Adventure Sports Ultra 1

Published on February 3rd, 2012 | by Adrian Simpson


Ultramarathon: A short history of man’s love affair with extreme long distance running

It’s hard to believe that what we now see as a highly professional, global sporting industry started out as walking competition in America nearly 150 years ago. In 1867 a man called Edward Payson walked from Portland to Chicago in 25 days and captivated a nation, soon others realised the potential of taking part in these record breaking events and before long there was a series of 6 day races named ‘The long distance Championship of the world’. These developed into walk/run events and became a major spectator attraction, crowds of 75,000 were not unknown and the winnings were substantial.

However, the advent of the car led to its popularity trailing off and it wasn’t until 1921 that they resurfaced, this time in South Africa. The Comrades Marathon, as it’s called, is 90km long and was begun as a way remembering the fallen South African soldiers from the First World War and it’s still going the strong today attracting 13000 runners every year. In the 1950’s the London to Brighton Ultramarathon was born but it wasn’t until the 1970’s that ultra running really hit its mark as the craze for marathon running took off.

In 1982 a team of RAF officers decided to test the story that gave birth to the Marathon moniker; they attempted to cover the distance between the Battle of Marathon and Sparta in 36 hours, as the messenger Pheidippides had done. They proved that it could be done and at last the sport of ultra running had got its global stage in the modern world.
There are now hundreds of ultra marathons all around the world each year from the Marathon Des Sable, a seven day race through the desert, to the Self Transcendence Race, which at a whopping 3100 miles is the longest road race in the world. Competitors in the latter race have to run 5649 laps of an extended block in Queens New York…the adventure of running through the arctic we love, the strength to power your way through the desert we get. Running around the block for 51 days? Mental.

If you've had the urge to do a 'Forrest' and run endlessly until there's smoke coming form your trainers let us hear your story. What is the furthest you've run? Where did you end up? And in your brain does it cancel out smoking and drinking?

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About the Author

Adrian Simpson

Adrian Simpson is a writer and TV presenter with a profound love of the outdoors. His family, snow, sea, brewing, vinyl, guitars and VW buses mean the world to him.

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