Ultra running
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10 of the best ultramarathons in the world

Gunning for a challenge in 2021? These have your name on them...
Written by Fergus Scholes
9 min readUpdated on
Now is the perfect time to be lining up an epic challenge, and an ultramarathon firmly ticks this box. Generally defined as anything longer than a standard 42km marathon, ultras test your mind and body like nothing else. The best ultramarathons are also a perfect excuse to take you off to a far-flung corner of the world you otherwise probably would never go, and will see you running along trails and remote wildernesses well and truly off the beaten path.
Here's some fantastic picks for 2021. There are many other epic races such as the Badwater 135, Western States 100, Barkley Marathons, The Ice Ultra, The Dragon's Back Race and the Comrades Marathon, which are either full or nearly full, but do have reserve lists that you can join. Get your diaries and training plans at the ready...
A word of caution: given the Covid-19 situation, please check all travel restrictions before booking anything.

1. Transgrancanaria

The Transgrancanaria will be one of the first ultra marathons of 2021
The Transgrancanaria will be one of the first ultra marathons of 2021
Where: Gran Canaria, Canary Islands
When: February 24-28, 2021
Distance: 262km, 128km, 65km, 42km, 30km or 17km
Cost: €180 (£161) for the 125km race
Get your 2021 ultra calendar off to a flying start with an ultra epic triple, or even sextruple, marathon. The insane ‘360degree’ option will see you circumnavigate the island, covering 262km and 11,000m of elevation gain. The 2020 race saw around 70 participants in this long course, the fastest of who completed it in 50 hours, and the slowest just shy of 100 hours. It’s self-sufficient and self-navigated, and it’s down to you when you rest and eat – there will however be basecamps along the route and you can buy food as you pass shops. The not to be sniffed at 128km option will see you crossing the start at 11pm on a Friday night, with a 29-hour window to cover 125km and 7,500m of positive elevation gain. Sound a bit much? You’ve also got 64km, 42km and 30km options running over the same weekend. The event also forms part of the Ultra Trail World Tour, so you'll be rubbing shoulders with running royalty!

2. Namib Race

Utter gorgeousness in Namibia’s Skeleton Coast National Park
Utter gorgeousness in Namibia’s Skeleton Coast National Park
Where: Skeleton Coast National Park, Namibia
When: April 21- May 1, 2021
Distance: 250km
Cost: $3,800 (£2,869)
Set in Namibia’s Skeleton Coast National Park in the Namib Desert, this leg of the 4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series will see you run 250km over seven days through the oldest desert in the world stretching for 2,000km along the Atlantic coast. Be prepared to traverse seal colonies, salt pans, salt lakes, dunes and dry riverbeds as you pass deserted oil and diamond mines. The diverse scenery should help distract you from the extreme highs and lows of desert temperatures.
It’s self-supported, so you’ll be carrying all your equipment for the week (eight-to-10 kilogram backpack when fully loaded), but your tent will be provided as will water at checkpoints every 10km along the route. It’s a medium-sized race with around 150 to 200 other runners taking part, so you’ll likely have someone to run with or push yourself against most of the time. You’ll need to get yourself to Johannesburg in South Africa, then hop on a short flight up to Walvis Bay where you’ll be half an hour’s drive from the host town of Swakopmund. Deadline for entry is six weeks before the event.

3. Trans Atlas Marathon

The dramatic and beautiful High Atlas Mountains
The dramatic and beautiful High Atlas Mountains
Where: High Atlas, Morocco
When: May 21-30, 2021
Distance: 220km
Cost: from €1,690 (£1,512)
A perfectly sized event at around 50 competitors – including some phenomenally talented local Moroccan runners – the Trans Atlas Marathon is set in the dramatic and beautiful High Atlas Mountains by special permission of the King, and in ultramarathon terms, you’ll be treated like royalty. Breakfast and hot dinner are served each day, and accommodation is an extensive Berber-style camp complete with primitive shower. The entry fee also covers hotel accommodation in Marrakech before and after the event.
This 220km six-day ultra is a supported race and you’ll only need to carry what you need for the day, but that’s not to say it isn’t challenging. Race Director Mohamad Ahansal, five-time winner of the Marathon Des Sables and 10-time runner up, brings all his supreme running and ultramarathon experience as well as local knowledge to this event. Traversing the stunning-yet-brutal mountain range with arduous terrain, you’ll get an insight into the Berber way of life and be tested to your limits. With big daily ascents and descents on super technical terrain at altitudes largely above 2,000m, this is a supreme challenge.

4. Desert Rats Kokopelli 150 Stage Race

Where: Moab Colorado, USA
When: June 20-26, 2021
Distance: 240km
Cost: from $1,650 (£1260) (early bird)
Set in the adventurer's dream playground, this supported six-day 240km event starts in Grand Junction Colorado and takes you through some of America’s most beautiful deep backcountry deserts, finishing up in Moab, Utah. You’ll be provided with breakfast and a hot meal at camp each day, which will be set in the Colorado river, where you can bathe and take some respite from the day’s running and the heat of up to 45 degrees.

5. Trail Verbier St-Bernard

The magic of Trail Verbier St-Bernard
The magic of Trail Verbier St-Bernard
Where: Verbier, Switzerland
When: July 3-4, 2021
Distance: 111km, 73km, 43km or 31km
Cost: 87 Swiss Francs (£73)
The X-Alpine starts in Verbier town centre early Saturday morning at 1am and is a non-stop 111km with a huge 8,600m of elevation gain across peaks of up to 2,800m above sea level. If you manage to cross the line within the 36 hours cut off time you’ll enter an elite group of runners. If you were looking for something slightly less intimidating, there is also a 29km, 43km and 73km version of the race over the same weekend – so something for the whole family.

6. Spartathlon

Where: Athens, Greece
When: September 25-26, 2021
Distance: 246km
Cost: €600 (£540)
Now in its 34th year, this iconic event that's often described as the world's most gruelling race requires competitors to cover a brutal 246km in just 36 hours. You’ll start on a Friday evening in Athens, from where you’ll run south west along the coast for around 70km, then inland towards Sparta where the race finishes.
The terrain is all rough tracks and muddy paths (it often rains during the race), crossing vineyards and olive groves, with a cheeky 1,200m ascent and descent of Mount Parthenio in the dead of night. The race is capped at 390 runners, and you’ll need to have completed some other recent 100km+ races in order to be eligible to apply. Only one third make it to the finish...

7. Ultra X Jordan

Where: Wadi Rum Desert, Jordan
When: October 2-9, 2021
Distance: 260km
Cost: £995
Set in Jordan’s stunning red-sand Wadi Rum Desert, this breathtaking five-day 260km ultra is ideal for both experienced runners and newcomers to multi-day events. Now in its third year, this is fast becoming one of the best ultramarathons out there. What’s more, it’s probably the best value multi-day supported ultra you’ll find anywhere at just £995 for the full nine-day trip, including a visit to the famous ancient city of Petra after the event.
As you run across this sublime Mars-like landscape, there are checkpoints every 10km with water and medical assistance should you need, and being a supported event, you’ll only be carrying what you need for each day (which you’ll be pleased about on the fourth day when you have to run 80km). As the camp relocates around the desert to yet another Hollywood movie-esque backdrop, your kit bags and physios will be waiting for you at the end of each run.

8. Everest Trail Race

Stunning scenes in the Himalayas
Stunning scenes in the Himalayas
Where: Himalayas, Nepal
When: November 10-22, 2021
Distance: 170km
Cost: £3,350 (including flights from London)
An ultramarathon with Everest as the backdrop? What more needs to be said. It might not be the longest in distance at 153km, with the longest stage being 31km, but over the six days you’ll wind your way through the stunning Nepalese Himalayas, at times following in Sir Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tenzing’s footsteps. You'll experience a range in altitude of around 29,000m, and at times be running at 4,100m above sea level. It’s for this reason that it’s still deemed as one of the world’s toughest ultras. The race is self sufficient in terms of kit, but all your food is provided for you which is pretty neat. The race is limited to about 50 runners and is undoubtedly an experience of a lifetime if you're lucky enough to be one of them.

9. Tor Des Géants

The best of the Italian countryside on the Tour Des Geants
The best of the Italian countryside on the Tour Des Geants
Where: Aosta Valley, Italy
When: September 2021 (exact date TBC)
Distance: 330km, 130km or 30km
Cost: €750
There aren't many ultras that make the UTMB look like child’s play, but with a staggering positive altitude difference of 27,390m, the Tour Des Geants is on a different level altogether. Nestled at the foot of Mont Blanc, the town of Courmayeur sees the start and finish of an epically proportioned single stage race. Now in its 11th year, the distance is 356km and you’ll have 150 hours to do it in (that’s just over 6 days). The record stands at a jaw-dropping 72 hours. In 2019, around 950 athletes took part with 380 not managing to complete the gruelling course. There is food supply every 20km, but other than that it’s totally up to you and the 2,000 other competitors when you stop to rest. For those who fancy something slightly less ultra, there are also 130km and 30km versions.

10. Grand to Grand Ultra

California dreamin': The Grand To Grand Ultra 2019
California dreamin': The Grand To Grand Ultra 2019
Where: Utah and Arizona, North America
When: September 19-25, 2021
Distance: 275km
Cost: $3,350
How about one of the Seven Wonders of the World as a backdrop to your next ultra? Well, this hot and dry 6-stage, 7-day ultra is otherworldly. The night before the race starts, you’re treated to a hot catered buffet at camp one, located on a remote rim of the Grand Canyon. From here, you’ll head north covering 275km, with an elevation difference of +/- 10,000m, passing over sand dunes and through red rock canyons, running beneath America’s largest bird, the California condors. It’s a self-sufficient race, so you’ll be carrying all your equipment, food and gear with hot water provided each morning and evening to rehydrate your freeze-dried meals and coffee. There's quite a community feel to the race – you’ll be sleeping under the stars in 10-man tents in the roving campsite, and gathering around the campfire each evening.