If you've made the decision to run an ultra (Yay! Congratulations!) there are a few things to consider when picking out your first race to ensure your success. While the distance might be the same, that's where a lot of course similarities end.
A few things to keep in mind:
What surface are you used to training on? Are you in the city and can log miles on sidewalks and treadmills? If so, then a trail run is probably not your best bet. Think about where you enjoy running. If you're scared of snakes and bugs, and mud, then you might be better suited for a road race.
Hills & Elevation
Similarly, how do you feel about hills? What about elevation? For those of us training at sea-level Bay St Louis, it makes the Leadville 100 at 10,000' (up to 12,600'!) extra challenging. This is so important that often times you'll see this listed on different race registration pages. Be kind to yourself and seriously look at not only elevation gain on the course but elevation at the race site.
While we all want to get the most out our days off, tying in your first ultra with a vacation might not be the best move. If possible, look for a race close to home. That way you can go to the race site beforehand, know where to park, and be extra familiar with the surroundings. With this approach you might also have the added benefit of friends and family coming to support you or even running with you.
You know that we're all about using running as a means to meet people and explore new places but for your first race, make it as easy as possible on yourself. And after you finish your first, we'll know you'll be thinking about the next one...
Favorite Beginner-Friendly Ultras
Here are some great beginner-friendly ultramarathon races to consider:
Blues Cruise 50K - Pennsylvania, USA
This race takes place along the Schuylkill River Trail and offers a 50K and 30K option. The course is relatively flat and features scenic views of the river and surrounding countryside.
Cactus Rose Endurance Trail Races
Texas, USA: This race takes place in the Hill Country and offers a 100-mile, 100K, and 50-mile option. The course features challenging climbs and technical terrain, but the beautiful views of the Texas Hill Country make it worth the effort.
Mississippi Trail 50 - Mississippi, USA
This race takes place on the De Soto National Forest trails and offers a 50-mile and 50K option. In 2023, the race directors began offering a 100 mile option.
Blackbeard's Revenge 100 - North Carolina, USA
A 100 mile and 100K option is available for runners in this point to point race that takes athletes the length of the Outer Banks, NC from Corolla to Hatteras. The course is 100% paved road with beautiful views where great memories will be made along the way!
Swamp Fox Ultra - South Carolina, USA
This race takes place in the Francis Marion National Forest and offers a 50-mile and 50K option. The course features rolling terrain and scenic views of the forest and surrounding wetlands.
Loup Garou Trail Run - Louisiana, USA
There is no other trail as “Louisiana” as Chicot State Park, and what better way to experience it than with the support of some very talented Cajun trail runners supporting your every need? 20, 40, 60, and 100 mile distances are offered to runners.
Arkansas Traveller 100 - Arkansas, USA
The Arkansas Traveller is one of the oldest 100 mile races there is. What makes the AT100 so unique among the many ultras today is the combination of volunteer support and the beautiful scenery of the Ouachita Trail and Forest Service roads.
Salt Flats Endurance Runs - Utah, USA
This race, with 50K, 50 mile and 100 mile options available to runners takes place on and in the mountains around the ethereal Bonneville Salt Flats Speedway. The first 13 miles of the races takes place on the same section of Salt Flats that the land-speed records are set each year at "Speedweek". Generous cut off times make this a great beginner 100 miler.
Have a favorite ultra that didn't make the list? Leave it in the comments below or email: firstname.lastname@example.org