Ultra running more popular than ever and it’s the women leading the charge

·2-min read
Photo credit: AFP Contributor - Getty Images
Photo credit: AFP Contributor - Getty Images
  • According to a new study by RunRepeat, ultrarunning has never been so popular and it's female runners who are leading the charge.

  • The study found that participation in ultrarunning events has increased by 1676% in the past 23 years, from 34,401 to 611,098 yearly participations

  • The study also found there have never been more women in ultrarunning. In 2020, 23% of participants were female, compared to just 14% 23 years ago.

In the RunRepeat study, analysts looked at 5,010,730 results from 15,451 ultrarunning events to explore the trends in ultrarunning over the past 23 years. Here are the main findings:

1. Women are faster than men over the ultra distance

The study found that female runners are faster than male runners at distances over 195 miles. In fact, the longer the distance the shorter the gender pace gap. On average, men were 17.9% faster than women, 11.1% faster at marathons and just 0.25% faster over 100 miles. Above 195 miles, women are 0.6% faster than men.

2. Ultrarunning has never been so popular

Participation in ultra races has increased by 1676% in the last 23 years. What's more, ultrarunners are now participating in more races each year - in 1996, only 14% would participate in multiple races in a year, now 41% of runners run more than one event per year.

3. There have never been more women in ultrarunning

When comparing data from 2020 to that from 1996, researchers found an increase in female participants. In 1997, women made up 14% of the field at ultra races. In 2020, 23% of participants at ultrarunning races were female.

4. Ultrarunners have never been slower

In 1996, the average pace across distance, gender and age group at ultramarathon races was 11:35 min/mile. Currently, the average pace is 13:16 min/mile, which is a slowdown of 15%. Researchers believe this is because the sport is now more mainstream, attracting less prepared runners.

5. The fastest ultramarathon runners live in South Africa

The average pace of ultramarathon runners in South Africa is 10:36 min/mile. Next up are the ultrarunners living in Sweden, who have an average pace of 11:56 min/mile, followed by Germany with an average pace of 12:01 min/mile.

6. The average age of the ultramarathon runner is 42.3 years

This has decreased by one year in the past ten years.

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