Fitness & Health

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Courtesy of the Cascade

Ultramarathons take competitive running to a new level

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. (CUP)—IF YOU’RE A longtime competitive runner, what hap- pens when you have conquered the marathon?

An ultramarathon, by definition, is any running race over the marathon distance of 42 KM. The most common distances are 50 KM, 100 KM, 50 miles (about 80 KM), and 100 miles (about 160 KM). The sport of ultramarathon running exists around the world, and you can find ultramarathon events on just about every continent— even in Antarctica.

This extreme sport has gained popu- larity over the past few decades, and the International Association of Ultrarunners regulates and sanctions over 1,000 ultra- marathon distance races for over 100,000 ultramarathon runners today.

The Cascade had the opportunity to discuss this physically ambitious sport with an avid marathon and ultramarathon distance runner. Neil Wakelin, Running Room Vancouver area manager and race director for British Columbia, has run over 125 marathons and many ultrama- rathons.

“I actually have been running ultras for over 20 years. Back when I started, there weren’t very many races,” Wakelin said. “I’ve done everything from 50–100 KM and 50–100 miles. I have run trails and mountains.

He once presented the idea of run- ning an ultramarathon distance over the Grouse, Black, and Seymour mountains in B.C. to a running club.

“They thought I was mad,” said Wakelin.

The race that Wakelin envisioned came to be known as the Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run. Over the course of the Knee Knacker, a participant climbs and descends over 16,000 feet. It is an ap- proximately 50-KM race. It may seem extreme to run such great distances, and even more extreme to run such great distances over mountains, but Wakelin noted that it’s not uncommon for ultras to take place in such areas.

“Most [ultramarathons] are run on trails. I was the first race director to direct the Haney to Harrison race, which is on paved roads [and] highways, [though] it is very unusual to run ultras on paved streets and highways,” he said.

“It’s amazing to see what the body can do,” Wakelin noted, adding ultramarathon running isn’t for everyone.

“It’s a very distinct group of athletes that [has] gone onto the trails and into the mountains to run ultras. It’s an individual thing,” he explained. “Some people will never run on or in trails. It’s a matter of passion, but anybody’s capable of doing anything if they put their mind to it.”

—Grace Romund, the Cascade