Beyond the Marathon: 10 Races to Try

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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Beyond the Marathon: 10 Races to Try

Whether or not you’ve done a marathon, nobody is stopping you from going further. While the world of ultras can be intimidating, there are plenty of races around the U.S. that offer the perfect opportunity to ease yourself past the 26.2-mile distance. Give one of these 10 ultrarunning races a try when you’re ready to conquer your next big challenge.

SEAN O’BRIEN ULTRA
February
Malibu, California

With four distance options ranging from 26 miles up to 62, most of the course will be run along Backbone Trail, which features epic views of the Pacific Ocean and breathtaking scenery of the surrounding Santa Monica Mountains. If you are new to ultras, keep in mind that the 50- and 62-mile distances have 11,000-feet of elevation gain, so sticking to the 26- or 31-mile options are more reasonable ways to test your legs and overall fitness for the first time.

WAY TOO COOL 50K
March
Cool, California

A beautiful course, tons of crowd support and great organization are a few of the reasons this 50K is excellent for beginners. The northern California trails aren’t too difficult either, with minimal elevation gain and enough twists and turns to keep you entertained over a longer distance. A laidback afterparty with delicious food and the race’s signature frog cupcake await you at the finish.

GOLDEN GATE DIRTY 30 50K
May
Black Hawk, Colorado

Part of running an ultra is dealing with tougher terrain and more elevation gain. While this race certainly isn’t the easiest you’ll find, it is one of the most scenic. Golden Gate State Park is one of the most beautiful in the country, featuring everything from snow-capped mountains to pine forests and open green meadows. The event is well-supported, and the overall vibe is welcoming to newcomers.

BLACK MOUNTAIN MONSTER
June
Black Mountain, North Carolina

If you’re nervous about how far you can go, you can opt for a timed race instead. This endurance event challenges runners to see how many miles they can cover over either 6, 12 or 24 hours through the gorgeous wooded trails of Montreat College’s White Oak Estate. The course is a single 3.1-mile loop consisting of singletrack, pavement and a few dirt sections that are mostly flat. The crowd support on the loop is a good way to stay motivated — and the option to stop whenever you want is something you won’t get with many longer races.

CAYUGA TRAILS 50
June
Ithaca, New York

If you’re going to attempt to run 50 miles (not to be confused with kilometers), a great course is a must to keep your mind occupied. Beautiful gorges, waterfalls, creek crossings and stone staircases are just a few of the things you’ll encounter on these secluded singletrack trails in Ithaca. The race is also home to the USATF Trail National Championship, so the support and organization that go into the event is top notch.

MOUNT HOOD 50
July
Clackamas, Oregon

With two out-and-back sections from the start/finish line, this is another well-organized race that won’t have you feeling lost. The course layout also breaks the distance down into doable sections and provides plenty of on-course support to keep you going. Though you’ll have the backdrop of Mount Hood and the amazing forest scenery of the Pacific Crest Trail, there’s minimal climbing and reasonable terrain, making it ideal if you’re looking to jump up to the 50-mile distance for the first time. This year will also feature 50K and 25K-distance options.

AFTON TRAIL 50K
July
Afton State Park, Minnesota

One of the largest ultra trail races in the U.S., this event that’s been going on since 1994 is run through Afton State Park on two moderately hilly 25K loops. Though the race is entirely off road, the trail is smooth and runnable with very few technical sections. The St. Croix River, deep ravines and open prairies are a few of the course highlights along with well-supported aid stations. In addition to the 50K race, a 25K is also offered.

FINGER LAKES 50S
July
Hector, New York

Finger Lake National Forest is the site for this loop course that gives runners the option of either a 50K or a 50 miler. The easy 25K loops are ideal for beginners who are intimidated by being in the middle of nowhere if things go bad, and the extra encouragement you’ll get around the start finishing area can be just what you need to keep pushing. The post-race barbecue and brews offer a nice way to unwind and kick back with friends once the work is done.

THE NORTH FACE ENDURANCE CHALLENGE
September
Dousman, Wisconsin

While the series also has locations in Washington, D.C., New York, Massachusetts, and California, this race in Wisconsin has the perfect course layout if you’re a beginner. The trail through Kettle Moraine State Forest is flat and fast and won’t feature any sections that are too tough to run up. Distance options include a 50K and a 50 miler, though there are relay options, a marathon and half-marathon, and even a kids race if you’re bringing along friends and family who aren’t ready for the longer distances.

JFK 50 MILE
November
Hagerstown, Maryland

One of the longest-running ultras in the U.S., this course has a little bit of everything. While the first part of the race on the Appalachian Trail can be rocky and technical, eventually it opens up to flatter sections on a canal towpath for a majority of the 50-mile distance before switching to a few miles of paved roads near the finish. Overall, it’s one of the easier ultras on the event calendar, and the history of the race makes it worth placing on your bucket list.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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