RunRepeat.com in partnership with the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) just published the largest study ever done on the sport of ultra running. They’ve analyzed 5,010,730 results from 15,451 ultra running events over the last 23 years.
The findings detailed in The State of Ultra Running 2020, give a unique view into a sport that’s been seeing constant growth for the past 20 years, while participation in traditional distance races has been in decline.
The key findings of this study point towards various trends that suggest as we start this new decade, more and more people are looking for a challenge. That longer distance running may continue to see increasing participation, and that at long distances the pace gap between men and women flattens and actually starts to favor women over men.
Here are a few of the results this study discovered:
- Female ultra runners are faster than male ultra runners at distances over 195 miles. The longer the distance the shorter the gender pace gap. In 5Ks men run 17.9% faster than women, at marathon distance the difference is just 11.1%, 100-mile races see the difference shrink to just .25%, and above 195 miles, women are actually 0.6% faster than men..
- Participation has increased by 1676% in the last 23 years from 34,401 to 611,098 yearly participations and 345% in the last 10 years from 137,234 to 611,098. There have never been more ultra runners.
- More ultra runners are competing in multiple events per year. In 1996, only 14% of runners participated in multiple races a year, now 41% of participants run more than one event per year. There is also a significant increase in the % of people who run 2 races a year, 17.2% (from 7.7% to 24.9%) and 3 races, 6.7% (from 2.8% to 9.5%).
- There have never been more women in ultrarunning. 23% of participants are female, compared to just 14% 23 years ago.
- Ultra runners have never been slower across distance, gender and age group. The average pace in 1996 was 11:35 min/mile, currently, it is 13:16 min/mile. The average runner has added 1:41 min/mile to their average pace, which is a slowdown of 15% since 1996. We don’t believe that individual runners have become slower, but that these distances are attracting less prepared runners now because the sport is more mainstream.
- The fastest ultra running nations are South Africa (average pace 10:36 min/mile), Sweden (11:56 min/mile), and Germany (12:01 min/mile).
- A record amount of people travel abroad for ultra running events. 10.3% of people travel abroad to run an ultra, for 5Ks this percentage is just 0.2%.
- Runners in the longer distances have a better pace than the runners in the shorter distances for each age group.
- All age groups have a similar pace, around 14:40 min/mile. Which is unusual compared to the past and to other distances.
- The average age of ultra runners has decreased by 1 year in the last 10 years. It has changed from 43.3 years to 42.3 years.
While the sport running as a whole is in decline, the continued growth of this niche sector of the running world proves that ultra running is here to stay, and that it may just be the next boom within the endurance sports world.
You can view the full study and it’s findings at: https://runrepeat.com/state-of-ultra-running