You read the advice from experienced trail runners. You’ve practiced your new knowledge at the USNWC and Crowders. Now it’s time to put your money where your energy gel goes and sign up for a long-distance trail race.
With names like “The Knee Annihilator Ultra” and “Melt Your Face Off 50K,” the first go at a longer-than-a-marathon race can be a bit intimidating. We’re here for you. What follows is a list of ultra runs that are perfect for the first-time long distance racer—all run in the mercifully temperate and desperately beautiful Carolina autumn.
1. Swamp Rabbit Urban Ultra 50K/25K, Oct. 3
Run in conjunction with a whole slew of events at the Get Out Greenville Festival, the Swamp Rabbit Urban Ultra has both the multiple long distance finisher and ultra first-timer in mind. Held at Lake Conestee Nature Park in Greenville, SC, the race features a 10K loop route that features both paved greenway and modest trails. You’ll enjoy the diverse environments on the course–hardwood and evergreen forest, wetlands, and riverfront.
Why is this a great first time ultra? “Runners will see rest stops every 5k and a bathroom every 10k. The laps also ensure that runners are seeing other runners and even some spectators quite often. This helps with motivation, safety and overall enjoyment.” – Steve Baker, Swamp Rabbit Urban Ultra 50K/25K
2. WC 50 Ultra Trail Marathon 50k/50m, Oct. 17
The Ultra Trail Marathon at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte takes advantage of the variety of trails on the property. Some are mild, gently looping around a small, tree-lined lake. Some are aggressive, quickly launching up steep inclines only to descend just as fast. The 50-mile course, with 7000 feet of elevation, takes advantage of the most pugnacious of these trails.
A better option for an ultra-newbie, the 50k race consists of five 10k loops, which focus on mild and moderate singletrack. Don’t mistake it for a flat course though, 50k runners will be treated to over 3,000 feet of total elevation.
Why is it a great first time Ultra? “There’s always a good crowd around on race day to cheer on the runners, and crossing the finish line right in the middle of the world’s largest man-made whitewater river makes for a great race experience.” – Eric Osterhus, USNWC
3. Tick Tock 12-Hour Ultra and Relay, Oct. 24
On October 24, as the Forest Creek Golf Club in Pinehurst, NC, opens its gates to trail runners for the inaugural NC Tick Tock 12 Hour Ultra , “going long” will be measured in miles not yards. As the name suggests, the challenge here is to beat the clock, running as many 3.25-mile loops as possible in a half a day. The course, a hilly mix of groomed trails and road, offers constant views of manicured greens and the pine forest that surrounds them.
Why is it a great first time Ultra? “The great thing about a time-specific ultra marathon like the 12-hour Tick Tock Ultra, is that anyone can really participate, go at his or her own pace, and realize his own personal goal for the day -- as an individual runner or as a runner who is part of a relay team.” – Mary Marcia Brown, Tick Tock Ultra
4. Triple Lakes Trail Race, Oct. 24
For a more traditional ultra experience—a set distance course that doesn’t rely on loops—the well supported Triple Lakes Trail Race at Bur Mil Park in Greensboro, NC, is a great beginner choice. The distraction of running around a tree-lined lake and modest, but rolling, elevation changes will keep minds occupied without killing knees. Choose from the half marathon, marathon or 40-mile race. Aid stations, stocked with drinks and snacks and helpful volunteers, located every three or four miles make it easier to keep fueled and motivated during long stretches on the trail.
Why is it a great first time Ultra? “The course is rolling with several flat sections and no huge elevation changes. Late October beautiful on the trail with the changing leaves. And there are several great locations for friends and family to see you on the course.” - Mike Clark, Triple Lakes Trail Race
5. Old Glory Ultra and Relay, Nov. 14
The Old Glory Ultra , formerly the Old Glory Trail Trot, changed venues this year, also taking advantage of the hilly serenity inherent in Pinehurst area golf courses. The 6.25 mile loop follows the course cart path and connects to 2 miles of crushed limestone trail that circles through Foxfire Village Park in Jackson Springs, NC.
Sans serious hills and feet numbing water crossings, Old Glory keeps the challenge in its distance not its terrain. The loop format allows for a bit of comfort for new ultra runners, knowing they aren’t too far from the start. Runners can choose from a 50-mile, 50k or 10 mile run. And the added amenities—beer tent, club house, showers—are a fantastic way to finish a first ultra. Foxfire Golf Resort is even offering a free round of golf to all participants.
Why is it a great first time Ultra? “If you get the chance to go out there, it’s beautiful. You run by a few lakes and it has some decent hills. You can run the path or run the grass alongside of it. It’s well-manicured grass so you’re not running through thickets or anything.” – Tom Hurd, Southern Pines Ultra Running Club
6. One Epic Run 24 Hour Ultra, Dec. 5
Just like the Tick Tock Ultra, the challenge of One Epic Run in Spartansburg, SC, is time, not necessarily distance. The 3.1-mile loop runs through Croft State Park, a 7,000-acre collection of lakes and dense woodlands. One of the best amenities of the race is the course. A mix of singletrack trail, fire road, and a famous bridge crossing, the loop starts and ends at the campsite. This means that on each loop, runners will have access to their gear and a place to crash when it’s time for a break. Camping is including with registration.
Why is it a great first time Ultra? “The great thing about a timed event, as opposed to a set distance, is that everyone is welcomed—regardless of their goal. The start/finish/aid station is in the camp grounds. Runners set up camp for the weekend and even after they've reached their personal goal, hang out to encourage the others that are still going.” – Angelique Merrill, One Epic Run