What is Ultrarunning?

Posted on September 22, 2010 by



A terminology statement of Ultra-running is presented below.

For a number of years a misunderstanding has been expressed –leading to a confusion and, sometimes, to a wrong interpretation- about what ¬Ultra-running really is.
Below, you will find the categories that meet –followed by some that do not meet- the criteria of the complete sense of Ultra-running and, their justification.
(Real) Ultra-running, in its precise description, is a competitive, but continuous (when the race clock does not stop during the same and entire race) running sport, organized officially under internationally set regulations where judges control the entire event and its scoring development, and takes place on the track (indoors or outdoors) or on the road –touching the ground and not an apparatus, like a treadmill, moving mechanically or electronically or by any other artificial means- for a period of time beyond 24 hours –as a runner has to face the whole spectrum of the daytime and nighttime and be able to continue. Doing so, he/she will prove that he/she can run beyond the effectiveness of genetic gifts and fitness level, as these elements will have gone from the duration of time and the muscular exhaustion.
However, because an Ultra-runner –in the true sense of Ultra-running- should be a unique person with mental endurance, going beyond common expectation and achieving high performances, the result of the spiritual abilities should be effectively proven: If the runner stays back in order to avoid surpassing his/her limits with many stops and rests, which leads to a low performance, this also means that the runner lacks the characteristics and the attitude of the true sense of Ultra-runner. Therefore, a limited distance and/or performance of at least 80% of the world mark of the 24h, 48h, etc (different for male, female and age group runners, which will be specified in our manifesto), should be covered in official events, which will be the evidence and will bring the runner to the status of going beyond.
So, some examples of time based events are the following: 24h, 48h, 72h, 6-day, 10-day races etc, which could also be called multi-day races –of course after 48h. In terms of races specified by the distance we can mention 200 miles, 300m, 500m, 1000m etc, or similar distances in km, but under the condition that it’s continuously timed and, on the other hand, the runner tries to keep a reasonable pace in order to cover the specific distance.
In all the above categories the records count, receiving international recognition and can be considered as National, Continental (i.e. European, Australian, African, Asian, Australian, Latin American or North American) and World records as well (same for age group records), according to where the runner belongs and what he/she has achieved.
Epigrammatically speaking, what makes an Ultra-runner? His/her mental idiosyncrasy with a philosophy of going beyond attitude, to surpass the physical limitations of the body and achieve specific distances and performances with a reasonable speed, which is required to meet the criteria, according to the duration of the event.

Other long distance running activities –but not real Ultras
a) 50km/mile to 100km/mile and 6 to 12h events.
These events are of course longer than a marathon but, due to the fact that in this field we see runners who can be distinguished by great performances (and we should acknowledge that) through their genes and training fitness, their approach is similar to the marathon and their physical abilities could be measured with ergophysiological methods, as they belong to and obey physical laws. Therefore, the metaphysical characteristics of these runners cannot be proven here (but it can be hidden or, a runner could be a “potential Ultra-runner” as I call it), because the period of the time is not long enough for their genes and training form to disappear. Thus, the state of the mind and the metaphysical abilities could not take over and continue. An exception should be considered the case when a 50-100km/mile runner does well in races beyond 24 hours and in multi-day races.
Consequently, this category of races is meant for specialists and they have special terms as 50km, 50m, 100km, 100m and 6-hour and 12-hour race on the track or road, but since the duration is not enough, they do not meet the criteria of the true sense of Ultra-running.
b) Stages or etape running category.
Here we have competitive races of a given distance per day and for a number of days (like the tour of France for bikers), but these are also races with special terms (eg. 10 stages or 10 etapes of 100km, or the stages could vary in distance –1st day= 120km, 2nd=100, 3rd =80 etc or, let’s say 70 stages, running 50 miles every day with other competitors -but not solo). Here the winner is the runner whose total time is the fastest of all stages, but not necessarily in some single ones.
Due to the fact that the runners stop every night or another time of the day and they rest, beginning the next day afresh (but under the pressure of the previous stage/s), so the physical form is a must here too, but they are not running continuously to meet the criteria and prove that they can go beyond –like in longer than 24h races, where the sleep deprivation is including, on top of the lack of rest. Stage/etape runners are based mainly on fitness and thus the traits of real ultra runners, who can find energy after the fuel –the fitness level- is gone, cannot be proven. (And here apply the exceptions of those runners who, by doing well both in races beyond 24 hours and in multi-day races, have proven that they are real Ultra-runners).
Performances can be kept only as course records and personal times, covering each stage and the entire race, but could not be recognized as National, World etc. records.

c) Trails.
Trail events fail to meet the criteria and get the recognition of the true sense of Ultras because:
1. Cannot be measured accurately.
2. They cannot be compared to other trails –neither to the road races- with the same distance (km or miles), as the surface varies from one to another.
Of course, data could be kept for course records only, with a «question mark» when they have to be compared with course records of the same race of earlier years, as some courses are subjected to natural or artificial changes, because the surface can be improved and/or modified.

d) Solo runs. Running on our own –not in competition and, thus, not in recognition at all.
These are also running activities, but the most obvious ones, which could not meet the basic criteria of Ultras. Athletic bodies should not consider such runs even as races and they cannot gain any recognition. This is because of the:
1. Lack of other competitors
2. Lack of judges and officials
3. Lack of evidence that the distance has been completed (declarations of crew members can’t be accepted)
4. Lack of stopwatches (even if times are taken, they cannot be considered seriously)
5. Most solo runs are not continuous, but divided into smaller parts (similar to stages).
6. Its an unofficial and personal test, not a race.
Usually, the aim of solo runs is for personal purposes such as training, traveling from one place to another, personal dream, vow or satisfaction, charity etc.

e) Fan or Fun-running
Another kind of not only most obvious activity that lacks the true sense of Ultras but, sometimes, the true sense of marathon-running is fun-running. But, this kind of running is the safest running activity (if there is self knowledge and not illusion of where they belong) when these runners are not aiming to become champions or to achieve great performances. When this applies, they do not come to the point to get stressed and push themselves to their limits. Taking into consideration that they don’t run competitively, it’s fine and mostly recommended by doctors and physicians for people’s health condition. But sometimes –and this is the door for mental or physical illness-, these fan/fun-runners, motivated by other athletes, do not follow the above guidelines and become competitive. This leads to the other side and then it becomes an unhealthy and dangerous activity for the mind and body.

All other running activities, where someone can go to enjoy running and run as doing or playing another sport (eg. team sport, or relay) do not meet the above criteria of Ultras, irrespectively of doing that for fun or seriously, for short or long period.

f) Collecting races and/or training mileage.
(Thanks to a world class female Ultra-runner, who reminded me of this category).
This kind of running collection does not meet the criteria for many reasons stated above, plus it’s not an entire and continuous event. Those who collect 100 marathons, or fun-runs or any number of races of any distance, this is not a sport at all, and therefore it can’t be considering as ultra either. Also, people who run 25km in the morning and 25km in the evening should not claim they have done even one Ultra-run –not an event- longer than a marathon, when it is divided into smaller parts. In other words, a marathon runner who collects more than 200km per week could not be considered to be ultra-runners.

g) Relays.
The same applies to those who cover a much longer distance as a group of runners in relay (like in a 24-h race), where each runner does a much shorter distance than a marathon.

A general apothegm:
There are thousands of people who could be considered “potential Ultra-runners” but up to the moment they haven’t found the chance to prove it, it remains to be proven.

Final note: With the aim to reinforce the above terminology, some quotes of Yiannis Kouros’ statements, interviews and his dvd documentary titled “Forever Running” could help.
running for 24 or 48 hours or 6 days. No one completes the race via his body but via his mind.
The verb “endure” is not a physical verb, it’s a spiritual one. Endure means to withstand.
Without patience, you will never conquer endurance.
Yiannis Kouros, March 2008.