixing road and trail to stay sharp. It's a different kind of fun.

    -Aside from surface it seems like there is (marathon/50k) then (50m/100k) and then (100mile/24h and beyond). These are more metabolic/time categories and as both everyday folks and pros have found out success at one does not always translate to the others.


  18. Nate K

    Along the subject of taxonomy, I've only run one ultra (on a trail); as a middle of the pack finisher I did a lot of walking, I did a lot of jogging, and very little running. For all but the elite, should we be called ultra-RUNners at all? Maybe ultra hikers that run some of the time, UHTRSOTT?

  19. Emily Baehr

    I think it is hard to define… each race is its own beast. Sometimes I'm a walker, maybe even a jogger. Sometimes I'll get lucky and podium. I still feel guilty about calling myself a "runner". I don't quite know what quantity of miles I feel I need to accumulate to achieve the title. I'm assured by friends and family I have accomplished it. Titles feel elusive but also snaring. Once your path changes…do you lose that identity?

    1. footfeathers

      Emily's got something here. The word "running" in ultrarunning is the part I think is misleading. It seems like maybe 5% of participants in trail ultras (especially the longer events) actually run. Maybe "Ultramovement" "I do ultramoving."

      1. Mark

        Only 5% of the people are actually running??? What are the rest of the people doing, jogging?

        I have never run more than 26.2 miles and consider myself a trail runner. I just ran my first Trail Marathon last weekend and had a blast. When I do exceed that arbitrary number that classifies a race as 'Ultra', I still won't call it that. I will just say I ran a 50k or 50 mile or whatever distance trail race. I certainly won't be running it on the road!

  20. Kevin

    I prefer to keep it even less categorized and say I am an "endurance athlete". To me this, in a not too cocky way, explains that I like to go out and push the limits of my body for longer periods than a "normal" person. Most of the times it is running trails, but hey, why not some road time, or a road/mountain bike or fast-pack. Truly all that matters is you are getting out there and loving it and not trying to define a label.

    1. KenZ

      I like this. Or perhaps endurance runner. Because really, is there really THAT much difference between a marathon and a 50k? Me thinks not.

  21. Peter Andersson

    The Alpine Ski World Cup does a fine job (economically) of forcing together such different "sports" as slalom and downhill under one name and one organisation. Why kill the term ultrarunning now that it finally has become a household word?

  22. art

    the whole reason I got into this stuff is so I could attach the label "ultra runner" to myself.

    ultra just sounds cool …

    and never tell your non ultra friends you actually walk most of it.

  23. Craig

    There terminology only matters to actual ultranners and I don't think any of us really care. Non-ultrarunners only understand one thing: running farther than 26.2 miles is insane and we are all crazy. The rest is semantics.

    My true opinion about what we should call it shouldn't be distinguished by road vs trail. I think it shouldn't be called ultrarunning until you are doing 50+ miles. 50k distance has become the new marathon and doesn't quite give the same impression it used to. However, the longer we participate in this sport the more removed we become from the normal human who often has the life goal of just hoping to complete a marathon. So in reality, maybe it should be the non-ultrarunner who gets to classify us and not our own community. Wow, my thoughts are all over the place.

  24. JohnnyTri

    Running is running. Either road or trail anything past the 26.2 is ultra-running. As some have said, it doesn't really matter if its trail vs. road, its Ultra. On some days I like road vs trail but at times its opposite. My first 100 mile run was on Road and now I am attempting a trail 100, as I said, either way its Ultra! I say leave the "ultra-running" classification.

    If we start saying trail or road ultra, does that mean we have to start saying "Half UltraMarathon" vs. Full UltraMarathon"???


  25. Richard Dodd

    What about those events that combine both, how would you classify them? In November of 1982 I (and my twin brother) ran the Vilas 50K in 2:59:56, still a WI State Record. It was a 4.45-mile loop, 1/3rd of which was a trail called Picnic Point, performed 7 times. So more than 10 miles were trail, and the other 20+ on the roads.

  26. Catherine P

    Never thought of this but good point. Ultras are primarily the distance I run, but I've always jut considered myself a trail runner that likes to run long. Won't be doing road ultras EVER.

  27. Andy

    It's Ultrarunning. Ultrarunning magazine covers ultramarathon running both trail and road and that's just fine. If you run a race longer than a marathon it's ultrarunning. I much prefer running on trails and if I'm going to spend my money to do a race, I'll spend it where I enjoy it most – on the trails. I might identify myself more as a trail runner, but if I run a trail ultra, it's still ultrarunning. I say who cares what it's called, go out and run a long ways on trails. If it's not a race, I don't consider it ultrarunning anyway really. I'm just going out for a long run in the woods which I rather enjoy…

  28. Johann Sigurdsson

    I'm a trail runner who participates in 2-5 trail ultras per year. To friends I often use the term mountain running as most of my Ultra's are in mountains i.e. UTMB etc.

  29. Andrei


    Have you considered the reason for having more trail races vs. road races is permits and logistics. Organizing a road race of a 100 miles point to point is a nightmare of navigating permits and logistics with local communities. Being able to obtain a permit for a race in a park or somewhere with no traffic is way easier. Safety and liability are main factors which come into place as well. A road race is far more dangerous than one on trail due to vehicles.

    Ultrarunners will go and run where they can find races. While there are many who prefer trail races, there are also many who prefer road races. I would always pick the road vs trail if a have an option, however most of the times I pick races based on how far are from my home, my ability to take time off from work and travel. That is no indication of a trend change, it is an indication of circumstances.

    Rob, pointed well that injuries happen on trails due to terrain. On asphalt you know what you get from the beginning, on trails it is gamble.

    Lastly, I have to agree with you that some trails where you cannot run because of terrain, should not be considered ultramarathons, a more appropriate term would be ultrahicking. Nevertheless, ultrarunning is a term which can be used for trails, roads and a combination of the two; trailrunning on the other hand cannot. Perhaps we should work together as a community to promote ultrarunning instead of making claims that is dead.

  30. Lynsey

    I don't think the term ultra running has become antiquated so much as it's usage has become lax.

    Ultras, at least as far as I classify them, are distances that go beyond the marathon. Ultra has no regard for terrain. Simple as that.

    One can be a trail runner without being an ultra runner. And that is fine.

    I think part of the lax is designating so many things as 'ultra' is due to the increase in people being running and their need to validate themselves as awesome.

  31. Jonathan Bean

    It's an interesting point to note that ultra trail races are growing do much faster than any other area of running – except perhaps charity 5ks – but I think we're in danger of getting too hung up on definitions. We're all runners. If I meet someone and they ask what i'm into i'll reply "running". Usually that is enough, but if they press further I might expand on the kind of running I do, but I don't think I would stick to one label…

  32. Justin

    Great article geoff! i moved to colorado from upstate ny several years ago, kind of like you, and got lost in the world of trail running. in the past two years ive upgraded from 5ks to 10k to half marathin, to competetive trail racing in breckenridge including the breckcrest mountain marathon which was only 23 miles but still an experiance of a life time. june 30th i will run the leadville trail marathon, my first 26.2 miler, why not go for leadville. i consider myself a trail runner for life, look forward to 50milers and maybe 100s someday. i only run on pavement on the way to trails and road ultras sound boring and painful. your an inspiration geoff.

  33. BOB


    Why are you doing this? Why do we need to classify everyone. Can't runners just be runners. I like to run road ultras, some people like trail ultras, can't we all just get along!

  34. Phil Jeremy

    I never think of running roads. The reason I started doing trails is because its more fun and when I discovered ultra's I only ever considered them on trails. To do a road ultra just sounds very boring to me…..give me trees and mountains any day.

  35. nicholas wied

    Great piece Geoff, I totally agree. I ran a lot of short road races before moving to trails and ultras. I now identify as a trail runner who runs trail races from 5k to 50-100miles. When people ask if I'm an ultrarunner, I tell them I'm a trail runner who also runs trail ultras.

  36. Michelle

    I come from a climbing background so this make sense to me. I wouldn't say that ultra running is dead, but the point is correct. If you are meeting up with somebody and they say they are an ultra runner you could assume they mean they are a trail ultra runner.

    If I say I am a climber, what does it mean for most people. Those that are not climbers, they will think of movies like Cliff Hanger where you climb up a wall and put you gear in tiny cracks until it fits just perfect. Falling can cause your pieces to zip line. They may even think you can climb Everest, because that is what climbers do. However, the truth is I couldn't climb Everest, and I have only climbed one route where I attached my pieces straight to the wall, whatever that is called. I am a sport climber, and still bring my rope us with my on a route. However, I attach to pieces bolted into a wall. I can only climb routes that where set-up in advance.

    You are not really a climber, that doesn't mean anything. However, you could be a sport climber, trad climber, or a mountain climber. Each mean their own thing. The outside world will still see climber, but inside climbing world they are worlds different.

    I run a lot of both. However, I prefer the trails any day but I live in Florida and my options are limited. I travel for my key races and they are all trail. If I where to leave Florida, the chances are I wouldn't do road ultras. With that said I would consider myself a trail ultra runner that does some road ultra marathons.

  37. Rob Youngren

    All I can say is if one hasn't actually done some road ultras how can one know they are "boring" or "painful"? I've done plenty of trail races that were boring & painful, I've also done plenty of road races that were far from boring and not any more painful than trail running. Where do these false premises come from? Don't knock it unless you've had enough experience to form a opinion.

  38. dogrunner

    Interesting conversation.

    Personally, I run trails. I do not like pavement any more than I like treadmills. The latter have their purposes (stay in shape for running trails :) )but I'd probably not be a runner at all if those were my only options.

    I think "ultra" or "extra-long" -distance vs sub-ultra or not-so-extra-long -distance is orthogonal to trail vs pavement (roads, asphalt bike paths, sidewalks, etc). They are different axes or dimensions of the running niche. People will use whatever terminology is needed to describe the variants they are contrasting at the moment. Sometimes it takes extra adjectives to communicate accurately.

    Just my $0.02.

  39. Peter

    This is a good post. My perspective is that distance running is all more or less just distance running, and I would think that distance running is 10k and up.

  40. Jacques

    I agree Jeff, I've been running trails for 25+ years and the only reason I got into Ultra's was because 50 miles was our only choice for a trail race "back in the day". I did learn to love the long distance as long as the trail was interesting and a challenge, singletrack preferred. For instance I became obsessed with WS not because it was 100 miles but because of the event itself and it was on the Western States trail. My trail running club is going through a bit of an identity crisis. We became an Ultra running group [we do have better stories] and unfortunately some of the shorter distance trail runners started to drop away. Our Wed. runs are usually 7-10 miles so anyone can participate. Not a big deal but maybe i'm more of a Distance Trail Runner then Ultra runner. That does have a nice ring to it.

  41. Mark Myers

    I think that the real observation isn't just as much the aspect of ultra road versus ultra trail but nature versus industrial. In trail weather it be short 5 k or an ultra 100 k it is getting away from all aspects of technology and things manmade. In a trailrun you experience that in the road ultra you are taesting your limits and in the trail run you are saving your sanity. We are always seeking something greater than ourselves and in the God's creation provides that. I would be curious to know of those running trail ultras what type of profession they are in and how deeply they are imeressed in technology daily.

  42. Ken Eng

    I agree with Geoff that the term "ultrarunning" has become too general and encompassing to describe the variety and scope of running events beyond the marathon distance. Ultrarunning's technical definition is precise, (beyond 26.2 miles, but what there is beyond 26.2 miles has become vast and keeps changing. Even someone saying that she is running a marathon doesn't really describe what type of experience she will have since the variety, size, difficulty, terrain, and support provided is incredibly diverse. The only thing that can be determined when someone says that she has run a marathon is that she has run a race 26.2 miles long. There's a big difference between a flat course marathon at sea level and Pikes Peak Marathon. The only thing that can be determine from someone saying that she is an ultra runner is she likes to run events longer than 26.2 miles.

    Like Nicholas, I describe myself as a trail runner that likes to run trail ultras.

  43. Dominic

    I think there is very big difference in terms of what a road ultra and a trail ultra require of the runner. I've trained for and raced Badwater and trained for and raced mountain 100s. In training more Badwater my muscle mass shrunk and I mentally focused on the mental fortitude required to maintain a strong pace on some really booring roads. In training for Angeles Crest, my body adapted and built up muscles to absorb the undulations of the trails, and my mind focused on adapting to the challenges of the wilderness.

    Both a difficult and rewarding in their own ways. I've gravitated to trails for the sole reason of pure enjoyment. If you wanted to call someone from Florida, and someone from Alaska, Americans, you could.. But you'd sooner identify them for their stronger characteristics indicative of where they live.

  44. Brea

    I just thought that "ultra" was a way to describe the distance of the race- anything over 26.2 miles. Otherwise, I don't see the need to classify myself as an "ultra" runner- I say that I run ultras, but I do not say that I am an ultra-marathoner or ultra-runner.

    I've done only road so far, but am hitting the trails this year. I find it funny that there is such a gap between the two- I didn't realize how much more popular the trails were. It'd be nice to see the exact statistics.

    In the end, as many of you have already stated, it's just a label. I doesn't matter if you call it "soda" or "pop", it's still a carbonated drink. Runners are runners no matter what they run.

  45. Ken Eng

    This is a great conversation with terrific comments being made. People like to use labels to characterize, understand and group things, including other people. It's not possible to give a simple one or two word label to someone and truly understand who they are.

    We are all runners but have different reasons for running and different preferences, even among "ultra runners." Perhaps what this conversation is leading us to do is not slot people a convenient label or category but try to understand and appreciate the uniqueness of everyone.

  46. Scott S

    Interesting topic…

    Whether we want to label people or activities or not, we can be sure that the people and activities will be labeled. Yes, I know lots of people will refrain from the practice, but that doesn't change the fact that it will happen. So, that leaves us with the question of do we want to be a part of the process or not? My guess is that Geoff want to be part of the process.

    Even though I've run the marathon (and slightly beyond) distance, I've never considered myself a marathoner, but I have conceded that I am a runner once I got to the marathon distance just last year. Mostly, I think of myself as a trail runnner (that only runs on the roads during the week due to time constraints).

    my 2cents anyhow…

  47. @ultrailz

    Interesting article, I have to admit that when people ask what kind of running I do, I tell them I like to run….long. I've done a lot of trail ultras but only a few road ultras but I think in the end, we are all just runners….I like the term "ultrarunner" in general but I only call myself that after feeling like I have done enough to earn the distinction. I think an ultra runner is someone who is focused on 50mi, 100mi, and longer events and using road marathons as long "training' runs. I know a number of folks who call themselves marathoners but have completed a number of ultras. In the end, I think it's based on the events you are training for.

    What I find as a really good distinction is the growth of ultra-running….which I find it great that more people are learning to try to break the standard marathon barrier. We humans are capable of so much but often times limit ourselves due to mental stopping points.

  48. Colin Matthews

    Love the article, hate the title!

    I agree with most of what you said; However, even though ultrarunning has enjoyed undeniable growth as of late, I still think it's presumptuous to think it's at a level where it's necessary to divide it into sub-categories.

    Realistically, these designations are for the benefit of the general, non-ultra-running public; Anyone running ultras, on roads or trails, will know the difference anyways. A sport like snowboarding, to the non-snowboarding public, is just that-snowboarding. To snowboarders, it might be half pipe, border-cross, slalom, etc. but at the end of the day all those athletes identify as snowboarders.


  49. jared

    when asked, I tell people I run really far and really slow in the mountains.

    I am much more drawn to the trails than I am to the distance, and even to running in general. I love being outside, I love discovering new places and being alone – running is just the medium. If I was in a flat, trail-less place, I would probably just play soccer.

  50. Jim

    I tend not to use the terms ultra/ultramarathon as I've found non runners don't understand and other runners think you're bragging. I run for the pleasure of running. I often don't take a watch/gps with me or listen to music. I used to compete in triathlons and shorter distance run events. I found that the competitive nature didn't suit me. Ultra distance events seem to be more sociable with runners more willing to help others if needed, instead of running on to keep to their own target pace. My only worry is that with the increasing popularity of longer distance running, we could get more 'competitive' runners which will change the nature of the sport.

  51. Peter Andersson

    Track and Field is devided into sub-categories more than any other sport – would you say that's working out good in these modern times? ;-)

  52. Serena

    I just consider myself a runner. I prefer trail to road, but I still run road races. I would never run a road ultra though unless it was Comrades.

  53. Andrew Guitarte

    I agree that ultrarunning is dead. At least the stigma & mystery associated with the term is passé. Hikers, joggers, walkers, sprinters, climbers, mountaineers, triathletes, barefoot runners, minimalist runners, and runners in general can now call themselves ultrarunners when they officially finish an ultra distance. What's the big deal here? Nothing really. Except perhaps the loss of innocence, awe, disbelief, wonder, magic, oomph, wow, hero worship that I so longed for when I decided that I'll be an ultrarunner someday.

  54. olga

    What do you do when an ultra, or any race for that matter, combines both trail and road? UROC, anyone? Why separate, isn't it like all the wars started, "I am different than you and thus potentially better"? I love trails, and ultras. But I run it all. Roads are harder – the effort, the cut off's, the mental part. I love it as a challenge and don't do it often because I am too scared of it. Why there is more growing in trail ultras? It's accepted to walk, talk, don't give it "my all", because, "Oh, we're in it for camaraderie and a scenery only". I am exacerbating, but in a nutshell, I still have no clue what was the purpose of this article. So that majority that only runs trails and avoids at all costs roads as evil can beat in a chest proudly, and the road folks would try and be defensive? Well, that is achieved.

    I rather have folks do whatever, roads, trails, short, long, bike, skip, dance, but be active, and if it's outside – great, in the mountains – lucky bustards. But, common, do we need definitions to be full of ourselves?

    Personally, I say I run a lot. But it rarely comes to asking. Those that know me, know that. Those who don't – don't care enough to ask.

    My self-importance is not based on the name. It probably used to, when it was new and oh, so rare. Now, I simply do what I like to do. That includes running. Sometimes a lot, sometimes a little.

  55. Mark Forehand

    I'm intrigued by the phrase "vastly different demographic." This is the same group of people who have the benefit of living on or near "trails." I lived on or near "trails" until I moved to Europe and started living in large cities. Of course Tallahassee, FL, home to some amazing trail running, has "trails", but not the elevation changing joy rides that people think of when you say "trail ultra marathon". Which makes me wonder, is a Florida 100 miler run completely on trails with little to no elevation changes, still a Trail Ultra?

    I was introduced to running by my father at the age of 8, 1973. I ran 3 laps around the Florida State University track with a my dad and two guys named John Parker (Once a Runner) and some dude who my father described as "man who one a foot race in Germany" Frank Shorter.

    In all that time I've seen fads in running come and go. At one point in the mid 80's early 90's there were about 15 running magazines. That went away. There was any fad created by Nike running, the waffle, that thing before they invented "air" that cost $50 dollars in 1980 that gave my mother a heart attack when she saw the price ("For a pair of shoes?!") and on and on.

    I don't think Ultrarunning is dead, I think it is a fad for some people and joy for other people, the fad will die, the rest of us will stay and keep doing. The US is a country of fads this one will pass and we can go back to calling ultra running if we want.

    Or, you can tell your friends when they ask what are you doing this weekend? "I'm doing a foot race."

  56. Andy

    Geoff, I agree completely with your view that the vast majority of today's "ultrarunners" (me included) are runners who have traditionally gravitated to trail and the rugged beauty of the outdoors, which always begs for greater distance and more exploration. That aspect has little to do with running per se (thru-hike the AT or PCT anyone?). And although I will run the roads when I have to (or the rare road marathon just for some semblance of speed), I would rather hike thru the wilderness than run thru an urban jungle. Although there certainly folks who run both trail and road ultras and specialize more in distance than terrain (Michael Wardian comes to mind), I agree with you that the majority of folks running trail ultras today just love the outdoors and are looking for a challenge and a way to get off the roads. Like others, I eschew the ultrarunning label (most people have no idea what you're talking about anyway and can't conceive of anything beyond the marathon). When asked I just tell people I like to run ridiculous distances thru the mountains.

  57. boisean

    Andy says: I agree about your statement about how most people can't fathom any distance past the marathon, but actually would take it a step further and say that despite how commonplace and seemingly understandable kilos to miles is, most people still have trouble even understanding what a 10K distance is!

  58. Ian Corless

    Whats important is the running and the bond that we all have in one of the purist and most simple modes of transport. I run 'ultras' and they may well be on the road or the trail. It's funny how often the 'pure' trail runners shun the road runners… I don't know why! Each to his own and if you want to be a great runner I think some road will help all you pure trail runners and vice versa.

    Let's embrace running and lets embrace ultra running as anything beyond 26.2.

    For me, the bond, the friendship and the fun all far out weigh wether I am a trail runner, road runner or ultra runner.

    I run ultras; simple!

    1. Jared F

      Well said Ian! I think you summed it up well. To me, there are so few road ultras that I think saying "ultra" usually means trails since there simply are not many road ultras. However, I do understand Geoff's thoughts on the purist side and how defensive those types can be about being classified with road races. I still like the road, still run road marathons, but am also mixing in more trails, so for me "ultras" is a perfect term for anything longer than 42.2k (for Ian).

  59. Vanessa

    The labels confuse me. I'm also confused as to why in the hell anyone would want to run an ultra distance on a road?? I'm pretty happy with running for a really long time in the mountains – whatever that's called :) And if I see you on the trail, it doesn't matter if you're hiking or running or sprinting or doing cartwheels… you can be my buddy and we'll share a few miles.

  60. DDDDDDavid.R

    I will be switch my focus to the sprint. Mainly the 100m and 200m. Given that everybody is running ultras now I think I might have better luck in these events. Also the competition is a bit soft at this distance right now.

  61. Charlie

    A fast running 10k specialist friend of mine would argue that ultra trail running should be called "bushwalking":)

    I would say that there are plenty of ultra trail runners who run road ultras as well – think Greenwood, Wardian, Sharman, Semik. Comrades is the largest ultra in the world and it posesses all the positive attribute that most trial runners want.

    The thing I dont get is the 6 day races around a 400m running track!

  62. Andy

    Wow, ultra-tough crowd all around! Clearly when people spend obscene amounts of time on their own — on road or trail — they either lose social grace, or seek out the solitude because they never had it to begin with. Lighten up people, and run happy wherever and for however long you choose.

  63. Michael Whitenton

    I've decided to avoid the comments above, given Andy's comment. :) For my part, I can say that I have seen the shift Geoff refers to from a different perspective. I'm an ultra-hopeful trail runner, but I totally blew up at a trail marathon this past weekend. Heat indexes of at least 110 F at Joe's inaugural Pandora's Box of Rox resulted in severe dehydration and heat exhaustion. Long story short, I was immediately taken in by the ultrarunners (most of the runners of the full mary) and did not feel like an outsider at all. We were all out there running trails. We were trail runners.

  64. Donald beuke

    I had no idea there was such a thing as a road ultra. That is news to me in my short running career. I am finally running my first road marathon. I prefer the mountain ones. The cool thing is I get to PR by 2 hours on my first road marathon. Trail running is where it is at…mountain running is the ultimate.

  65. Predator

    Love this post. Geoff has again struck a chord as reflected in the varied and heartfelt responses. Bryon and IRF rock, and I will be watching the race feeds, but I am heartened by the response to Geoff's post vs Transvolcano Sponsors Announce Attack on Espanero Pequeno 2012…. I have never run any road race, don't imagine I will. Am certainly an ultramover at best, who uses races as an excuse to run far in training. The energy of a race is incredible and it is great to connect with runners and volunteers regardless of what they call themselves, but a long unsupported solo training run is to me the peak experience. Usually w AJWs disembodied voice hauntingly asking, "did I take that wrong turn to escape or discover….."

  66. Jason

    Comments are great, a little confused about the article though. If anyone runs farther than 26.2 miles why does it matter what they are called? "Ultra" runner sounds good to me- although as stated by other folks here I don't refer to myself as an "Ultra Runner" from fear of being labled a "braggart".

    Who really wants to run a 50 or 100 on the road? I didn't know that there are that many around- so that's where my confusion in this article comes from.

    Let's just run long and forget the labels- we know who we are and what we do :)

    1. Rob Youngren

      Plenty of folks want to run 50 or 100 miles on the road. Why?

      1) To cover the distance as fast as possible. Typically you'll be able to RUN a faster time at a road event than a trail event.

      2) To cover the distance as easily as possible. Some folks don't have the coordination or the skill to cover a trail route within the cutoff times, or don't like being on the trails all alone. Also being on a road the frequency of aid is something else to consider, can travel a lot lighter.

      3) To cover the distance in unique places where there may not be trails. For example, Badwater Ultramarathon, Spartathlon (153m), Strolling Jim 40, Comrades Marathon, etc… Just as trail events take you to and through interesting areas, so to can many road events.

      Yes, there are a great many road ultras out there, do some research. In fact the largest ultra in the world is on the roads: Comrades Marathon.

  67. Todd

    I am new to ultras, running a 50K this year (road) and hopefully a 50miler next year (trail). One thing I have noticed is that the "trail"ultra runners are kind of snobby and seem to have liked it better when ultra running was a small community of close knit runners. Just like this article where the trail community wants to keep the designation separate between trail and road. I happen to live in a very flat part of the world (Ks) so trails are far and few between. I just love to run and run far, I don't care about titles. I know that the training for >26.2 is vastly different and doesn't matter much if it is on trails or roads. When I hear ultra, that is what I think is important and what differentiates ultrarunners more than trail vs. road.

    1. art

      have to disagree with you on this one.

      I have found the ultra trail community to be the nicest, friendliest, most helpful, of any I've seen. much more so than the climbing, tri, or road communities.

      yes some of us do prefer the smaller more casual days, when it was easier to be more personal. I was doing trail work last weekend rubbing shoulders with a couple elites and, yes, they were real people.

  68. barry

    Being honest, the typical civilian would classify us as some flavor of “crazy”. Not sure necessary to list the sub-categories of Road, Timed-event, Flat-Trail, Hilly-Trails, and Hardrock. I see the term Ultrarunner as describing a culture more than an event; people who love/addicted to running, value helping over finishing time, do not wear an iPod and check split every mile, socialize during races, etc. So long at the culture of 26.2+ remains, the term Ultra sounds good…so disagree that Ultrarunning is dead. I did enjoy the thoughtful article and the string of comments.

  69. Stuart Blofeld

    All I can say based on the response to everyone on this thread is that ULTRA RUNNING IS ALIVE!!!!! It has never been more alive!!! We are all ambassadors of our great sport and surely want to see to grow and grow. I dont understand Geoff's reasoning for saying it is dead. The whole road vs trail argument is extremely boring and very unhelpful. Why try to break up a sport that we want to see succeed. And anyone that thinks or refers to themselves as puriests are usually the complete opposite in that their views are often very narrow minded. Let's embrace everything that is great about our amazing sport 'ultrarunning'!!! You can not redefine what is now mainstream so let's instead come together and celebrate.

  70. Trailrutger

    In my modest opinion we should just do what we do.

    Because we love/like to do what we do.

    And not worry about what it's called because it doesn't change what we do.

  71. Alison Gittelman

    Ooh, that's a nice can of worms! My first (and so far only) ultra was a 50K, but to be honest I won't really feel I've earned the ultra title until a run a 50 mile, since a 50K is only a bit more than a marathon. The major difference, as you noted, is that it was on trails whereas all the marathons I've run have been on roads. I have absolutely no interest in running a road ultra. I like running far on trails for the reasons you stated, whereas I dislike running far on roads. I think distinguishing road ultra and trail ultra does make sense because they are very different beasts, just like the track is different from the road.

  72. ken michal

    Great, thought provoking topic, Geoff!!

    To me, ultrarunning is a style of running. The distance dictates our speed and effort level. There is no way any of us will run a 10k (sprint) and a 50M (ultra) at the same pace… but I keep trying! ;) Heck, we won't run a 100 as fast and hard as a 50 either!! I think the biggest distinction is where we run out of muscle glycogen. This is the essence of ultras (and why a lot of folks don't consider 50k's true ultras)!! The fun doesn't really start until we've "hit the wall"! After this point, the run is different from any other athletic event I can think of! This is what sets ultras apart from shorter runs, not terrain. Along this line, the way we run is different as well. Hiking is a great strategy for pacing… Not so much in an anaerobic race!!!

    I've done a few paved ultras. Sure, the challenge is a little different but the essence of the event (above) is the same!! Heck, the pain factor even kicks it up a notch!!

    What would happen if in a few years, the trend shifted to 100 mile treadmill runs (which would certainly be more bad-ass!)? Would we need a third distinction for treadmill runs?

    About the ultra hiking comments: Hiking is part of the game!! This is another one of the things that set ultras apart from shorter distances. I guarantee you that Geoff himself hiked a significant part of the uphills at HURT100 when he set the CR! I know for a fact that Gary Robbins hiked 100% of those uphills when he broke that CR!!! In ultras this is called running smart! On a side note, I'm running my first 200 in exactly two weeks!!! I'm already planning on walking no less than 20 miles of it. I may even do a mile or two on my hands or knees if I need to!! At the end of the weekend, when I have that buckle in hand, you can bet your butt that I'm going to call it both an ultra and a run!!!!

    All Day!


  73. konrad

    I was running a trail section of a 100 miler a while back in front of a couple of guys who were discussing why they liked trails over roads and wondering why any body would ever run roads at all. Well, because of my schedule and my wife's schedule and the kids and the fact that the nearest decent trails are about 45 minutes from me ninetey-nine percent of my training is done on roads. I felt like telling this guys, "You know what? We've been running on this trail for hours and what have we seen. Trees! And Rocks! And dirt! And that's about it! A billion trees! When I run on the roads I see houses, people, horses, cows, barns…and trees . And maybe a '68 Chevelle! Plus I pass gas stations where I can get a Red Bull and some ice cream!!" I was kidding but there was some seriousness to what I was saying. It's all running, man. It's all good. Be well rounded. To paraphrase The Who, "Ultrarunning is dead! Long live ultrarunning!"

  74. Dan Brannen


    I wonder at your choice of essay title. OK, yes. It's an attention-grabber. But, in the context of your essay, it also means that your intent (or preference) is that you want the term "ultrarunning" to stop being used to describe a sport that has now really become two separate sports.

    You may be right about that evolution. I think the verdict is still out, but your essay is on the cutting edge of observation and analysis. And in that sense it's astute and provocative.

    Let me offer a different perspective: The dwarfing of road ultrarunning (uh, let me correct myself, and yourself, right here: road/track ultrarunning–not just road ultrarunning)… the dwarfing of road/track ultrarunning by trail ultrarunning did not achieve critical mass just in the last 5 years. The domination/subjugation of road/track ultra by trail ultra (in terms of sheer numbers; of both events and participants) was achieved more than 15 years ago.

    What has changed (dramatically) in the last 5 years is one very significant factor: the number of unarguably world-class-talented American male ultrarunners who have reserved their focus exclusively for trail ultras, and completely eschew road/track ultras. That percentage of a bare few handfuls of male individuals has skyrocketed over the percentage of the same number of bare few handfuls of individuals who were the "marquee" names of American ultrarunning from the early 80's through the late 90's. The perception (by the ultra community; by the general running community; and by the general public) of the nature and culture of our sport is as much (if not more) colored by the exploits and practices of this very small number of its "elite" performers as it is by the volume of the "rank & file." An unfortunate (but very real) corollary of this fact is that the elite men make more of an impact on general perception than the elite women. Yes, Ann Trason (arguably–or, as I would argue, unarguably–the greatest American ultrarunner who ever lived) achieved tremendous notoriety from her phenomenal ultra exploits. But she would have made an even bigger impact on the general public if she had been a male achieving the same level of dominance.

    There was really no cohesive national ultra "community" (with marquee events and "stars" and critical mass) until the early 80's. Hence, our "sport" as a national community is just about 30 years old. During virtually that entire lifespan, the Western States 100 Mile has been universally regarded as the premier American ultra. You are one of the few who has won it. Take a look at the list of winners going back to the early 80's. The overwhelming majority of them (and other top WS finishers)–both male & female–were primarily trail racers who then crossed over to achieve success (or at least to attempt to achieve success) at road and track ultra racing. Those who didn't are so few that they comprise the proverbial exception that proves the rule. Among women the trail to road/track crossover is almost universal. But among the elite American men that trend came to an abrupt halt during the last half-decade. And it's not just Western States winners/top finishers. It's a phenomenon that extends even to those who are proven top male trail ultra racers (multiple victories at major trail ultras; course records) during the same last 5-6 years who haven't excelled at Western States. It's as if a curtain suddenly dropped down on the sport, separating our elite male trail ultra racers from our elite road/track ultra racers. The same phenomenon has not occurred among the elite trail women. They still almost universally cross over. And I think that elite male trail exclusively at the very top goes a long way toward explaining the widening gap in the rank-&-file ultra culture between trail & road–at least as much as does just overall participation numbers.

    I find myself asking "Why?" And I can't come up with an answer. It's a mystery to me. In that sense, your essay's focus on the separation/distinction of trail from road can almost be seen as a self-fulfilling prophecy. My intention is not to put you on the spot. But, you've sort of put yourself on the spot with your essay here. You've pretty much displayed yourself as the poster boy for this phenomenon. You are one of the best ultrarunners in the country (perhaps in the world), yet you make it very clear that you intend to stay away from road ultras. You ran and won the American River 50 Mile in close to record-equivalent time. That's basically a flat road race for the first 25 miles. I wonder what you would have run if the 25-mile point had been a U-turn and the course was an exact out-&-back? Would you have not entered the event? Many of your American elite trail-only peers have run similarly well there. The UROC 100k (self-billed as America's first true ultra championship), where you beat Mike Wardian for the win last year (and some of your trail-only peers ran too), was reported to be half road. So, it's not as if you are averse to racing seriously on the roads. I look at you and see a guy who quite possibly has a realistic shot at breaking Tom Johnson's 17-year old American 100k record while winning the 100k World Championship. Or finishing in the top 10 (top 5?) at Comrades. Almost all of your American elite trail predecessors for the past 30 years had a passionate interest in such pursuits, but you (and most of your American elite male trail-exclusive colleagues) seem to have no such interest. Yet your feminine peers still do. I find it puzzling. And a bit sad. I invite you (and any of your trail-only peers who care to) to explain the sudden cultural shift at the top. Your essay is interesting and provocative, but it doesn't really address this question. Do you care to solve the mystery?

    Sorry, I don't intend to be confrontational or combative. But I think I have a legitimate question. And I think it's important for the future of our sport. And It think it needs an honest and accurate answer. And It think you've (perhaps unwittingly) brought it to the surface.


    Dan Brannen

  75. Ellie G

    Too many comments to read but I would also suggest that 'ultra running is dead' in a different angle. Now ultra running is becoming more popular we'll start to have some runners who specialise/ excel at say 50km distance whilst others are 100 mile specialists and others still are multiday specialists. As more runners participate in ultras it is unreasonable to expect the top runners to excel at all distances, or even middle of the packers to be the same place in the pack in races over different distances. Along the lines of not expecting a good 5km runner to be a good half marathoner. Good luck at Transvulcania Geoff!

  76. Peter Andersson

    Tossing in another angle here; isn't big parts of middle class society in itself moving away from "big cities" and comparatively out on the "boonies"? We now have the internet and smartphones so we no longer need to live in big cities for "information" and with the health food "revolution" on top of that we're no longer dependent on either growing our own food or on small stores in those big cities to get that. Foodwise, healthwise and informationwise you can now live in Smallville and still get anything you need within 24 hours, hence more people run and train on trails that would previously have lived downtown Metropolis, trained and races there.

  77. Fabrice

    Many comments, and I believe there should be a clear cut between trail running and ultra running. When I read about ultra runing 50 km?????? Since when 50km is ultra running???

    I love the quotation of the god of ultra running Yannis Kouros " ultra runing is when your mind will leave your body and you will not feel anymore pain" his second quote was you are a ultra runner when you have to change your training from marathon training and if you run a 50 km or 50 miler you can do pretty good with only a simple marathon training type, now when it is mile 111 this type of training is mindingless.

    Many good trail runners have become but not many ultra runner have defeat Yannis world records or Badwater course record.

    Happy trails to everyone

  78. Abichal

    There are no 6 day races on a 400 m track. This years inaugural 6/5 day Circuit races will take place on a 500 m grass loop, all the others are on paved/ish loops. The Unix 6 day currently taking place in Hungary is on a 900m loop.

    Geoff does have a point. To call both a 50k trail race and a 6 day road race, ultras, is to fail to convey a world of difference.

    If the number of participants increases dramatically, then as Ellie suggested there will naturally be more and more specialization.

  79. Bill Ahlers

    Coming from shorter then ultra road races to ultra trail racing it wasn't that I was a trail runner per se but most all ultras in colorado are mostly trail so I became a trail runner. Now did I label myself a bike path concrete marathoner or an asphalt gravel marathoner? No, I was just a marathoner. First and foremost I am a runner and a competitive person so I am a runner that likes to compete. I will run anywhere I feel challenged whether its marathons or ultras. Trail or road. Like most have said its a solution looking for a problem.

  80. Monica

    I agree with you. I always associated "ultra" with any distance greater than 26.2. I didn't distinguish between a trail runner or a road runner. It's the distance that is impressive, not the terrain. I don't think there needs to be nit-picking on the sub-categories of what an "ultra" runner is.

  81. Girl Ultrarunner

    I proudly consider myself as an ultrarunner; I don't think it matters whether I run roads or trails (I've run >50 trail ultras including # 17 100s), the greatest change I see in the sport is the difficulty in getting into races. Ot is discouraging to me how many races that fill within minutes or have lotteries. I ran WS twice in the 90s, thank goodness, because I could wait years now.

  82. Craig

    Actually, in my experience I've found that most people categorize themselves as either trail or road marathoners. Not that I do that, but that's been my experience.

  83. Jim Parry

    I am an ultrarunner, put simply. I have always wanted in the worst way to be nimble off-road and effortly cruise mile after mile in those remote areas you describe. The problem is that I am clumsy and inefficient in that environment. I enjoy it, but rarely get to practice my skills there. Rather, I find myself completely at home on the side of a gravel road, knowing how far it is to the next town. At times this has made me feel like I am not a "true" ultra runner, but I understand that this environment makes sense to me and makes me happy. I would guess the same feeling holds true for those who live on the trails. That said, it would be great to see more road ultras, but until that happens, I will have to look at a road map and decide where my day is going to take me based on that.

  84. Mick Tarry

    I think the word Ultra has a special zing to it and the word really focussed me when I tackled my first one. I felt enormous pride at ducking under the cutoff by 4 minutes at the end. The pleasure of running long on trails has now superceded my initial desire to tackle an ultra and I also refer to my runs as long distance trial runs without specifying the distance and go to describe the characteristics of the run to anyone that is interested. Road Ultras are harder mentally and on the body but defining an Ultra as anything more than a marathon regardless of road or trail should stay for the sake of the beauty of simplicity.

  85. Todd Fuller

    I don't run any roads. I either run on the treadmill, cross country courses, or trails which are my preferred running surface. Running on the road hurts my knees too much and why I'm moving out West next spring to be able to run trails all the time right outside my door.

  86. Will

    Jared, that is just about word-for-word what I tell people. It's all about being out in the hills. I had a pretty troubled childhood and whenever I wanted to escape reality at home, I would run through the woods as fast as I could – until I was ready to face the world again.


  87. Bob Gilmore

    Why feel the need to attach a label to what you like to do? Being someone who runs is nothing more than that. Distance, terrain, elevation, it can all be different yet it is all the same. Put one foot in front of the other. Enjoy it for what it is: a simple act that makes you feel good. Trying to differentiate yourself and define who you are by the type of running you do is all ego. I have met trail runners that wear headphones and obsess over splits, road runners that are helpful, pro MMA fighters who study yoga and like kittens, hopefully you get the point. Every time I see an article about running that begins with "As a runner…", I've come to expect some level of self-importance and "belonging to some exclusive club" feel to be associated with it. I think we all could use getting over ourselves a little bit.

  88. Duane VanderGriend

    I like thinking of myself as an ultrarunner. To me it embodies a more relaxed, more organic approach to running than my pre- ultrarunner days. Where in the past I bought into the idea that it was all about getting faster, now my mantra is WWUDD. What would ultrarunner Duane do? He'd slow down, go long, take walk breaks, and eat and drink a lot during the run. And now running is fun again. And people think you are nuts when you tell them you ran 50 miles. I like people thinking I' m nuts.

  89. Dan

    I am also just a runner as we all are. I did many trail races and many roadraces this summer. The other 5 months I trained almost exclusively on a treadmill. How wacky is that? The distinction should not be what the RUNNERS are but what the RACES are that they run. Trail running and road running are as different as roadbikes and mountainbikes. I don't see a problem with that. Even track and roadrunning are two distinct categories. And don't forget cross country! While you may find a few extremely hilly road races (I ran the Ridge Runner marathon in WV a few years ago), most are fairly flat. It is just the opposite with trail races that tend to seek out the hilliest, hardest terrain possible. That makes the distinction even more pronounced. I would just get rid of "ultra" all together. When asked what kind of races you run, you can tell them trail 50 and 100 milers, road marathons, 5ks, or whatever you like to do the most. Remember in the early 80s when towns would call their 3 mile roadrace a mini-marathon?

  90. Karen T

    When asked what my hobbies are, I tell people I'm an ultra trail runner. I've never run a purely road ultra race and don't ever plan on it. Although I don't mind a few dirt roads thrown in a trail race, all road is just too boring for me. I fell in love with trails first and then ultra running. If I was told I either had to give up ultra running or trail running. It would be ultra running. Although I love running longer distances, one of the most important aspects of being out there for me is being a part of nature. It results in a big smile and happy heart.

  91. Runningmom

    Ultra Running can't be dead, i'm just getting started : )

    It's the most amazing feeling in the world to know you can run long LONG distances.

    It makes my kiddoes (my 3 little boys) proud.

    I could come in last place and my kids would yell "WAY TO MOM, YOU'RE THE BEST!!!" : )

    I was the best in their eyes, because i tackled my first ultra and finished.

    For the first time in my life i did something truly amazing!

    I am an ultra runner : )

  92. Dane

    Since I didn't see a direct response to you and I had an answer, Vanessa, I thought I would do so, even though this article is old. Running an ultra distance on the road is not that confusing. It is for people who don't feel you have to be surrounded by lush beauty and flowing streams and the nature of everything to enjoy pushing yourself for a very long period of time.

    I often tell the story of two different runners I have met. One runs around 3000 miles a year and never races. The other basically does all of their training miles running in an industrial crap part of town. To me, these two are the definition of runners. One runs with no main goal per se, never receiving accolades in the form of a medal or official race time. The other hasn't seen a squirrel or a babbling brook n a run in years. It is easy to be a runner when you receive praise or finisher's medals. It is easy to be a runner when your daily route is awe-inspiring. It is far harder to be a runner when those things are taken away.

    On the other hand, some people really enjoy running on the roads. I am one of them. I do not get beat up by the road. I enjoy the even footing it gives. When I really want to let fly, I don't have to worry about scree sliding out from underneath me, or roots to trip me or other dangers. DO I love running on trails? Well, it is hard not to! Being in nature, enjoying alone time and taking in all that is out there is easy to do.

    Probably more of an answer than you expected but I felt like responding. I love the roads and love running very, very long on them.

  93. Norty

    I run on whatever's in front of me and are gratefull for every day i am un-injured and can do so. Having said that, I try my best to run exclusively trails, and totally agree with Geoff. I am a "trail runner" and anything over marathon distance I run because I love trail running, not because I'm an ultra-runner. After partaking in the Tarawera 100 this year I 'd also say that the 'ultra' tag is dead as Sage and Tim Olsen flew past me (it was an out and back) at a pace quicker than most mere mortals run a road marathon.

  94. kyle

    Not sure this is concrete of a split as detailed in the article (pun intended). All joking aside, where would you lump timed races? I've run races on asphalt loops, dirt tracks, trails, roads. Does it really matter? I love the distance. Maybe Im old school though. I do think though that we should distinguish between 50k's and longer.

  95. KevinL

    I know this is an old post with many, many replies, but I just found it today, so here's my take.

    In 2010, I became an ultrarunner. Knowing that the VT50 would be my first, I transitioned to trails, my home from back in my high school cross country days. When people would ask, how can you spend so many hours and miles on trail? There's no other place I want to be. This happened in DC, where, believe it or not, there are many miles of trail to be had…loops, AtoB, and AtoA out and backs. I called myself an ultrarunner.

    Fast forward to today in my new home of Carrboro, NC. I have two races planned: a 24hr paved loop in PA, and the VT50 again. But, I think I'm going to skip the VT50, because once the 24hr race is complete, I don't want to run the miles needed to prepare for Vermont.


    I hate running here. There is one park with trails, but it's essentially a pen, and as any trail horse knows, a pen confines the soul. The roads are not hospitable, either, but the chief gripe is lack of long-run trail. This lack has killed my joy and thus, my desire to run.

    And after reading this post, I get it: I'm more a trail runner than I am an ultrarunner, because without trails to love, I have no desire to run ultras anymore, and so I won't, lest I come to despise running in general.

  96. paul

    Personally I think there's quite a big difference between trail/fell runners and road runners. Surely more than the difference between a 26.2 mile runner and a 30 mile runner.

    Fell running where I am can be quite technical and very different from pounding the tarmac – the flipside is I struggle to keep running at the same pace for hours on end on flat roads.

    As for the term, I just ran my first ultra – at 30 miles I don't feel like it quite counts as an 'ultra', too close to 26! But as a long hilly trail race, it was great.

  97. Chris White

    I completely agree with Jeff. First of all, most people who enter the races considered "ultras" could not run a fast marathon time, even for their own age/gender, myself included. Yes, that sounds too direct perhaps for some, but let's face facts. We who finish in the bottom 80-90% of most "ultras" may like calling ourselves "ultrarunners" but how accurate is that really? Are we just so darn great at marathons that 26.2 miles isn't enough for us? Or, is it that the longer races are on trails and sound like a great challenge and a lot of fun and that's why we run them? I never call myself an "ultraunner" because I couldn't run a sub-3 hour marathon, but I can complete a 50K or a 50M just decently and enjoy myself in the process, but why add the bragging rights aspect of lumping myself in with the true elite athletes that do deserve the title of "utlrarunner" when I'd be lying to myself. This is of course a generalized statement and is not meant to insult anyone. I'm merely trying to build off of what Jeff stated and encourage us all to be honest, and the term "trail runner" is more accurate for the vast majority of us who run what are labeled "ultras." We can still be proud of our accomplishments, but let's be real: the vast majority of us aren't the elite athletes that this label conveys.

  98. Chris

    I love irunfar for thoughts like this. Thanks for the write up. I guess I'll just comment that I just like running far. Most trails accessible to me in St. Louis are fairly short, so I have to resort to running on rails-to-trail places. These are flat, hard-packed, gravel and monotonous after several hours. But, I enjoy the distance. So, I'm somewhere in between. I agree with the impact preference of "trail" like places and would add that traffic is a problem for roads. There are bike paths here, but they are paved and full of … well … bikers. So, I naturally gravitate to trails…but like I said, my trails are somewhere between that of a road or a trail. Anyway… I guess I'll throw a poop in the ring and just say, I like distance…wherever I can get it.

  99. Gzrrnnr

    As a 67 year old trail runner who has been on trails for longer than most of the runners at trail races now have been on the planet, I find this discussion a bit amusing. Way back, we did not give a shit what you called it. We just went out and enjoyed it. Too bad it is not that simple anymore…..

  100. Chinyere Obasi

    Good grief!Just run. Period. Who cares if ultra/road/trail/ or whatever. The time spent reading and writing this could have been spent doing a run.Just do it…

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