Trail running and ultramarathons have seen a popularity surge over the last few years. Partly because they represent mankind’s triumph over pain and adversity, and partly because they look good on Instagram.
There are over 100 ultras in Australia alone. These are some of our favourites: a mix of iconic trail races, technical climbs and gut-busting marathons through some of the most beautiful scenery in Australia. We probably don’t need to say it, but work your way up to these. They’re not designed for casual gym membership-holders. You need training, planning and good technique.
Here are the best (and most brutal) trail races in Australia.
Victoria’s Buffalo Stampede is Australia’s first sanctioned Skyrace (technically any race that involves “running in the mountains above 2,000m altitude where the climbing difficulty does not exceed II° grade and the incline is over 30%”). It takes place every year in the Victorian Alps. If this is your first time, start with the 10km SkySprint. From there you can work up to the SkyRun (20km), the SkyMarathon (42km) or the ridiculous SkyUltra (75km). Just start at Bright and run to the top of Mt Buffalo. As you do.
Location: Bright, Victoria
The Great Ocean Walk 100
This race doesn’t get the publicity it deserves. The Great Ocean Walk winds through the Otway National Park on Victoria’s surf coast, from Apollo Bay all the way to the Twelve Apostles. It’s the brainchild of Andy Hewat, one of Australia’s most experienced ultra runners, and it’s been going strong since 2009. The single-track route is a real point-to-point stunner, taking you through the mist-covered rainforests and around windswept rocky headlands. If you’re quick, you’ll get to watch the sun set over the Twelve Apostles. You can sign up for 95km or the full 100km.
Where: Apollo Bay, Victoria
The Blackall 100
The Blackall 100 is one of Australia’s newer ultra races. It’s a qualifying event for California’s Western States Endurance Run and the Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc, so you can guess the calibre of competitors. Having said that, it’s pretty friendly for ultra newbies: the trail itself is well cut, snaking through the Blackall Range in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, the temperatures are usually balmy, and there’s a 50km ‘half ultra’ for beginners. Pro tip: practice your rock hops and river crossings, there are some ankle-busting stretches along the way.
Where: Mapleton, Queensland
The Surf Coast Century
If you like your trail races with a touch of sand, check out the famous Surf Coast Century. It’s another gruelling ultra along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. This race is perfect for trail-running first-timers. The course is accessible (switching from ocean beach to wildflower hinterland to spiralling single track), there are plenty of support services along the way, and the Century’s figure-of-eight track means friends and family can easily cheer you on. If you’re nervous about tackling the 50km or 100km solo ultras, they also offer a 100km relay for teams of two, three or four. See you at the Anglesea finish line for some JUMS.
Location: Anglesea, Victoria
Among serious trail racers, Ultra-Trail Australia is the country’s grand slam event. It’s not the oldest ultra in Australia, but it’s become one of the classic endurance festivals, drawing thousands of runners from all over the world. The course itself is a well-built single track, carved through the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains. Stunning views are a given. The real question is which race to choose? The classic 100km Ultra-Trail Australia 100? The beginner-friendly UTA22 (which climbs 22km and rises 1200m up to Scenic World)? The highly technical UTA11? There’s a race for everyone at Ultra Trail Australia.
Location: Katoomba, NSW
Six Foot Track Marathon
Six-Foot Track has been called the toughest marathon in the world, let alone Australia. The 45km trail is no ultra, sure, but the historic track between Katoomba and the Jenolan Caves is known as a real bugger. Massive elevation changes, soaring Blue Mountain temperatures, river crossings, technical rock hopping – it’s probably the most well-rounded trail race in the country. The Six-Foot Marathon started in 1984, and every dollar raised goes straight to the Blue Mountain Rural Fire Service, who also man the support stations on race day.
Location: Katoomba, NSW
You wouldn’t expect to see many world-class trail races in the Northern Territory. The climate is generally too hot, and river crossings become pretty dicey when saltwater crocodiles get involved. Which is partly what makes the Larapinta Trail so special. It’s one of the most famous arid-zone hikes in the world. Most people tackle the 223km route over several weeks, with food drops and support networks, but there is a four-day, slightly crazy multi-stage event here: Run Larapinta. Runners can sign up for either the short course (11km to 30km stages) or the long course (20km to 45km stages). Either way, you’re running through the wild MacDonnell Ranges and finishing at Glen Helen.
When: April & August
Location: Larapinta Trail, NT
With a name like that, you might have guessed what you’re in for. The Delirious Western Endurance Scenic Trail is Australia’s first ever 200-mile event. That’s 321km for anyone playing at home. It runs along the famous Bibbulmun Track, all the way from the old logging settlement of Northcliff to the port city of Albany. Starting on a Wednesday and finishing on a Sunday, runners are given a mighty 104-hour cut-off time. This probably isn’t the most gruelling 200-mile ultra in the world (it lacks the elevation of some of the more famous routes), but February temperatures in WA can make this an absolute scorcher. One for the pros only.
Location: Bibbulmun Track, WA