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Bear Creek National Recreation Trail, part of the Hardrock 100 course

3 of the Most Coveted 100-Mile Ultra Races in the USA

Gaining entry to one of these three races is a lifetime achievement for many ultrarunners!

Trail Running Severe

Bear Creek National Recreation Trail, part of the Hardrock 100 course
Bear Creek National Recreation Trail, part of the Hardrock 100 course Photo: John Fowler


Trail running continues to explode in popularity, and while shorter races will always be the most easily-accessible, the participation in ultra trail races continues to soar. At the extreme end of the sport is the 100-mile distance. Despite the incredible difficulty, the idea of racing 100 miles on foot to truly test your mettle against the mountains and your fellow man captures the imagination of thousands of runners.

While there are plenty of 100-mile races to go around, a fabled few are so revered in the collective trail running consciousness that they've come to embody a bonafide bucket list. Unlike some road marathons that can accommodate thousands of participants, trail races have to cap the number of participants much much lower (sometimes below 100), meaning that to get into the most popular races you must either qualify, enter a lottery, or both. This guidebook covers three of the most coveted 100-mile ultra trail running races in the United States.

First up on the list is the Western States 100. The world’s oldest 100-mile trail race starts "in Olympic Valley, California near the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics and ends 100.2 miles later in Auburn, California,” according to WSER.org. “In the decades since its inception in 1974, has come to represent one of the ultimate endurance tests in the world,” they continue.

Another race that helped transform the sport of ultra trail running into the international sensation that it now enjoys is the Leadville 100 in Colorado. "The legendary 'Race Across The Sky’ 100-mile run is where it all started back in 1983,” reads the race’s introduction on LeadvilleRaceSeries.com. "This is it. The race where legends are created and limits are tested. One hundred miles of extreme Colorado Rockies terrain — from elevations of 9,200 to 12,600 feet. You will give the mountain respect, and earn respect from all.”

Rounding out this list is the Hardrock 100. While Hardrock is a bit newer to the ranks of ultrarunning, with some 33,000 feet of vertical gain and descent, the race is renowned as one of the most difficult in the world. "This course offers a graduate level challenge for endurance runs,” according to Hardrock100.com. "The course is designed to provide extreme challenges in altitude, steepness, and remoteness. Mountaineering, wilderness survival and wilderness navigation skills are as important in this event as your endurance.” Naturally, the race attracts hordes of applicants looking to test themselves amongst Colorado’s biggest mountains.

Sources: Hardrock100.com LeadvilleRaceSeries.com WSER.org

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