TRAIL RUNNING: the evolution of Endurance Races in the last ten years (2010-2019)

ITA – Passage along the track between Rifugio Chabod and Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele II, Valle d´Aosta, August 2016.

“We are talking about the future of the worldwide Trail-Running events and the next edition will be opened for 200 participants“.

With these words, reported by Gazzetta Matin on 17.01.2020, Alessandra Nicoletti (the president of the VDA Trailers that organize the event) has confirmed the second edition for the Tor Des Glaciers (Distance: 450 km; Elevation Gain: 32000 D+, Maximum Time: 190 hour), together with the more famous Tor Des Geants (Distance: 356 km; Elevation Gain: 27300 D+, Maximum Time: 150 hour).

As soon as I read these words, I asked to myself whether the long Endurance Races are the possible direction of Trail-Running in the future. Therefore, I decided to spend some time to elaborate the statistics connected to this specific dimension of the trail running and to evaluate the evolution of the Endurance Races in the last decade.

In order to have a more relevant statistics database, I considered the available results from the DUV website, which documents specifically Ultramarathon events, for both road and Trail Running events. Of course, I focused my attention only on the events belonging to the Trail Running category. The results refer to the period 2010-2019.

The DUV differentiate the races in several distances. The focus of the following three figures is the “180 km+” category.

Fig.1: Number of Ultra Trail Events (longer than 180 km) per Continents in the last decade (2010-2019)

Well, looking to the trend in the last decade, the conclusions are:

#1) there is an effective increase of this type of events, especially in Europe and North America

#2) the increase in Europe is faster than in other Continents, moving from 7 events in 2010 up to 55 events in 2019

#3) Asia has seen a fast increase of these events in the last three years (driven by the number of events in China & India), while the other three Continents (South Amerika, Oceania, Africa) do not follow the equivalent fast trend

Fig.2: Number of Ultra Trail events (longer than 180 km) per nations in Europe in the last decade (2010-2019)

If we focus on Europe, it is possible to observe that:

#1) the Great Britain is the major contributor, proposing up to 15 Endurance Races in the last year

#2) all other countries have seen a mild increase in the last five years, but not as fast as in Great Britain. For them, in the last 5 years, the average value of events increased from 2 to 3 per year

Fig.3: Number of Ultra Trail Events (longer than 180 km) per nations in the rest of the World in the last decade (2010-2019)


In the rest of the World, USA shows the same fast trend like the Great Britain, while China instead follows the trend of the majority of the other European countries. Surprisingly India shows a very fast increase in the last five years. A higher number of events are also present in Brazil and Australia in the last few years.

These data seems somehow to justify the initial sentence of this article.

However, it is only a partial truth.

In fact, there are two additional aspects, which are crucial for this analysis.

First, it is necessary to compare the results for the “180 km+” category with the other “distance” categories.

Fig.4: Number of Ultra Trail events for different distances categories in Europe in the last decade (2010-2019)

Choosing Europe as referent Continent (but the results are very similar for the other Continents), it is obvious the faster increase for the medium ultra-races (45-79 km). The gap with all other category is huge and indicates a rising trend that does not seem to reduce in the upcoming years.

The reasons are many and here I can indicate the most relevant:

#1) those events are “easier” to organize, in terms of logistics and safety

#2) those events are “easier” to be prepared by the majority of the runners or participants

#3) those events are “easier” to be followed by the public, both on the tracks or at home in front of a screen

The second aspect is that in the “180 km+” category, the percentage of Endurance Races above 320 km (ca 200 mi) does not show an increase in the last decade.

Fig.5: Percentage of Events longer than 320 km in the “180 km +” category in the World in the last decade (2010-2019)

In Europe, it oscillates between 15% and 30%. In Usa, it is higher and it is stable around 50% since few years. In Asia, there were no races in this special category until 2014. Then after a rapid increase up to 60% (I have to remind that the total number was not high, only 3 events), it shows a value around 30% in the last three years. In summary, there is no indication of a predominant role for the present and for the future.

Therefore, combining the results of this analysis, my conclusion is that these long Endurance Races do not represent the future of the worldwide Trail-Running events. They are part, and they will be part, of a specific category, which is suited for a limited number of participants, not for all. They will continue to fascinate the readers, the followers, the lovers of this sport. However, they will not become an alternative to “shorter” Trail-Running events (< 180 km), which represents and will still represent the most popular ones.

A special mention for the Tor des Glaciers, cited at beginning of this article.

I always thought, and I still think, that the Tor Des Geant was already “enough”: the right mix of trail running, endurance, competition, passion, adventure, and participation with the public. A unique endurance race in a unique environment like the Alps in Valle d´Aosta. I fear that the addition of Tor des Glaciers diminishes this uniqueness and generates much more problems in case of difficult or bad weather conditions. I hope I´m wrong. In the meantime, I wish good luck to those who will register for it and to the volunteers, who have been making a week of late summer special for the last ten years in Valle d´Aosta.

Useful websites:

DUV: https://www.ultra-marathon.org/

Gazzetta Matin: https://www.gazzettamatin.com/gazzettamatin/2020/01/17/torx-sempre-piu-attenzione-per-lambiente/

Tor des Geants: https://www.tordesgeants.it/it

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