In Ask the Trail Sisters

What is a good 50k race for a newbie ultra trail runner, and why?

(featured image courtesy of Chuckanut 50k)

Trail Sister Katelynn WagnerKatelynn: Finger Lakes Fifties 50k is a fantastic first ultra! It takes place the first weekend in July in Hector, NY (just outside of Ithaca) it is a beautiful course with waterfalls and beautiful views. It only has about 2,400ft of gain for the entire race. It sold out within 3.5 hours this year, so its best to get in there right away!

I also like to suggest the race that was my first ultra, Table Rock Ultras in Marion, NC. It is a bit tougher with 6,000ft of gain for the course, but the views are GORGEOUS! Most of the gain comes in the 2 miles up Table Rock Mountain, and the rest is rolling. The RD’s are on it and put on a fantastic race. TRU is the best supported race I’ve ever done, which matters a lot when it’s your first go.
trail-sister-krissy-moehlKrissy: Shameless plug – The Chuckanut 50k was my first and I am now the race director (this will be my 15th year as RD). I think the course, the number of aid stations, the history, the organization and our community that rallies around the event makes for an awesome first 50k.
Tara Warren Head Square HeadshotTara: There are so many great races out there.  I would suggest a race that is known for providing good support through aid stations and perhaps has easy access for your fan club to cheer you on. Things I would try to avoid on a first 50k would be: multi-loops, water crossings and maybe no cell service. Maybe we should start a yelp for races?!?


trail-sister-bree-lambertBreeWay Too Cool 50k is one of the most popular 50k races in the country. Many first time ultrarunners head out West to test their legs on this course. It’s relatively flat and well supported. The trails are well groomed and allows for a good first ultra experience. RD Julie Fingar does a fine job of organizing this event.

jennifer-loveJenn: There are so many great courses out there! Honestly it’s tough to discredit any of them by saying one is better than the other. Have you thought about what you’re looking for in your first 50K course? Are you really excited about vertical, hills, and the potential for speed hiking?  I live in Portland, Oregon where we’re surrounded by anything, and everything you could ever dream of wanting out of your first ultra! Mt. Hood 50K offers up a very, “runable” out and back course. Smith Rock 50K in Bend, Oregon will give you moderate climbing, and a really unique high desert race experience. I love jumping over rattle snakes to keep my blood pumping! The Rut 50K in Montana is EPIC if you’re looking to go big or go home for your first crack at the 50K distance. Shop around. Read blog posts. Help yourself identify what you want out of the race, and then sign up, get training, and GET STOKED!
trail-sister-heidi-kummHeidi: A lot of factors go into this, namely what you’re looking to put into + get out of the race. When I made the jump from road running to trail running I opted for a relatively flat race with a lot of local support. The race I ran as my first trail ultra [Bear Chase 50K] was literally in my backyard + aggressively supported by so many people I knew from trail + road running. Hit up you local running store or favorite trail running group + see what they support/love in the area…they’ll know the good races/race directors + offer up great advice. Personally, I’m really glad I opted for a more “road-like” first ultra, simply because it gave me an opportunity to gain a little confidence. Since then I’ve moved on to steep, technical mountain races. That’s the beauty of trail running — there is an insane amount of variety.

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Showing 4 comments
  • Jen

    Can I just run all of these options?

  • Pam

    I’m on the hunt for my first 50k, so this is super helpful. So far the consistent advice has been finding something close to home and choosing a race with terrain similar to what you have available to train on. I have heard the pros and cons for doing a timed event for your first ultra, rather than a set distance, which was appealing to me. You have x number of hours to get as many miles in as you can, whether it ends up being 27 or 50, rather than the pressure of a set distance with a smaller window of time. Would love to hear the TS opinion on choosing a 12 hr event vs. a set 50k for a first timer.

  • Lisa Perkins

    I made what looked like a HUGE mistake signing up for my first 50K – Bandera. But, going in knowing that it might kill me gave me the ok to just enjoy every step. It was beautiful, and freezing and painful and amazing. We are capable of more than we realize, so find somewhere that is inspiring!

  • Adria

    My first ultra was the Run for Kids 50K in Pelham, AL. It’s a looped course but I didn’t mind, I knew I would get to see my family at the top of every 10K loop and by the third one, I knew what to expect ahead and could adjust my speed accordingly. The trail is relatively flat with a few small climbs. The aid station at the top of the loop is one of the best I’ve experienced and the race crew is fantastic!

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