• Stacey McGowan Holloway

What stops women entering ultras?

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

A couple months ago Robbie Britton caused a stir on the ultra-running facebook group with his article on Fast Running blog ‘Should female runners get double lottery chances in male dominated races?’ A lot of people, all of whom were ultra-runners and the majority of which were men, gave their opinion on both, why women were not entering and how and should this be solved. Anyway, I thought we should just ask women why they were not entering! So I posted the text below onto the Adventure Queens all women outdoor adventure group to find some answers, and hopefully solutions.

‘There is a debate happening on the ultra-running FB group at the moment about helping get more women into ultra-running. I thought we could actually ask some women instead of guessing. Can I ask any runners, especially those who have ran half and full marathons; What stops you from entering an ultra-marathon? And do you have any ideas what may inspire or help more women get into the sport? Thanks!’

One assumption made by the ultra-runners, was that women in general, do not want to run an ultra and that is why they do not enter. However, the majority of the responses  we received (around 40 women commented) began with ‘I would love to do an ultra, but….’

Below I have grouped the responses into to four categories in order of frequency mentioned.

  1. Training

  2. Ability

  3. Time/logistics.

  4. Lack of knowledge of races.

1. Training

A general perception of ultra-running was how long it would take to train for an ultra, that this endeavour would be greater than that needed to run a marathon.

Definitely to do with time. Training for a half or full marathon is easier time wise. You have to be pretty focused for an ultra!’

2. Ability

Comments included lack of discipline to train, being the wrong body shape. Being too slow was a common barrier for women as was fear of injury, not being strong enough and not having the right mind set.

‘Hi there, I’ve run several marathons and half marathons, and entered two ultras and pulled out as I worry about being timed out of an ultra. My marathon pb is 4.45 and half marathon pb is 2.00.’

3. Time and logistics

A big barrier for women was time to train or race due to family and work commitments. Other logistic issues included not having a support crew, cost of races and not wanting to run alone.

‘But an ultra seems like a whole different ball game!

4. Lack of knowledge of races.

Another recurring theme was simply, women did not know where to find out about smaller local ultras, or even trail races. This also included not knowing how to find cheaper races.


As women were writing about what holds them back, other women began providing advice, support and motivation. It became clear that for the majority of these women, who had proclaimed they would ‘love’ to enter an ultra, were held back from entering due to their perception of an ultra-marathon and what it would take to complete one. The reasons given were all very valid and real, yet on revealing some truths about the reality of the back of the pack ultra-runner several women began to consider, that in fact ultra could be for them. In some cases it was a lack of self-belief, this was greatly helped by supportive comments from other women – the role models.

To answer my proposed question – what stops you from entering? From this group of women, it was a perception of ultra-running that did not match up with their perception of themselves. We can through media and race coverage and through roles models address both of these. There were undeniably the time limitation barriers experienced by women, especially for women with a family.

So here to smash some myths and tear down those misleading perceptions!

If it is longer than a marathon, it is an ultra-marathon! So, training for a 30miler is no different to training for a marathon.

In fact, training for a 50miler does not require any more training than that for a marathon.

Ultra-running is slow. If you are a sub 5hour marathon runner, you are going to be fine. The longer the race, the slower you can go!

Ultra-runners walk. We walk a lot and walk up hills.

For ultras under 50miles you will not need a crew. If you do need a crew ask about. People, even strangers will be willing to crew for you. Ask the race organisers for help finding a crew.

An ultra-marathon is not just a long marathon. There are a lot of stops, eating, talking and making new friends.

Ultra-runners come in many shapes and sizes and there is a huge range in ages. Turn up at a race and see for yourself. Never judge a book by its cover!

Most ultras are on trails, risk of tripping may be higher, but risk of injury from repetitive running is lower.

Ultras come in many formats, pick the race for you. Timed event, lap courses, small and large number of competitors. See LDWA challenge events.

Join an ultra running facebook group and scroll through past questions or contact a race director and ask to volunteer. It is a great community and you will learn loads and come part of the family 🙂

And for more info on where the races are, check out https://www.runultra.co.uk  and http://fellrunner.org.uk/races.php

Note: I have been asked if I should repeat this asking a group of men, I agree you may get similar results. I did ask as an open question on twitter to all genders. From men I mainly got the reply ‘nothing stops me.’ One transgender person replied to say anxiety stopped them from entering any races. 

#Training #running #womeninsport #ultrarunning #Races #family #lifestyle

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