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The Wonderfully Diverse World of Running Goals


If 2020 taught us anything, it was to open our minds to redefine common notions. We were forced to give new meaning to terms like “family time” and “work from home.” We can look at this ability to think outside the box as a silver lining, even when it comes to running goals.

If you’re used to setting — and chasing — PRs for common road race distances as your one and only running goal, we’re about to put some new ideas in your head that will hopefully get you excited for a new challenge, one that’s not only COVID-safe, but inspiring to you in a way that feeds your soul.

Races Trail Running Races Photo: Getty Images

Even pure road runners can benefit from testing their mettle at a trail running race, and not all trail running races are ultra-distance. You can find events from 5K to 100+ miles off-road, which allow runners to not only discover new trails, but mix up their running experience on varying terrain. Due to their spaced-out nature, and overall smaller numbers, trail running races have a better chance of happening in a COVID world.

Ultra-Distance Trail Races

“Ultra” means anything longer than a marathon, and a 50K (31 miles) is the perfect gateway distance for road runners. Finding one that takes place on fireroads (versus technical singletrack) will be the easiest transition, but entering an ultra on more rugged terrain can be a welcome adventure. Ultra-distance races extend through 200 miles…yes, in one shot.

Backyard Ultra

This new style of racing started with Big’s Backyard Ultra, conceived by Barkley Marathon race director Gary Cantrell (aka “Lazarus Lake”). Traditionally, competitors run a distance of 4.167 miles every hour, on the hour, and the last man or woman “standing” or running, wins. (Running 24 hours of said laps equals 100 miles, but you needn’t go that long to appreciate the unique pacing and endurance challenge) In 2020, runners competed in Big’s Backyard Ultra virtually and from around the world. Many Backyard Ultras now exist, many of them happening virtually.   

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