Ultras 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 ultra events has increased by 1,676 per cent in the past 23 years, from 34,401 to 611,098 yearly participations

  • The study also found more women than ever are doing ultras. In 2020, 23 per cent of participants were female, compared with just 14 per cent 23 years ago

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

1. Women are faster than men over extreme distances

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

2. Ultrarunning has never been so popular

Participation in ultra races has increased by 1,676 per cent in the last 23 years. What's more, ultrarunners are now participating in more races each year – in 1996, only 14 per cent would participate in multiple races in a year; now, 41 per cent of runners run more than one event per year.

3. More women are doing ultras than ever before

When comparing data from 2020 to that from 1996, researchers found an increase in female participants. In 1997, women made up 14 per cent of the field at ultra races. In 2020, 23 per cent 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 per cent. Researchers believe this is because the sport is now more mainstream, attracting runners who are not as well prepared.

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 those 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 years and 4 months

This has decreased by one year in the past 10 years.

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