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Going the distance; The marathon used to be considered the ultimate running challenge. But Scotland is in the forefront of a boom in ultra events which test athletes to their limits.

Byline: FIONA RUSSELL

Scotland is now home to an amazing 37 ultramarathon races - and boasts a fastgrowing community of long-distance runners.

Many races have sell-out entries and some operate a ballot system due to huge demand.

Yet these events require a great deal of dedication from runners, with distances ranging from 30 miles to more than 200 miles.

The original race and still the grandaddy of them all is the 95-mile West Highland Way Race.

It was in 1985 that the WHW event started when Lochaber runner Duncan Watson challenged Bobby Shields of the Clydeside Harriers to a race from Milngavie to Fort William.

A few friends joined them and, in the following years, a challenge took place on the Saturday nearest to the summer solstice along the length of the famous long-distance trail.

Over the next two decades, several other races joined the Scottish ultras stable, yet it remained a minority sport.

It was in 2006 when Scottish ultra running started to become a lot more popular.

WHW race director Ian Beattie said: "Credit for an ultra running boom in Scotland must go to Murdo MacDonald, who used to be the race director of the Highland Fling.

"His partner at the time was running the WHW Race and although he was not a runner, he thought it would be a good idea to have a long training race about eight weeks before the WHW Race.

"That was the 53-mile Highland Fling, which took place for the first time with 17 runners. Today - incredibly - this race has more than 1000 entries."

Murdo went on to set up a is a than the traditional length of 26.2 some ultra runners it is an event longer than Scottish Ultra Marathon Series (SUMS) and encouraged people he knew from the ultra community to organise other races.

In 2018, Ben Finch, founder of September's 30 and 50-mile Ochil races, plans to launch the Ben Vorlich Ultra.

Entries have also opened for the longest Scottish ultra race yet, the 215-mile Race Across Scotland in August 2018.

Ben said: "I think Scotland's ultra running success story comes down to two main factors. The first is the beauty of the scenery. If you are running a long way, it's preferable to have a good distraction.

"Also, for race organisers, the Scottish Outdoor Access Code makes it much easier to plan a route and gain permission from land owners."

Ian added: "The quality of race organisation in Scotland is very high and all of the race organisers get on well and help out at each other's races. Races are being organised by people or ultra foot race longer marathon miles.However, insist that - and gaining race volunteers - who really understand ultra running." Perceptions of runners and distances have also changed.

Ian said: "People are realising that a marathon is the not the ultimate achievement in distance running."

A great example of a top ultra runner is Debbie Martin Consani, 42, from Glasgow.

She said: "When I first started ultra running 10 years ago, there were only a few races available.

"Now there are almost 40 races in Scotland and the increase in events and entries speaks volumes about the growth of the sport in general.

"Our country is famed for its beautiful scenery and majestic mountains and I can't imagine a better way to see Scotland than on foot."

or a list of all ultra races, see www.sumseries.com nFor a full list of Scots ultra races, www.fionaoutdoors.co.uk/2017/10/list-of-scottishultra-marathons-2018

ultra What is an ultra distance race? An ultramarathon, also called ultra distance or ultra running, is a foot race longer than the traditional marathon length of 26.2 miles.However, some ultra runners insist that it is an event which is longer than 30 miles.

CAPTION(S):

MILES OF FUN Original West Highland Way Race is still most popular ultramarathon

TEAM EFFORT Ultra runners celebrate finishing 95-mile West Highland Way Race
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 29, 2017
Words:660
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