A new report, The State of Ultra Running 2020, has found heightened participation from female ultrarunners and that women are as fast as men in long-distance ultras. The study was undertaken by run shoe review site RunRepeat in collaboration with the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU).
The State of Ultra Running 2020 plots the rise of ultrarunning in recent years. It suggests that the most dedicated runners are looking for bigger and bigger challenges as running becomes more and more popular – ‘and marathon running is considered more mainstream than extreme.’
Based on analysis of 5,010,730 results from 15,451 ultra running events, key findings include:
- Female ultra runners are faster than male ultra runners at distances over 195 miles. The average female pace is 17:19 min/mile, which is 0.6% faster than the average male pace of 17:25 min/mile.
- Participation has increased by 345% in the last 10 years from 137,234 to 611,098, and 17.8 times over the last 23 years (from 34,401 to 611,098 runners). There have never been more ultra runners.
- Women are as fast as men in long-distance ultras. The longer the distance the shorter the gender pace gap. In 5Ks men run 17.9% faster than women but on a 100-miler the difference is just 0.25%.
- 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. It is believed that individual runners have not necessarily become slower, but that these distances are attracting less prepared runners now because the sport is more mainstream.
- Runners improve their pace in their first 20 races, and then their pace stabilizes. From their first to their second race runners improve by 0:17 min/mile (2%) on average. But by their 20th they improve by 1:45 min/mile (12.3%).
- 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 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 shifted from 43.3 years to 42.3 years.