Ultrarunning continues to gain a ton of popularity as runners all over the world are making it their go-to sport. Women and ultrarunning seem to be a match made in heaven as strong women everywhere are completely smashing it on the trails!
More and more women are signing up for and running ultras every day. According to a study performed by Run Repeat, which analyzed over 5 million race finishers, the participation of women in ultrarunning rose 9% between 1996 and 2018.
The same study found that while men outpace women on regular distance events like the 5k, the gap gradually closes as the distance gets longer . . . and women outrun men once you cross the 195 mile mark (that’s quite far!).
Ultrarunning is an excellent sport for women. Women have an incredible number of physical and psychological attributes to make them shine in this awesome sport; the longer the race, the better they do.
Today, we will look at a couple of incredible women and their exceptional performances on the ultra trail running front and how they continue to inspire us every day.
In this article, we will discuss:
- The pioneer for women and ultrarunning, Ann Trason
- The ultra-running machine, Courtney Dauwalter
- Why women and ultrarunning go hand in hand
- 5 attributes that make women excellent ultra runners
Ready to be inspired?
Let’s jump in!
Extraordinary Women in Ultrarunning
Let’s begin with one of the women who truly started it all and paved the way for women and ultrarunning in general, a true legend, Ann Trason.
Ann started running ultras in the early 1980s and didn’t have a lot of luck initially. After some blips during her first ultra-marathon attempts, she learned how to fuel, pace herself, and after each racing experience gained more and more knowledge ultimately assisting her in improving greatly.
Four years after her first attempt at an ultramarathon, she came back strong to win and set the course record for her very first completed ultra, American River 50.And that is just the beginning.
Ann Trason’s Accomplishments
Ann first raced and won Leadville’s 100-miler in 1988, but in 1994 after another go, she set a course record of 18 hours and 6 minutes which, to this day, has yet to be broken!
1989 was a massive year for Ann as she broke records all over the ultrarunning spectrum.
During this year, she set the world record for 100 miles with a time of 14:29:44 in Santa Rosa, California. This same year she also set the 12-hour world record by running 85 miles during that allotted time.
And yet another one for 1989, Ann won the 24-hour American national championship outright and set a new record of 143.09 miles, beating the first-place male by 4 miles!
Ann has also won the famous 100-Mile Endurance Run Western States 14 times, two of those times beating all of the men except one.
This is just the tip of the iceberg as Ann’s record list of wins goes on and on. Still, I think the most crucial takeaway from Ann Trason’s impressive career is to appreciate just how hard she worked to get there. She picked herself up after each setback, got back out there, and tried again and again.
Just to show you how tough she really is, here is one of her most famous quotes,
“It hurts up to a point, and then it doesn’t get any worse.” Her physical and psychological strength is beyond belief and makes her the amazing runner she is.
Ann Trason is hands down one of the best ultra runners of all time and clearly an unbelievable role model for not just ultra runners and athletes, but women everywhere!
Let’s move on to another accomplished ultra runner currently known as one of the best female ultramarathoners in the world, Courtney Dauwalter.
Since childhood, Courtney has always been a great athlete competing in Nordic and cross country skiing and went on to college on a cross-country skiing scholarship.
Courtney’s fun-loving, positive attitude and enormous smile give off a charm that’s hard to resist.
Watching her fly through the trails is genuinely inspiring, but what’s even better is seeing how much she enjoys it. Sure, she, like every other ultra runner out there, goes through rough times and ups and downs on the course, but as she says:
“If you push through the dark moments when everything hurts, you will find another reserve of strength you didn’t know you had.”
Let’s take a look at some of her most notable accomplishments up until now.
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Courtney Dauwalter’s Accomplishments
In 2016 Dauwalter won Run Rabbit Run, beating second place by 75 minutes. That same year, Dauwalter set the women’s and overall course records at Arizona’s Javelina Jundred 100k with a time of 8:48:45, which still stands today.
In 2017 she set the women’s 24-hour record in California by running 155.4 miles! Later in 2017, Dauwalter won the Moab 240 Mile Endurance Run outright in 57:55:13, setting the course record. She beat the second-place runner by 10 hours.
In 2019 and 2021, Dauwalter won Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, setting the woman’s course record of 22:30:54 in 2021.
In 2020 she won first place in Big Dog’s Ultra by running a total of 283.33 miles in 56 hours, 52 minutes, and 29 seconds. She also set the worldwide record for the longest distance run by a female runner.
Her list of impressive wins goes on and on, and there is no doubt that Courtney will continue to smash records for many years to come. She has really shown us that women and ultrarunning are meant to be!
If mentioning these two remarkable women hasn’t inspired you enough to get out there and hit the trails, then maybe these critical attributes to why women and ultrarunning go hand in hand will.
5 reasons why women are awesome at ultrarunning
Women and ultrarunning go together like PB&J, cookies and milk, two peas in a pod.
Women have so many physical and psychological attributes that are great benefits when participating in endurance activities, especially in ultra running.
Let’s take a look at what they are.
Even though we all come in different shapes and sizes, on the whole, women tend to be smaller than men. Being smaller and ultimately lighter allows for less impact to be placed on the body after hours and hours of pounding the trails.
It is also believed that women have a lesser chance of becoming dehydrated as having less surface area can result in less fluid loss. Also, a larger surface area to mass ratio, which women have, allows heat to dissipate more efficiently.
Great news for you for those women who are on the shorter side! Having shorter legs is an advantage to improve the running economy. A shorter, quicker cadence and turnover rate maximize energy use while running.
#2 Fat Percentage and Oxidization
Women need to store more fat for pregnancy and breastfeeding, so their bodies become efficient in doing so all the time. Yes, that’s why we can’t get down to those super low and lean fat percentages that men have, and yes, it can seem frustrating, but let’s use it to our advantage.
When glycogen levels deplete, which is pretty early in the game for an ultrarunner, the body tends to use fat for energy. It is believed that women oxidize fat more efficiently, utilizing it as an energy source. This helps avoid hitting the famous “wall” or bonking.
#3: Slow Twitch Muscle Fibers
Women tend to have more slow-twitch muscle fibers, as men have more fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Slow-twitch muscle fibers are used for prolonged periods as they use oxygen more efficiently. This makes muscles more resistant to fatigue, being better for endurance sports such as ultra running.
#4: Strong Minds
Even though we need to have trained sufficiently to endure the challenge of ultra and be in excellent physical condition, that is just half the game. As you’ll hear ultras saying over and over again:
“Ultras are 10% physical and 90% mental.” Because they are, and you need to have a tough mind to get through them.
In general, ultra runners have to train their minds to push through the ups and downs of the race. Women have shown repeatedly shown great mental strength in challenging situations.
We are taught that negative splits are the way to go when running a marathon, and that is ideal but also difficult to achieve.
According to a recent study, women are very consistent pacers and avoid slowing down in the later sections of a race. Women are more likely to maintain a consistent and controlled pace for the entirety of the race.
The recent study by Run Repeat analyzed 1,815,091 marathon finish times, including male and female racers. It concluded that even though men are faster, “women are 18.61% better than men at running with a controlled and consistent pace when comparing results for the first and the last part of the marathon.”
To all the women out there who have toyed with the idea of going the distance, do it! Join our ultrarunning club; we promise you’ll love every minute of it.
To learn more about ultrarunning, check these Marathon Handbook articles: