Damian Hall: The best ultramarathons of 2024/25

May 15, 2024 4 min read

Damian Hall: The best ultramarathons of 2024/25

UTMB "Yeah but have you got any macaroons left?" © Andy Jackson

Yikes. I’ve just realised I’m into my thirteen year of running ultramarathons, clocking up fifty-eight to date. Be warned kids, it hasn't reduced the visible effects of ageing. You'd think, perhaps, I'd have done fifty-plus different races, but I've got into the habit of going back to my favourites and doing them over and over again. I'm a bit stupid like that. Ultramarathons have made me that way. Anyhoo, here are my ten faves ...

The Winter Spine Race
Being new to ultramarathons but having hiked the 268-mile Pennine Way (to research a guidebook), I was fascinated by the Spine Race when I saw the idea announced in a magazine. I thought it was borderline impossible and defo insane. I followed the first two, 2012 and 2013, via social media, even if it was only occasional updates (tantalisingly without any pics) and poured over those pioneer blogs. In 2014 I was on the start line, despite only having completed four ultramarathons and only one 100 miler. I just couldn’t resist. It was every bit the wind-hammered, soaked-to-the-bone adventure I wanted. And I was back again in 2015. And 2022 and 2023 and 2024. It’s the historical route, the drama of winter, the lunacy of the challenge, but also the people. The volunteers are just the kindest and I’ve met some great friends at the Spine Race, including Beth Pascall, who summed it up best: “It was awful. But amazing.”

UTMB
The de facto trail running world championships, on the Tour du Mont Blanc hiking trail around Western Europe’s highest peak, was my second ultrarunning obsession. I first did the 105-mile race in 2015 and just could not believe the size of the climbs and subsequent ouchy descents. But also the size of the generous crowds, plus it has the most competitive field, so I could race the best in the sport. I returned the three following years, culminating in my 2018 result, the topic of an award-winning film, Summit Fever Media’s Underdog. Having a high-carbon sponsor in a climate and ecological emergency, among other things, has changed my feelings towards the event and I’ve boycotted it for now. But despite several recent management decisions leaving a bad taste in the mouth, the race itself is still an amazing experience.

Dragon’s Back Race
The concept of running down the mountainous spine of Wales is compelling enough. But the fact Shane Ohly was resurrecting a fell race so tough there was a twenty-year gap before is was repeated only added to the intrigue when I lined up for the third edition in 2015. The scenery is as rugged as it is fantastical and the multi-stage format means lots of hanging about in camp eating copious chips with new chums. Hmmmm chips.

The Highland Fling
Fifty-three miles on the West Highland Way from Milngavie to Tyndrum, this Scottish race is impeccably organised with a jovial atmosphere. Fast trails are only interrupted by one real hill, often alongside a glassy Loch Lommand, with free nosh and booze at the afterparty – including a Cèilidh – once you’ve scampered down that famous red carpet. It's also non-profit. A must-do.

Lakes In A Day
A really satisfying route, from the top of the Lake District to the bottom. But it’s also a race of two halves; the first on the fells (some self-navigation required), including the technical Halls Fell, where I always feel especially self-conscious about getting airborne. Then from Ambleside, it's more of a trail race on undulating hills, a marked route and faster running if your legs are fresh. The problem is, they won’t be. By then they’ll be trashed. Ho hum.

Ultra Tour Monte Rosa
Created by five-time UTMB-winner Lizzy Hawker on her favourite training route. The 100-mile UTMR through Switzerland and Italy is more beautiful, has bigger climbs, tougher terrain (including a glacier crossing) and more wildlife than it’s near-namesake in Chamonix. Plus you won’t get a cowbell headache. Can’t recommend it enough.

Cervino Matterhorn Ultra Race
A new 100-miler starting in Italy’s Cervino and popping over into Switzerland, broadly following the Tour del Cervino and overlapping with parts of the UTMR course. It’s thrillingly technical in places, has two glacier crossings, goes to over 3,000m three times, boasts 36,000ft of vert. with plenty of epic scenery. If you’re gonna hurt, it may as well be somewhere beautiful.

Tor des Géants
Talking of which, my current favourite race is Italy’s 330K Tor of Giants, which I’ll return to for a third gloriously hurty outing this September. Starting and finishing in Courmayeur, it follows hiking trails around the huge and pointy Aosta Valley, with shed loads of vert., technical terrain and some potentially tricky altitude. At times it feels like a tour of remote, welcoming refugios. It’s ruddy gorgeous, though sleep deprivation and hallucinations are rife and can make you forget who you are and what you're doing.

The Fellsman
This British classic, 100K through the Yorkshire Dales, has been going since 1962 and is organised by the Scouts. Refreshingly low-key (they only introduced live tracking in 2022), the race is self-navigating but it’s not so tricky and GPS is allowed, with tons of friendly, well-stocked check points. Cracking scenery and a cracking day out. Plus the winner gets an axe (to borrow).

The Barkley Marathons
It is a shame more runners don’t get to experience this mysterious, unique and very special race, but there are good reasons why. Only forty can start, limitations placed on the event due to ecological sensitive areas in Tennessee's Frozen Head State Park. The challenge is next-to impossible, with a tight time limit, very steep terrain and the accelerated mental fatigue from navigation. The Barkley has a friendly and intimate atmosphere that’s somehow both comedic and serious at the same time. So few get a chance to experience a book-bothering loop. I feel very fortunate to have had a go. It's best thought of as a deliberately confusing outdoor library.