Although athletics races were disputed since ancient Greece, these were often disputed in stadiums. The first time recorded that a few men ran in the mountains with the aim of arriving first that the others with common rules for all the runners was in Scotland the year 1040, when the king Malcom Canmore organized a Hill Race in Braemar with the aim of selecting its postman’s. Surely this was the first competition (with some rules of the game) that was played in the mountain. In this case, although it was not the goal of survival, but getting a job, we still can’t talk about an activity motivated just for the pleasure of doing it.
During the following centuries we found references in the use of runners to bring messages and mail, from Filípides in ancient Greece to the American Indians in the eighteenth century working for mail companies that could travel up to 150km between Canadaigua and Niagra. Running and runners were used as a means of transport.
It is not until the 19th Century that the first competitions in the mountains started on a regular basis, for the sole reason of the pleasure of running, and it was again in the UK. During the first half of the 19th century in Scotland and England, several fell races were born, usually in short distances, between 2 and 5 kilometers, in 1820 trail running appears as a discipline in the outdoor games “Hare and Hounds”.
In a manuscript headed “Calendar”, from the late 18th early 19th century, we can see a long list of Fell Races that took place those years. In a description we can see how some of those races were nude running. “Held on December 24th (one may have presumed that this was a summer sport), and raced over 10 miles at Gisburn, Yorkshire, the entry notes that ‘the Shephard did not accompany Stump above 3 miles before he gave up. When Stump put on his clothes and ran the remainder of the race at his own ease” In Bill Smith’s book Studmarks on the Summits, from 1985, he quotes the following passage in Lancashire Legends, by J. Harland and T.T. Wilkinson, headed ‘Foot Races by Nude Men’: “A correspondent in Notes and Queries says: “During the summer of 1824 I remember seeing at Whitworth in Lancashire two races, at different periods, of this description. On one occasion two men ran on Whitworth Moor, with only a small cloth or belt around the loins. On the other occasion the runners were six in number, stark naked, the distance being seven miles, or seven times round the moor. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of spectators, men and women, and it did not appear to shock them as being anything out of the ordinary course of things. It is with reference to this usage, no doubt, that the Lancashire riddle says – As I was going over Rooley Moor, Rooley Moor shaked, I saw four-and-twenty men running stark nak’d; The first was the last and the last was the first The answer is – The twenty four spokes of a wheel”.’ The races recorded in this manuscript appear to have taken place throughout the year 1824 and across numerous locations largely in Lancashire and Yorkshire.
During this period races start to pop up in the UK, in 1824, a fellrace in Whitworth Moor, in 1832 Braemar Gathering (6km,310m), in 1845 is the first edition of the Alva Games (1,6km, 400m) and 2 years after fellraces at Lothersdale, Burnsall, Grasmere, Hallam Chase…
In 1895 a race The Ben Nevis Race was born. Starting at Fort William, the runners must go up to Ben Nevis, the highest peak in Scotland, and run down, with 16 kilometers and 1500 meters of altitude, establising itself as the benchmark since then of the emergent fell running to United Kingdom.
Also in the aim of the search for the performance, but beside the oficial competitions in 1864, Reverend J.M Eliot of Cambridge linked the summits around the church at the head of Whasdale in 8 hours and a half.
In the following years, runners from the Lakes District increased that distance, linking more and more peaks in one day. Thus in 1870, Thomas Watson traveled 70 kilometers climbing 3000 meters and at the beginning of the twentieth century Johnson de Carlisle reached 110 kilometers and 5500 meters, It will be Dr. Wakefield from the village of Keswick, in the heart of the Lake District, who will run the same circuit in 1905 faster and will establish the codes that encompass the essential challenge, to cross the maximum peaks of more than 2000 feet on foot and return to the starting point in 24 hours, establishing this starting point in the center of Keswick. This would lay the foundations of the movement that appeared during the following decades, where runners begin to run connecting the fells or munros, the hills that dominate the country, from North Scotland to Wales. In 1932, Bob Graham links in 24 hours 42 fells in Lake District starting one of the best-known circuits or “round” in the fell running: the Bob Graham Round.
Fell running popularity keep increasing and national championships started to be organized since the 30’s, as well as the most famous races like Ben Nevis or the Three Peaks Race with the marathon distance. During the late 30’s and the beginning of the 40’s Charles Wilson will be the great dominator, while in the following years Dave Spencer and Peter Hall will take over.
In 1970 a Fell Running Association was established to manage the races and decide the national calendars and the next year the Bob Graham Club is born with all the members who had finish the route in less than 24 hours.
In those years, Jeff Norman, Olympic at the marathon in 76, won 6 times in the Three Peaks race and set numerous long distance records in the Lakes District, and Dave Cannon, winner of the Paris Marathon in 1980, dominates the races at Ben Nevis. It is precisely Cannon who will help in the transition from fells to asphalt one of the most outstanding runners, Kenny Stuart. Stuart who ran the marathon distance in 2h 11 minutes in 1986 was the winner of the Ben Nevis or Snowdon races battled with his rival John Wild or the first International Mountain Championship in Italy in 1985. A year before he set a record for the Ben Nevis race that has not yet been beaten. That same year, Pauline Haworth also set a strained female record breaking the hegemony (7 wins) of Ros Coats, who established a female record for Bob Graham Round.
In the early XX century, mountain guides and running clubs from mountain areas start to organize races to the summits. In 1904, in the French Pyrenees, the first edition of the Course du Vignemale was disputed, a year after, also in the pyrenees the Championat du Canigou, races in spain took place in Basque country in 1912 with the Pagasarri Cup in Bilbao, Copa Sant Llorenç in Catalonia in 1914, or the races that Alpine club of Peñalara organizes in Madrid with the Guadarrama tour since 1916, Copa del Hierro in 1923 and Copa 3 refugios in 1927.
In Italy, the beginnings of mountain running took place during the first half of XX century. In 1922 is the first edition of the famous Ivrea-Mombarone and the following years numerous small races among villages in the mountain regions of the Aosta Valley or Piemonte started.
Since then, the movement did not stop growing. If in Great Britain the Fell Running was a consolidated sport, practiced and regulated for years, in the rest of Europe races were becoming more popular in mountain areas. During the fifties many races appear, Giir di Mont (1961), Trofeo Malonno (1963) or the Bianchi memorial (1963) in Italy, the Besseggløpet (1961) and uphill races as Stoltzzekleiven opp (1979) a 800m distance race with 300 meters of elevation in Bergen, both in Norway and the Lidingoloppet in Sweden, which in the first edition, in the year 1965, had already 644 participants who didn’t stop to increase edition after edition until more than 15,000 today. In Switzerland, there were long races such as Le Tour des Dents du Midi with 53 kilometers (1963), and shorter ones between villages from the bottom of the valley to small villages or mountain cabins, as the Trophée des Combins (1967), Ovornnaz-Rambert (1976), Tour d’Hérémence (1977) among many others, and the one that is without a doubt the most well-known, the race of Sierre-Zinal that was disputed for the first time in 1973.
In Italy, mountain races were generally shorter and both ascent or ascent and descent without high elevations and began to be organized in committees, such as the CROMA in the Aosta valley founded in 1975 joining the races in regional circuits and cups. In France, races such as the Cross du Mont Blanc (1979), the Montée du Grand Ballon (1981) were pioneers, and in Germany (Berglauf in 1974), Austria and Slovenia (Smarna Gora 1979) the first uphill races would also appear.
In the United States, after the naturist John Muir run up Mount Shasta, 4322 meters in 1874, many runners wanted to climb faster, a few years later, in 1883, Harry Babcock did it in less than 4 hours and during the 1920s there were numerous runners to try the challenge. First Norman Clyde lowering at 3 hours and then Barney McCoy set another record that staid until 1925 when an official race took place. David Lawyer won the first edition and set a new record that was not beaten until 1985 when Robert Webb dropped for the first time under 2 hours.
One of the first trail races was the Dipsea Race in San Francisco in 1905, a 7 mile and a half race leaving Mill Valley and climbing the mountain before going down to Stinson Beach, the curious thing about this race is that a handicap system is applied: The youngest, children’s of 6 or 7 years old, or the eldest, 80 years old, will be the first to start, and gradually runners will start until the elite, who leave the last ones. In this way, the fight for victory gives the same possibilities to all, being won from children of 8 years old to grandparents or world elite’s.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the passion of mountain running stretches all over the world, where races begin to emerge climbing up and down the most emblematic peaks of each region; in 1908 the Mount Marathon in Alaska was born, in 1911 Mount Baker marathon in the state of Washington, in 1913 also in Japan with the Mount Fuji mountain race … The origin of these races usually starts at the pub or place of the village, where two friends were betting if one of them would be able to climb to the summit that is behind in less time. And after a duel, the challenge becomes an open race to everyone.
During the 1930s uphill races start to be popular in the United States, such as the Pikes Peak Ascent, Mount Washington race or Mount Shasta race, and in the fifties the movement gained strength in the United States with the birth of the Pikes Peak Marathon, this race follows the route of its little “sister” the ascent, who had been held since 1936, From the village of Manitou Springs to the summit of the Pikes Peak, 4302 meters and once reached the summit, runners turn halfway back to Manitou Springs, on a 42-kilometer, 195-meter course. This was one of the oldest marathons in America. In August 1956, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the most famous mountain in Colorado, Dr. Arne Suominen, a veteran Finnish marathon champion and strongly critical of the use of tobacco, challenged smokers and non-smokers to run up and down to the top, to prove that smoking was a important factor of physical abilities loss. Of the 13 runners that took part, only 3 were smokers, including Lou Wille, who, after smoking two packs a day, had won the Ascent race several times by the end of the 30’s. Lou came out like a rocket and arrived to the summit in front of Suominen. Even so, in the long descent, he could not stand the pace and had to quit, like the rest of the smokers. Suominen said pleased at the arrival “I proved what I wanted, I finished the race and none of the smokers did it!”
The race was the first marathon in the United States to open participation to women since the first edition, but it was not until the fourth edition in 1959 that a woman, Arlene Pieper, finished the marathon, becoming the first woman to officially finish a marathon in the American soil.
During the fifties the great dominator was Calvin Hansen with 5 victories and in the 60’s Steve Gachupin with 6 wins. Also marathoner Chuck Smead, one of the first Anericans to travel overseas to race in mountains, winning Sierre Zinal’s 4th edition won PPM in 1972. During the seventies, the cross-country runner Rick Trujillo had a promising future competing for the University of Colorado but preferred the mountains to the stadiums. “This (see how fast I could climb up to a mountain) is the only reason to run.” From the heart of the San Juan Mountains in Colorado, Rick train from very young, in the passes and summits around 4000 meters, and since he started racing he began winning, becoming the most influential American mountain runner during that decade and winning 5 times Pikes Peak and starting other courses like the Imogene Pass run in his beloved San Juan Mountains or the race at Crested Butte. Rick Trujillo was also one of the pioneers in mountain ultra running, when in the 90s he won 100-mile races such as the Hardrock 100 or linked the 52 peaks of more than 14,000 feet (4,000 meters) of Colorado in just 15 days.
80’s An International Sport
It was at the beginning of the 80s when the races began to be internationalized. Until then the participation in mountain races was mostly local or national with a few exceptions, but in the eighties this changed radically with runners traveling from north to south of Europe or crossing the Atlantic to compete.
At the beginning of this decade the American Pablo Vigil would come to the old continent to race and win up to 4 times Sierre Zinal (1979-.1982) establishing new records that would not be surpassed until the Swiss Pierre-André Gobet, author of the Mont Blanc record in 5 hours will win in his local race in 1989.
It was the year 1984 that the Committee for Mountain Running was created to manage the mountain running at an international level, later becoming the WMRA, the world mountain running association. This committee will organize from then on a world championship, where in the first edition celebrated in Italy the englishman and fell runner Kenny Stuart will be the first mountain running world champion.
In the 1980s, Colombians came strong into mountain running world. This races with a format of around 10 kilometers and not very technical give them the possibility to show its full potential. Jairo Correa was the dominant, with a victory for the world champions and two in Sierre Zinal of the 5 conquered by his compatriots from Colombia. Among women, the dominance of these races was the alternation between the French Isabelle Guillot, Veronique Billat and Marie Subot and the englishwomen Sally Goldsmith and Veronique Marot, who was also the fastest woman to run a road marathon in the 80s, with her victories and world records in Chicago and London.
In the 90’s, while in England, Ian Holmes, winner of the race at Ben Nevis 4 times and fell running championships and a doublet at the Climbathon in Malaysia, a race that since 1984 went up and down in the jungle and the granite walls to the top of Mount Kinabalu over 4000 meters in Borneo island, an American, an Italian and a Mexican disputed the global hegemony. Ricardo Mejia, was a small Mexican of just over one meter fifty able to run on any slope, and during the 1990s he got nothing more and nothing less than five wins at Sierre Zinal and five more at Pikes Peak Marathon among many other victories. Matt Carpenter, living in Manitou Springs, make up to twelve victories in the home race, reaching a stratospheric record in 3 hours and 16 minutes to complete the 42 kilometers of the Pikes Peak Marathon, beating on the way the uphill record, still untouchable today.
Mejia and Carpenter joined the Skyrunners who had begun traveling the world by organizing races going up the most emblematic peaks.
It was 1991 when Marino Giacometti, alpinist and runner from Valtellina, organized the first race of ascent and descent to Mont Blanc summit from Courmayeur, although that edition won by the alpine guide and skialpinist Adriano Greco had opnly three participants initiated a movement that did not stopped growing. In 1993, when Carpenter achieved his record at Pikes Peak, Giacometti organized the first edition of the Fila Skyrunner Throphy, where with the mentioned runners and Italians Fabio Meraldi or Bruno Brunod began to race-record at the most emblematic summits of the world: Mont Rosa skymarathon (1993) and Mont Kenya for Meraldi, Aconcagua for the trio Meraldi, Brunod and Jean Pellissier, Matterhorn and Mont Elbert for Bruno Brunod, Castle Peak for Carpenter, Breithorn and Ecrins for Pellissier or Iztaccihuati volcano for Mejia. They also performed flat marathon’s in hight altitude where Carpenter ran the distance in less than 3 hours at 4300 meters high and 3 hours 22 minutes at 5000 meters in Tibet.
Under this movement and Marino’s federation FSA (Federation for Sport at Altitude – 1995) they also started organizing the first vertical kilometers in Italy, looking for the steepest routes to climb 1000 meters of elevation as fast as possible, and the first competitions with a very technical character, where one had to use ropes, glide in snow fields or scrambling like Sentiero 4 Luglio, Trofeo KIMA, Sentiero delle Grigne, or the race to the summit of Aneto. In 1995 the first Skyrunning world championships were disputed in Cervinia on a race going up in the glaciers to the summit of Breithorn, of more than 4000 meters, and going down showing the runners sliding on the ass in the glacier to go faster. In a fierce battle between Mexicano Mejia and the valley runner Brunod, the Italian used his downhill abilities to become the first winner. Finally, at the beginning of the 2000s, the appearance of new mountain races of this style spread throughout the world, with races such as the Zegama-Aizkorri, Dolomites Skyrace, Maratón Alpino Madrileño… It was then that the Skyrunning began the Wold Series grouping races of this style throughout the world, from the Climbathon in Malaysia to Zegama. Catalan Agustí Roc, Ricardo Mejia or the English champion Rob Jebb and the French Corinne Favre and the English Angela Mudge among women were the dominants during the first years of the 2000’s.
In one of these first races of Skyrunning, in 1996, from the town of Alagna in Piedmont to the summit of Mont Rosa, about 4600 meters high, took part a 16-year-old boy trained by Adriano Greek. This adolescent was Marco De Gasperiand would be one of the great dominators of short mountain races (WMRA) at the beginning of the XXI century.
Marco de Gasperi was a strong uphill runner and one of the best downhillers and this allowed him to reach up to 5 world titles, the same amount as New Zealand’s Jonathan “Jono” Wyatt. In fact, both of them alternated on time in each mountain running world championship, the up and down for Marco and the uphill for Jonathan. Jono was a strong runner, getting the New Zeland records of 5,000, 10,000 meters on track and half marathon and participated in the Olympic games in Altanta and Sidney in the 10.000m and marathon. Despite its qualities in the flat, Jono was able to transport this quality to the uphills, where he was almost unbeatable. So, in 2001 he was the first and only one to get under 2:30 hours in the race of Sierre Zinal.
Among women, in WMRA, after the domination during the 90’s of Swiss Isabella Moretti it was the English Angela Mudge and the Czech Anna Pichrtová who dominated the mountain races, from Skyrunning to Sierre Zinal.
Since 2010 Trail running was more specialist oriented. When in WMRA the format of around 10km up and up and down races were followed by long distance’s up to marathon format in non technical terrains, in Skyrunning, athletes specialize in Classical Skyraces, where Kilian Jornet, Luis Alberto Hernando or Marco De Gasperi were winning the most important races in the men and Emmanuela Brizzio, Emelie Forsberg and Maite Maiora among women. In Vertical Kilometers, italian Urban Zemmer was the first man to go unde 30 minutes and french Christel Dewalle and Laura Orgué dominate.
In the tradition of running through the mountains, the British have been undoubtedly pioneers. The search for human limits and inner exploration drove during the second half of 18th century runners to explore how far they could run. In 1759, Georges Guest run 1000 miles in 28 days in Birmingham, 3 years after Foster Powell did the 100 miles distance in 21h35 and the same year 120 miles under 24 hours and 50 miles in 7 hours. In 1873 he run 400 miles from London to York and back. By the end of the 18th century, and especially with the growth of the popular press, this long distance challenges gained attention, and were labelled “pedestrianism”. Powell and other runners as John Barrett and Robert Barclay (who run 110 miles in 19 hr 27 min in a muddy parkin 1801 and 1000 miles in 1000 hours for 1000 guineas in 1809), Emma Sharp who was the first woman to complete the challenge of 1,000 miles in 1000 hours on 1864 or Ada Anderson, walking 1,500 miles (2,400 km) in 1000 hours. The sport known as Pedestrianism become very popular during the 19th Century not only in UK but in the United States, Canada, and Australia.
In the other side of the Atlantic, Edward Payson Weston, became a profesional long distance “Pederestian”. In 1861, he walked 478 miles (769 km) from Boston,to Washington, D.C. in 10 days and 10 hours because he lost betting against Lincoln 1860 presidential election . In 1867, Weston walked from Portland, to Chicago, covering over 1200 miles in 26 days, winning $10,000, as a part of a betting gamble.
In the United States a series of women’s competitions were staged, special indoor tracks were built in some towns, and intra-community long distance pedestrianism came into vogue. Along with sensational feats of distance, gambling was a central attraction for the large, mostly working-class crowds which came to pedestrian events.
In the United Kingdom, a “Long Distance Championship of the World” was created in 1878, and staged over six days, which became known as the “Astley Belt Races”.
The Fell running Rounds
In the mountains, from 1864 when Reverend J.M Eliot linked the summits around the church at the head of Whasdale in 8 hours and a half the “Fell running Rounds” became more popular and specially in Lake District in a first time, runners as Thomas Watson or Johnson de Carlisle and Dr. Wakefield will run longer distances in the mountains following the to cross the maximum peaks of more than 2000 feet on foot and return to the starting point in 24 hours, running distances over 100km with elevations over 10.000m. In 1932, Bob Graham links in 24 hours 42 fells in Lake District starting one of the best-known circuits or “round” in the fell running: the Bob Graham Round.
During the 60’s Alan and Ken Heaton increased this amount of summits several times up to 60 peaks and in the 70’s Joss Naylor run 75 peaks in Lakes district in 24h (105 miles-37.000ft) among other many records.
In the 80’s it was the boom of the rounds throughout the island. If in the year 1968 the Original Mountain marathon of 80 kilometers was held for the first time introducing the long distance, the following years with Ramsay linking the Scottish munros in 24 hours in the year 78 (Ramsay Round) and the following years the rounds on Glen Coe, Cullin or Cairngrom marks the beginning of this movement. Billy Bland, the winner of Ben Nevis in the 78 surprised everyone when in 1982 he traveled through the 42 summits of Bob Graham Round, with approximately 100 kilometers and 10,000 meters in just over 15 hours and a half.
USA 100 miles
The first precedent of a 100 miles on mountains was from 1867, when The New York Herald reported that eight Tarahumara women had competed in a 100-mile trail race. The competition was between two rival Tarahumara villages that were about ten miles apart, Bocoyna and Sisoguichi. Each village sent their four fastest women runners. The course was around an oblong mountain located somewhere between the two villages. The runners needed to run around it 14 times for a distance of about 100 miles. Guards were posted around the course to make sure the race was competed fairly. Crowds of people came from many villages to witness the event.
The race started at 6:35 a.m. “The whole bevy were off at the word go, amide the wildest excitement, and the betting commenced.” After the first loop of about seven miles, five women were together in the lead. The only stops they made were to accept prizes along the way, drink water or eat pinoli, “a simple gruel made of parched corn, ground and sweetened with sugar.” After about 92 miles only three women were left in contention, but by the last lap, the lone contending runner from Sisoguichi had fallen off the pace. The two winners were from Bocoyna, and were “received with the loudest shouts of joy by their towns people.” The women finished in 13:25. One of the women who finished had given childbirth just ten days earlier. Heavy betting took place. Horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, cats, dogs and other items changed hands. At the finish nearly everyone was “on the ground drunk.” This is the earliest known 100-mile mountain trail race, which was held 110 years before Western States 100.
Before the 1960s, most of the ultrarunners participating in ultradistance races were professionals (walkathlons indoors or The Pedestrian challanges). It was a spectator/betting sport. Only the 90-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa raced since 1921 was an exeption to that, so the general public never had serious thoughts that they too could run ultradistances.
As the Great Depression hit, events for professional ultrarunners dwindled and dried up in America. But rising from the tragedy and ashes of World War II, ultrarunning events slowing appeared again, this time for amateurs looking to test their endurance.
North America contains large natural areas with paths of hundreds or thousands of kilometers that cross it. The Pacific Cost Trail runs from the south to the north on the west coast and the Pacific crest trail through its rocky mountains. The Colorado Trail crosses this state vertically and the Appalachian Trail that follows the east coast for 3500 kilometers. From the moment that these paths were created at the beginning of the 20th century there were people who wanted to do the journey as fast as possible. So in 1948, Robert Speed earned his last name running the 338 kilometers that separate the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in California with 4421 meters with the Yosemite valley. This trail, the John Muir Trail, was created at the beginning of the century from an idea of the naturist John Muir, who died just before it was carried out and it was named as a tribute to him.
That same year, Earl Shaffler made the 3500 kilometers of the Appalachian Trail in 142 days and a few years later he repeated the feat in just 99 days. In the year 1955 Emma Gatewood was the first woman to do the AT non-stop in 146 days.
In 1951, Cash Asher, a journalist and author, was the publicity man for Padre Island. He came up with the idea of holding a race to walk the length of the island end-to-end, thinking this would be a way to get more publicity and attract tourists. He named the race “Padre Island Walkathon.” (The term ultramarathon would not be used until 1964. The “walkathons” were then held in indoor halls) The race was a three-day stage race started in 1953. The point-to-point race ran along the sandy beaches of the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. Those who put it on were very forward-thinking, previously long endurance races (in routes) were mostly limited to professionals. This race was for everyone, old, young and women during an era when female participation in endurance events was viewed as inappropriate.
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy unintentionally played an important role. That year saw numerous 50-mile races on honor of the his assassination. the JFK 50 in Washington was one of the numerous 50 miles races that appear that year. Kennedy had challenged officers and the military to meet the requirements that Teddy Roosvelt demanded from his soldiers “be able to run 50 miles on foot in 20 hours to keep his place.” When the then known as “Kennedy Challenge” became public numerous non-military citizens wanted to try the challenge.
Soon after running events were created and the term “ultramarathon” was first used around 1964. Steve Seymour arranged in 1965 a 24-hour race at the indoor Los Angeles Athletic Club. It was called the “24-hour Last Day Run” and was held on Halloween. Steve started the enthusiasm for this event by participating in it and going the furthest distance; 50 miles in 17.5 hours.
100 miles running races have their roots in horse endurance rides. Much of the experience and practices of those rides became part of trail 100 mile runs that were established in the 1970s and ‘80s.
In 1955 Wendell Robie, a businessman and outdoorsman from Auburn, California had a discussion with an associate about whether a horseback rider could cover 100 miles in a day. He got riled up about it and vowed to prove it could be done. He wanted to conduct the ride on a trail he had particular interest in, a historic trail used by miners in the 1800s between the California gold fields and the silver mines in Virginia City, Nevada. Wendell named the trail, “The Western States Trail.” Some years before, in 1936, at Woodstock, Vermont, the Green Mountain Horse Association 100 MileRide was established as a horse ride race as well. During the 50’s and 60’s many of those horse races were raced in the west cost, future 100 miles running races inherited from them many of the same procedures of aid stations, course markings, trail work, crews, medical checks, and the belt buckle award.
But ultra running organized competitions didn’t appear in the mountains until the late 70’s and 80’s. Gordy Ainsleigh has a big role on that when in 1974, ran what would later become the Western States 100. Gordy was an experienced long distance horse rider, having completed the 100-mile Tevis Cup endurance ride. In 1973, Gordy’s new horse came up lame just prior to the race. With encouragement of a Tevis Cup board member, he decided to try covering the course on foot the next year, competing with the horses. He finished in 23 hours, 42 minutes. One other runner attempted the same feat in 1975, dropping out at 98 miles and the next year, Ken “Cowman” Shirk did the same in 24h30 and in 1978 they decided to organize a race reserved for runners, the Western States Endurance Run. In that first edition it was a woman who complete-it, Pat Smythe in 29:34 hours and the year after Skip Swannack did-it in 21h56 minutes.
During the 80’s many were the long distance races who began to be organized around the US. The Old Dominion 100 in Virginia that same year and in the early 80’s Wasatch Front 100 in Utah, the long Alaskan Mountain Wilderness Classic of 241 kilometers in Alaska, or the Leadville 100 in Colorado among others. In 1986 the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning was created recognizing the runners who completed in one year the 5 races of 100 miles Old Dominion, Western States, Vermont 100, Leadville and Wasatch. In the following years the list of 100 miles races did not stop growing. In 1986 the particular Barkley Marathons appeared. This race, inspired on 1977 escape of James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King Jr., from nearby Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, when he covered only 5 miles in 55h. Founder Gary “Lazarus Lake” thought some could make 100 miles in that time and organized the race consisting of 5 loops of approximately 20 miles through dense forests and peaks between orientation and overnight life in less than 60 hours. A year after it was the long Badwater, 10 years after Al Arnold run this route for the first time, following the route from the lowest point in the United States , at an altitude below sea level at Death Valley, to the start of Mont Withney (highest summit of California) 235 km after, with temperatures above 50 degrees. In 1992 it was the turn of Hardrock 100 in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, beginning a fruitful growth with more than 150 races of this distance in the 2000s.
With this explosion of long distance races, the athletes get excites to run the numerous long trails on the country, so in 1982 a group of 6 friends found themselves at the beginning of the John Muir Trail not to do it all together but to see who could go faster. 4 days and 21 hours later Don Douglas arrived at Yosemite, and one day later Nicki Lewis.
The previous year, in the Arizona desert, Allyn Cureton went from one side of the other to the Grand Canyon in little more than 3 hours and returned to the starting point in less than 6 hours. This route known as Rim To Rim To Rim has been one of the most popular trails in recent years due to its harshness, starting with a 1000 meters downhill to reach the river before climbing up to the other side.
In the first edition of Hardrock 100 in Colorado, the winner was David Horton, a very prolific runner with more than 100 races in 100 miles in 10 years! This university professor was the first to use the athletic preparation of ultrarunning in the long trails as when in 1991 he run the Appalachian Trail in only 52 days! He was the first to prepare a long trail as a race, with dedicated support team following him and giving him food and water and to train specifically for this goal.
In the 90s, the figures of Ann Trason, who with 24 years began in long distance races, and during the nineties won no less than fourteen times the Western States. The races were held for men, and the legendary Leadville 100 formed a team of five Tarahumara to win it, in a media edition of 1994 among the runners of this tribe of New Mexico, he would run for many hours and the Awesome Ann. In the end the Tarahumara Juan Herrera was able to overtake against Trason, who established a female record that still stays. At the same time, in California, Tim Twietmeyer dominated ultrarunning winning 5 consecutive times Western States 100 until the phemomen Scott Jurek made an outbreak in the world of long distance, achieving 7 victories and record at WS100, amongst numerous triumphs in ultratrail races or in asphalt, such as Badwater or Spartathlon, or in the 24-hour world championships. In the mountain, he also won once the Hardrock 100, which was dominated in those years, the early 2000s, by the unstopable Karl Meltzer (more than 100 victories in 100 miles races) among men and Diana Finkel and Darcy Piceu among women.
In the begining of the 2000’s, the term FKT (fastest known time) started to be dialy used by a generation of ultrarunners. The year 1999, Fred Vance, put in place a old idea he had of linking as many 14’ers in a 100 mile push and put out the Nolan’s 14, climbing the 14 peaks of 14,000 feet in Leadville region. Buzz Burrell and Peter Bakwin put some efforts during the 2000s by beating chronos in routes like the John Muir Trail. Tim Twietmeyer, who had completed no less than 25 times the Western States race ran around Lake Tahoe in less than 46 hours to complete the 165 miles of the Tahoe Rim Trail in 2005 and the following year a young Kyle Skaggs established a stratospheric mark on the 160-mile Wonderland Trail bypassing Mount Rainier in Washington state in just 20 hours.
During the last few years, many runners and runners have pointed to these challenges, such as Sue Johnston and Jennifer Pharr Davis who established the absolute records during the 2000s at the John Muir Trail and Appalachian Trail respectively. Among men, runners like Jared Scott, Jared Campbell, Brett Maune, Hal Koerner, Scott Jurek, Dave Mackey, Rob Krar, Anton Krupicka, Andy Anderson or Jim Walmsley, among many others have followed this trend.
The world of Ultra Trail appeared in Europe with years of delay compared to the United States. When the 100-mile races were already counted for dozens in America, the first competitions were appearing in Europe. Although races such as Sainté-Lyon 81-kilometer road, had been taking place since 1952, the Matagalls Montserrat since 1972, or the Swiss Alpine Marathon of 80 kilometers in 1982, the first 100 mile mountain races didn’t appear and become popular until the 90s.
We could cite two precedents. The first are the Adventure raids that were born during the early eighties with the Alpine Ironman and Coast to Coast in New Zealand, these competitions that combined running, climbing, mountain biking or canoeing were long-distance non-stop races and had immediately a big media interest that popularized them during the eighties and nineties with the Raid Gaulouises (1989) on an international level or the Raiverd (19990) in the Pyrenees. In some of these sections, the teams had to walk on foot in the mountains for ten or fifteen hours without stopping. With this adventure orientation, the Marathon des Sables was born in 1986, a stages race in the Sahara desert.
The first 100 miles race organized in Africa (French Reunion Island) was in 1989, with the name of Marche des Cimes, a crossing of the island which will become the Grand Raid de la Reunion, also known as Diagonale des Fous. Here the video of the first edition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CceYlRKibQI
The other precedent would be the race around the Mont Blanc, which would eventually become the idea of the well-known UTMB.
It was in the year 1978 when the French Jacky Duc and Christian Roussel started running in Chamonix with the idea to run around Mont Blanc. Less than 26 hours after they were back. The following year Roussel, accompanied by Jacques Berlie, repeated it in 21 hours and 48 minutes and in 1980 was Edith Couhé was the first woman to achieve-it in 28 hours. In 1987, “skier of the impossible” Sylvain Saudan, the pioneer of steep skiing with his first descents in Chamonix and also in Denali or at 8000 meters, organized a Race called “Super-Marathon du Mont-Blanc” to run around Mont Blanc in 3 stages. In a first edition where runners equipped with athletic shoes, shorts and cotton shirts climbed necks above 2500 meters in bad weather between the snow and the fog, the Swiss Werner Schweizer won. The race was disputed during some years and in 1994 it was replaced by a non-stop 4 relay race. After a few years it dissapear until in 2003 when Poletti’s organizzed the first edition of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, won by the Nepali Dawa Sherpa.
Like in the US, in Europe it is some long distance popular trails and since the early 2000’s some runners had wanted to run faster. Pietro Santucci run in 2005 the GR20 in less than 36 hours, other runners went to the GR 10 or 11 that cross the Pyrenees or the GR5 to the Alps. Alpinist Enric Lucas, first alpine ascent climb of Annapurna south face, run in 2001 the hut to hut route Carros de Foc in 10h35.
At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, a series of events pushed the sport and give-it a popularity never seen before. In 2005, the Pikes Peak Marathon multiple champion Matt Carpenter run Leadville 100 to show what fast runners are able to do in Ultra distances, he explosed the record by more than 1 hour and a half, running under 16 hours. This feat inspired other college runners to try long distance, passing the focus from more traditional races as Pikes Peak to 100 miles. The next year at the same race, a young runner in his early 20’s, surprised everybody winning the race. His racing style, fast and athletic, its aesthetics, running only with minimalist shoes and a very short trousers, with the torso well tanned and a long free hair, and his philosophy, with proximity to nature and fleeing from the confrontation of competition with others but seeking a personal search in the long distance put Anton Krupicka at the head of a generation of young athletes who came to change the ultratrail world. That victory and his message impacted much more in the next generation than the Carpenter’s race and record. Two years later, Kyle Skaggs, also 23 years old, won the Hardrock race establishing a new record, racing as fast as he could from the beggining and without stoping mutch at any aidstation. A few months later that summer, Kilian Jornet, at 20 years old, won the Ultra Trail of Mont Blanc also running alone from the begining of the race. The 2 previous years had seen the victories of late 59 years old italian Marco Olmo. Ultratrail was no longer reserved for older runners and a fresh air came into this sport, making the young runners to look into the long distance. That same year the best-seller Born to Run book was also published. The book tells the story of Mexican Tarahumara runners, who equipped with sandals were able to win 100-mile races and the stunning Ann Transon and Scott Jurek. Dean Karnazes with his book Ultramarathon brought the trail running to people who lived in cities and entrepreneurs who needed a point of disconnection and challenge. All these events, the multiplication of races around the world and the begining of social media, who send all those informations and stories without the need of traditional press began to cook the boom that sport was going to experience in the following years and where young athletes like François d’Haene with his victories at UTMB and Diagonale des Fous, Xavier Thevenard winning all the races of UTMB or Jim Walmsley among other american athletes with a track and field college past will start, will be winning the races.