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Best Ultra Marathons Around The World In 2022

Looking for the ultimate endurance challenge? Here are some of our favourite long-distance running challenges from across the globe

An ultra marathon is defined as any running event longer than a traditional 26.2 mile (42.2km) marathon. Apart from that, pretty much anything else goes. 

No, really. Aside from the lower limit of its length, there’s no upper limit on the distance, there are no rules on types of terrains, and there are rarely any restrictions in terms of unpredictable weather conditions. This inevitably means that you’ll be in for one of the most unique and taxing challenges of your life, as well as one of the most rewarding.

Running these huge distances also means that you can take in an extremely varied amount of scenery and terrain all in one go. From spiky mountain ridges and snow-topped hills to smouldering valleys and active volcanoes; they’re a great way to get to know a country’s (or countries in the case of the UTMB) landscapes whilst also pushing your mind and your body to its very limits. 

Related: Best Long-Distance Hikes In Europe
Related: Best Trail Running Shoes

Likened more to a life-changing journey than just a race – after plenty of discussion amongst the Outdoors Magic team we’ve agreed on our list of just some of the best ultra marathons around the globe at the moment…

The 10 Best Ultra Marathons Around the World

In no particular order…

  • Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, The Alps
  • Comrades Marathon, South Africa
  • Western States 100, California, USA
  • Spartathlon, Greece
  • Marathon des Sables, Morocco
  • Ultra X 125, Scotland
  • Fire & Ice Ultra, Iceland
  • Tarawera Ultramarathon, New Zealand
  • Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra, Sweden
  • Falklands Ultra, Falkland Islands

 

Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, The Alps

Location: France, Italy & Switzerland
Distance: 110 miles (170km) +
Date: 22nd to 28th August

As one of the most popular hiking trails in Europe, the Tour du Mont Blanc is a bit of a staple on the hiker’s bucket list. Come August, however, the route is home to the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc and becomes an ultra running hotspot, attracting keen runners from all over the world. 

Though there are various races throughout this week-long festival, the heart of the event revolves around the 110+ mile race that loops around Mont Blanc, crossing France, Italy and Switzerland along the way. The terrain itself involves crossing rivers, alpine villages and forests, all with the Alps as a breathtaking backdrop.

Most people finish the race in 32 to 46 hours, though the best of the best run through the night and tend to finish in 20 hours. With 10,000m of climbing, it’s no surprise that only 60% of participants finish each year. It’s also worth noting that earning a place on the UTMB is very competitive and you’ll need qualifying points from other trail races to enter the ballot. 

Comrades Marathon, South Africa

Location: Durban to Pietermaritzburg (and vice versa)
Distance: approximately 55 miles (89km)
Date:
28th August

First run in 1921, the Comrades marathon is one of the oldest running races in the world. It’s also one of the most popular, with a cap at approximately 25,000 runners, and has one of the largest prize money award up for grabs. 

The race takes place in the KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa and is mostly run on tarmac and gravel roads. There’s 1166m of elevation, though the direction of the route alternates each year so this can vary. The ‘up’ route is roughly 54 miles (87km), whilst the ‘down’ route is roughly 56 miles (90km). 

On the way, there’s a set of hills called ‘The Big Five’ which are known as the biggest challenge of the race. You’re given 12 hours to complete the route, however, there are five cut-off points with allocated times you must reach throughout. 

 

Western States 100, California, USA 

Location: Squaw Valley across the Sierra Nevada mountains to Auburn
Distance: 100.2 miles (161km)
Date:
25th to 26th June

Photo: facebook.com/wser100/
Photo: facebook.com/wser100/

Taking place in the canyons of California, the Western States 100 has one of most varying climates of all the ultra marathons on this list. With snow at the highest points in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it’ll also reach temperatures of 38 degrees Celsius at lower points in the valleys.

Beginning in 1974, the story goes that a man’s horse went lame during the 24-hour Western States Trail Ride and so he – as you do – decided to complete the remainder on foot. He finished within 18 minutes of the time limit, and thus the race was cemented in running history.

With a cumulative total ascension of 5500m (18,090 ft) and a 30 hour cut-off, this one’s sure to push you to your limits. If you finish before the 30-hour time limit, racers are also famously awarded a unique belt buckle as an award.

 

Spartathlon, Greece

Location: Athens to Sparti
Distance: 153 miles (246km)
Date:
30th September to 1st October

The Spartathlon is inspired by the Greek legend of Pheidippides, an Athenian messenger who in 490 BCE is said to have run 152 miles (245 km) between Athens and Sparta to seek help against the Persians in the Battle of Marathon.

In 1982, John Foden, a student of ancient Greek history and a British RAF Wing Commander, wanted to see if this was really possible and so set off at the foot of Acropolis towards the Sangas mountain pass and onwards to the site of ancient Sparta.

Foden managed to finish in an impressive 37 hours and 37 minutes, though the cut-off point is now 36 hours. There are also 75 checkpoints you must reach at specific time intervals throughout the race.

Marathon des Sables, Morocco

Location: Sahara Desert
Distance: 156 miles (251km)
Date:
25th March to 4th April

The Marathon des Sables is arguably one of the hardest footraces on this list, and indeed, in the world. It’s approximately the length of six traditional marathons and takes you through Southern Morocco across the unforgiving Sahara Desert.

It’s a six day marathon, with scorching midday temperates of up to 50°C, and a hefty price tag of roughly $4000 US dollars. There are, however, a fair number of charity spots available. 

Along the way, you’ll encounter salt flats, remote villages, desert ridges, dried up river beds and lakes, and a whole lot of sand. As the brainchild of French concert promoter Patrick Bauer who was so profoundly affected by his journey that he created the race, the Marathon des Sables is set to be a life-changing experience. 

 

Ultra X 125 Scotland

Location: Loch Ness
Distance: 78 miles (125km)
Date:
7th to 9th May

Photo: Benedict Tufnell

Back over on the British Isles, we have the Ultra X 125 in bonnie Scotland. This 78-miler circumnavigates Loch Ness over the course of 2 days, with 3363m of elevation. More specifically, it follows the geological fault line of the Great Glen Way, formed more than 400 million years ago, taking you from Fort William to Moray Firth. 

It’s also hosted by Ultra X who are world-renowned creators of ultra marathons across the globe, including in Jordan, Mexico, Azores, Sri Lanka and Wales. As part of their Sustainability Policy, Ultra X will also award a Green Ribbon to the competitor who displays the highest commitment to reducing their environmental impact both in preparation and during the race. A pretty cool idea we reckon. 

Fire & Ice Ultra, Iceland

Location: Vatnajokull national park
Distance: 155 miles (250km)
Date: 29th August to 3rd September

From glacial plains and lava fields to volcanoes and deserts of ash; as its name suggests, the Fire and Ice Ultra will take you across some pretty wild and remote landscapes. As well as the fire and the ice, you’ll also find mud pools, open moorlands, starry night skies and the ‘queen of Icelandic mountains’ called Herðubreið.

Spanning 6 days in several stages, this route goes through almost entirely uninhabited areas from central Iceland up north towards the Arctic Circle. As a self-reliant race, the Fire + Ice team will set up tents and provide hot water, but the rest is up to you. It’s also worth noting that in recent years, competitors have been known to see great displays of the Northern Lights so remember to keep an eye out as you’re dozing off after a hard day’s run.

Tarawera TUMMiler Ultramarathon, New Zealand

Location: Rotorua
Distance: 100 miles (165.2km)
Date: From 11th February 2023

Though now postponed to 2023 due to COVID-19 restrictions, we thought we’d pop this one in here in case you’re in need of a little more training time…

Held in Rotorua, the Tarawera Ultramarathon will give you a taste of just some of the luscious landscapes New Zealand has to offer. For example, you’ll pass waterfalls, single track trails, archeological sites of interest, clear blue lakes, and towering redwoods, amongst other things. You only have to look at the photos to see what they mean. 

Though there are shorter races to choose from, the TUMMiler ultra spans 100 miles from Te Puia along eight different lakes towards the Lakefront Reserve in downtown Rotorua. 36 hours are allowed in total, with 5470m of elevation included. All TUMMiler finishers will also receive a highly-coveted pounamu (carved from New Zealand jade stone) pendant. 

The whole event itself itself takes place over 5 days with over 2000 participants, and is steeped in Maori culture and tradition. Described as more of an ‘experience’ than a race, this one’s for those of you looking for a stunning getaway, as well as a challenging race. 


Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra, Sweden

Location: Överkalix, Swedish province of Norbotten
Distance: 115 miles (185km) or 310 miles (500km)
Date:
6th to 16th March

Taking place in Överkalix in the Swedish province of Norbotten, Montane’s Lapland Arctic Ultra crosses both frozen rivers and frozen lakes, as well as snow-topped pine forests and remote mountains. You’ll actually be crossing the Arctic Circle in several places in an area known as Europe’s last remaining wilderness.

There’s two races to choose from here –  you can either run a 185km loop from Överkalix to the north and back, or you can push yourself to your very limits with a 500km race extending even further north into the Arctic wilderness.

Accommodation is provided in the form of huts and teepee tents with fires, however, it’s primarily a self-sufficient event. Due to its location and the time of year it takes place, the days will be very short so you’ll spend a lot of time running in the dark. Here’s our list of the best head torches on the market if you’re in need of an upgrade.

 

Dragon’s Back Race, Wales

Location: Welsh Mountains
Distance: 236 miles (380km)
Date: 5th to 10th September

Crib Goch scramble. Photo: No Limits Photography.

The Dragon’s Back Race takes place along the mountainous spine of Wales, crossing both the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia National Parks on the way. With 57,087 ft (17,400m) of height gain, the ascent actually adds up to two times the height of Everest.

Most runners average 63km per day – that’s 1.5x marathons a day – and finish over the course of six days. Tented accommodation is provided throughout, as well as food and drink.

Highlights include a scramble across Crib Goch, a full traverse of the Snowdon horseshoe, the glorious Cambrian mountains, including the remote summit of Drygarn Fawr, as well as Cardiff Castle at the finish line.

 

Falklands Ultra

Location: East Falklands
Distance: 100 miles (161km)
Date:
8th to 15th April 2023

Photo: Ben Goode

Entries are now open for a brand new ultra marathon taking place on the Falkland Islands in April 2023. As the newest race on the scene, we’re pretty excited to hear what people make of this 100-miler which roughly follows the route taken 40 years ago by British Forces in the conflict with Argentina.

The race website explains: “With so little land mass at that latitude the weather changes rapidly. It is not unusual to have warm sun, bitterly cold winds, hailstorms, blizzards and torrential rain on the same day… The Falklands Ultra is not a hot-weather or a cold-weather ultra… it’s an all-weather ultra.”

Other than the race itself, the week-long package includes flights, accommodation and optional activities such as sea kayaking, rock climbing, battlefield tours and wildlife trips, amongst other things.

 

Main Photo: Dragon’s Back Race/ No Limits Photography

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