A marathon is the standard distance of 42 kilometers, 195 meters (26 miles, 385 yards). Ultramarathons extend past that distance and typically begin at 50 kilometers. Unlike a marathon, there is no limit for an ultramarathon distance. Worldwide, ultramarathons are currently scheduled for a variety of distances, with the longest certified ultramarathon being The Ultimate Ultra, the annual Sri Chinmoy 1,300-mile (2,092 kilometers) race held in New York on a one-mile loop track. The Trans America Footrace takes place over 64 consecutive days, starting in Los Angeles, and ending in New York. Participants race almost 3,000 miles at an average of 45 miles a day. (Blaikie, n.d.)
There are two types of ultramarathons. The first is when participants cover a set distance, such as the Sri Chinmoy race. The second is when participants race as far as possible within a fixed time span. In the last century, the major standard racing distance was six days. Six days was the longest amount of time a participant could race without competing on Sunday. Races would start at the stroke of midnight Monday morning and ended at the stroke of midnight Sunday morning. (Blaikie, n.d.).
Within the sport itself are sub-groups, such as journey runners and megarunners. Journey runners are lone participants who choose to cover long distances at their chosen daily pace. A transcontinental runner is an example of a journey runner. These runners cross entire countries and continents on foot for the thrill of the journey, not the thrill of the race. Megarunners are runners who have participated in numerous marathons and ultramarathons. Norm Frank of Rochester, New York is a megarunner. Frank has run more than 550 marathons and ultra marathons. Wally Herman of Ottawa, Canada has run more than 400 races, including at least one race in every Canadian province and territory, all 50 United States, and more than 70 countries worldwide (Blaikie, n.d.).
One of the more notable megarunners is Dean Karnazes. Time Magazine named Dean Karnazes as one of the top 100 most influential people in the world. Karnazes is an ultramarathoner who is a frequent guest speaker at schools and youth groups encouraging others to follow a healthy lifestyle. Karnazes recently ran 50 marathons in all 50 United States in 50 day. His first marathon was in St. Louis, and the 50th marathon of this endeavor was the NYC Marathon, which he completed in 3:00:30. Karnazes then ran an ultramarathon covering 1,300 miles from New York City back to St. Louis Missouri. Karnazes is a winner of the Badwater Ultramarathon - considered the world's toughest footrace. (http://www.ultramarathonman.com/flash/)
The Badwater Ultramarathon is a 135-mile course that starts 282 feet below sea level in Death Valley, CA and ends at an elevation of 8,360 feet on Mount Whitney. The race takes place in July when temperatures are often over 120F in the shade. Due to mountain ranges on the course, the cumulative elevation gain exceeds 13,000 feet. The first person to complete the Badwater course was Al Arnold in 1977 with a time of 80:00. In 1987, Badwater became an official organized footrace. Runners who complete the Badwater course in 60:00 receive a commemorative medal and runners who complete the course in 48:00 receive a belt buckle. No prize monies are awarded for this competition. The current course records are 22:51:29 for men set by Valmir Nunes, and 27:56:27 for women set by Pam Reed. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Badwater_Ultramarathon).
In 1989, Tom Crawford and Richard Benyo made the first Badwater double crossing that became known as the Death Valley 300. In 1994, Scott Weber completed a triple crossing in 10 days. Weber is the first runner to complete four full crossings of the Badwater-Mt Whitney summit course in a single year, completing these races in July and August 1994.
Marshall Ulrich was the first competitor to complete the Badwater Quad - a distance in excess of 22 marathons in 10 days.
Any competitor who is able to complete both the Badwater Ultramarathon and the Furnace Creek 508 bicycle race during the same calendar year is awarded the Death Valley Cup. No prize money is awarded. (http://www.badwater.com/dvcup.html) The Furnace Creek 508 bicycle race is an ultramarathon bike race covering 508 miles and 35,000 feet of elevation. (http://www.the508.com/).
Ultramarathon racing has been around longer than the first modern Olympics in 1896; however, the sport was only recognized by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) in 1991 when the IAAF officially recognized the 100-kilometer race.
Blaikie, D., n.d. What is an Ultramarathon? Retrieved April 10, 2008 from www.ultrunr.com