Our 10 Favorite Ultramarathons in the United States. #3 is insane!
An ultramarathon is defined as any footrace longer than the standard marathon, which is slightly longer than 26 miles. The history of the ultramarathon in the United States can be traced to an event which first took place in 1928 called the Trans-American Footrace and was nicknamed "The Bunion Derby" by the press. The race was devised to promote Route 66 and came with a large cash prize. Close to 200 men (women were not allowed) competed in the race that went from Los Angeles to New York and took 84 days.
Modern-day ultramarathons are typically 50k, 50M, 100k or 100M races, and that's the only thing the races have in common because they take place in all 50 states, every month of the year in any kind of weather. If you love to run and enjoy the challenge of a long distance course, find a race to challenge the ultramarathoner in you.
The Zane Grey Endurance Run is said to be one of the hardest of the 50 milers. It is an advanced-degree run recommended for only the well trained and seasoned ultra marathoner. It's also considered the most beautiful as the Highline is a designated National Recreation Trail. The course cuts through the Tonto National Forest and is well-maintained by volunteers (many of whom are runners) and because this is such a difficult run Pacers are allowed with certain restrictions.
The Harding Hustle is 100% trail and they recommend you don't wear headphones and stay alert because some of the hazards include but are not limited to "mountain lions, rough terrain, rattle snakes, sharp cliffs and drop offs!" Still, they want you to have fun and remember not to litter. Oh, and say hello to Smokey the Bear if you see him. Plan on it being hot and dry, but take comfort in knowing aid stations are liberally scattered throughout. Take in the beauty of the Cleveland National Forest and take home some cash or a custom mug if you win. A portion of the proceeds from the race go to the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary.
The Tahoe 200 is an Endurance Run, you might call it a journey or impossible, but they call it a "magical adventure around Lake Tahoe." The race starts in Homewood, California and traverses around Lake Tahoe, "the largest Alpine lake in North America." Most of the 205.5 mile trek takes place on the Tahoe Rim Trail, but the course dips into the forest and skips through meadows, being called "nothing less than magical." The event "accepts up to 140 entrants and a 100 person waitlist," though we're not sure who among us is beating a path to register especially considering the $975 entrance fee.
6 Days/120 Miles/20,000 feet gain in elevation, but those are just the raw numbers. It's the warm and fuzzy stuff they want you to hold onto. The amazing experience and people you will meet. It's the 10th anniversary of the run and their logo includes the tagline "A Lifetime of Memories," which speaks to the transformative effect of embarking on the "multi-day point-to- point trail, which lets athletes access and traverse wild and fantastic scenery, while building camaraderie, overcoming adversity and sharing a singular adventure." Take six days to run it with a team or three days on your own.
The Cruel Jewel 100 is a 105.9 mile race that takes place "deep within the Chattahoochee National Forest in the North Georgia Mountains." You need to qualify to participate to run this race which consists of "95 miles of trails, and 11 miles of mountain roads" most of it through hardwood forests with an ascent of 33,00 feet just to keep it interesting and you know what they say about what goes up must come down. It's not a Tough Mudder, but only the toughest runners are suited for this type of an adventure. New this year is a tracking device all runners are required to wear for their safety that can also help your followers keep track of your progress.
The Scout Mountain Ultra Trail is a challenging course that goes through the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Choose from three races: 35 km, 60 km and 100 km, but if you choose the latter, "come prepared for just about anything" because spring in Idaho can be unpredictable. Oh, and then there's the vertical gain. The 100 km course has 13,200' of gain and 13,200' of loss, that's because the race takes place in the "Bannock and Pocatello mountain ranges surrounding Pocatello, Idaho." The organizers want you to know what you're getting into, but if you're up for the challenge, the finish line comes with your personal satisfaction along with prizes handmade by local artists and dinner cooked by local chefs.
The Chicago Lakefront 50k is "one of the flattest 50ks in North America." It follows the Lakefront running path and is "mostly gravel with some asphalt." Everyone who pays to run gets a T-shirt and medals are given to all finishers. The race is also referred to as the George Cheung Memorial Race as it honors a local advocate and member of the running community who passed away in 1994. The race may be a no-frills event, but there will be three Aid Stations stocked with water, Gatorade, snacks, etc. and "there are four major hospitals within limping distance!"
The Fool's Gold 50 Miler is part of Montana's Ultra Marathon Challenge and a "UTMB 2 POINT qualifier." The race starts and finishes in the town of Pony, Montana, but on the course be prepared for changeable weather because storms can build up suddenly above the tree line in Montana's Tobacco Root range mountains. You have 14 hours to complete the race and Pacers and Crews are not allowed due to federal NEPA regulations.
The Laurel Highlands Ultra is a 70.5-mile race that is run along the scenic Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail. 2016 is the 37th year the race has been run and they are focusing on keeping it simple with a first-come, first-served mail-in registration system. The Laurel Highlands Ultra started as a personal challenge, first between the Butchko brothers and then among friends. The first time it was attempted they only made it 57 miles and the first official race in 1980 had seven starters, four of whom made it to the finish line.
The Table Rock State Park hiking trail is the basis for the Foothills 50k, that travels past mountain streams, waterfalls and cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps that are now on the National Register of Historic Places. Overnight camping is available in the park and there will be one aid station for the 50k course, which is 10-mile loop "that climbs Table Rock Trail before wrapping around the Ridge Trail and back down Pinnacle Mountain Trail." Do that three times to complete the 50k and then pick up your finisher's medal and enjoy a meal provided by Merrell.