They are iconic, make the most experienced athletes dream, and offer a challenge most might not even consider. Desert, canyon, mountain... discover the most iconic trail races in the world.
Western States Endurance Run
Meet the world's oldest 100-mile trail running race. Considered one of the most grueling endurance races in the world, Western States starts in Squaw Valley in California, to end in Auburn.
Why is it so famous? Originally, the Western States race was very different. Athletes who wished to compete had to race it on the back of a horse. In 1974, Gordy Ainsleigh attempted to run it instead (and under 24 hours!). It is only in 1977 that the first official race took place, and only 3 out of the 16 starters reached the finish line.
This race is also known to be very hard. Most of the territory is only accessible by foot, horse or helicopter. The race is not only remote, but it also presents challenging conditions: a total elevation gain of 5,400m+ elevation and temperatures swinging from extreme heat to coldness. At different parts of the race, runners run in the snow on the highest peaks and face summer heat in other sections.
Sounds interesting? Be aware that getting a spot is as hard as getting the most popular toy 2 days before Christmas day (except for elite athletes who are invited to participate).
The race only counts 369 runners - as this is the maximum allowance to run through the Granite Chief Wilderness. "All you need to do" to qualify is to complete one of the qualifying races and wait for lottery results. Every year you complete a qualifying race and enter the lottery, you'll get an additional entry to get in.
When is it? 25/26 June
Learn more at https://www.wser.org
The Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB)
The Ultra Trail Mont Blanc is probably the Wimbledon or US Open of ultra running.
The UTMB is a 106-mile trail running race around the highest mountain in Western Europe, the Mont Blanc; accumulating 10,000m elevation gain. Impressive, right? The race also covers three different countries: Switzerland, France, and Italy, following the Tour du Mont Blanc (a famous hiking path around the mountain range). But unlike hikers who usually spend a week hiking this trail, runners have to complete this very technical race on a single stage, under 46.5 hours. Don't be fooled, the UTMB is known to be technically difficult as it also involves altitude management - the dropout rate can be more than 40% depending on the year.
Sound interesting? Again, getting a spot to run the UTMB is no small battle. Put it simply, you need to qualify for the distance you'd like to run, running (tough) qualifying races. Then, you can just hope to get a spot.
When is it? From 22 to 28 August
Learn more at https://utmb.world
We're possibly talking here about a race directly coming from another planet, taking place in hilly Tennessee.
If you're lucky (or unlucky) enough to be accepted into the Barkley Marathons, you'll personally receive a letter of condolences from the famous race director, as do the 39 other picked runners. In comparison to most races mentioned in this blog, the registration fee is only $1.60 and a license plate.
The Barkley Marathons is made of a mysterious 20-mile loop, which you need to complete 5 times to become a finisher. The elevation, adding up to 18,000m, and the technicality of the terrain (navigating from trails to thorns, briers, and unmarked trails) make it a particularly difficult race.
Created in 1977, the race only counts 15 finishers to date. Most people will struggle to only complete one loop, even the most experienced athletes.
There would be a lot to say about this race, as it is managed pretty uniquely and its format doesn't stop to amaze trail runners around the world.
When is it? March/April
Mount Marathon Race
Although this race is a 5k, it is not your regular weekly parkrun. Held in Alaska, this killer course gathers 500 adults and 100 kids every 4th of July. Runners start climbing up the mountain, via a slope averaging 34 degrees (the steepest being 60 degrees!) After reaching an elevation of about 3,000 feet, the fun continues. How fast can runners go down this descent?
How did it start? Rumors say that the tradition began when 2 people argued about whether it would be possible to climb up and down the mountain within an hour. To settle the argument, a race was organised on a holiday, the 4th of July.
What was the final result? The race was eventually completed in one hour and two minutes; and since then, it has continued to intrigue athletes to take on the challenge.
When is it? 4th July
Learn more at https://mountmarathon.com
Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji
The Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji is a fairly new race, but it has quickly become an unmissable race for ultra trail runners, often compared to its European sister, the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc.
The race takes competitors on a 168km loop through the mountainous trails around Mount Fuji, with a total elevation gain of 9,500m. As its sister, only the bravest (and strongest) will succeed: less than 50% of participants complete it.
The challenge presents a variety of challenges: a rocky and technical terrain, an endless-feeling distance, and the occasional dangerous animals (runners even have to wear bells to scare them!)
When is it? 22 to 24 April
Learn more at https://www.ultratrailmtfuji.com/en/