The ultramarathon has gotten ultra trendy. The phenomenal rise in popularity has increased 1,000% over the last decade alone. The new ‘extreme race’ have overshadowed the once impressive ‘marathon’, dubbing their 26.2 miles too achievable. The staggering number of participants in ultra-marathons in North America alone have increased from 18,000 people in 2003 to 105,000 in 2017.
An ‘ultramarathon‘, also called ultra distance or ultra running, is any footrace longer than the traditional marathon length of 42.195 kilometers (26.219 mi).
The popularity could be in part because of social media. Which lends experiences to attainability. Its popularity is sustained by the increase in races offered. The world biggest ultramarathons can be found at the Run Ultra website run by Steve Diedrich. When the site launched 12 years ago their were 160 races listed globally. This year he has over 1,800 races on the site. Other smaller ultra-races can be found on the German ultrarunning website DUV , offering a database reaching back to the very first ultra, the 89km London to Brighton footrace in 1837.
So what’s the allure? Why are more and more people taking on races than can last days rather than hours? And is it any good for us? Maybe we can attribute the fact that as or daily lives become more and more dependent on being plugged in at all times and the transition into a more or less fully autonomous society we are losing touch what what it feels like to be alive. The extreme race offers a euphoric feeling like no other, leaving us grasping for experiences and tests that will magnify the feeling of being alive. Investigated In the brilliant documentary The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats Its Young, competitors explore what fuels their desire to achieve the unattainable, feats the human body must endure in order to compete.
To see what happening to the health of these ultrarunners? A more specific study in 2014 on health issues related to more than 1,200 ultra-runners was conducted by Dr Martin Hoffman, professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of California. His conclusion was participants were healthier than the non-ultrarunning population, with a low prevalence of virtually all serious medical issues. “At present,” he told me, “there is no good evidence to prove there are negative long-term health consequences from ultramarathon running.”