The Ultra168 Top ‘Non-Ultras’

Here at Ultra168 we also like to run races below the official ‘ultra-distance’ (shhhh don’t tell anyone!), so in a change from the usual blabberings about ultras, for this feature we go short. For us, short(er) races are just as important as the megalong distances that we try our hand to a couple of times a year as it’s a good chance to build up some speed and also test yourself too ahead of the big dance, which ever dance that might be. You may have noticed on our Facebook page we asked you, our insightful readers to offer up some suggestions as to what races you believe are the best shorter ones around, and from this, we’ve complied a list of mainly Australian, but a few international ones too.

Of course, we accept that there are many other shorter races around the world, and we all have our own opinions as to which ones we think are the best. What we’ve tried to do here is offer a variety of different races that we hope you’ll find interesting and some day, will race too.

The Footpoint Shoe Clinic Trail Series, NSW

The Footpoint Shoe Clinic Race brings trail running to the heart of Sydney

There’s not too many races that can lay claim to having viewing of one of the most pictured buildings in the world. But this is precisely what the Footpoint Trail Series offers its competitors as it meanders its way through the inner city ‘bush’ of Sydney affording views of the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. Now locals may take this for granted, but as a foreign imposter, I have to pinch myself silly as I’m reminded of the fact that I’m so lucky to be running in an amazing city with these views.

The races, which have just started up are 5km and 10km and for the most part begin in Mosman/Balmoral, making their way up the headland and alongside the Harbour foreshore through singletrack bush area. The second race is just around the corner on May 6th, so if you’re keen, click here for more details.

The Running Wild NSW Series, NSW

Now in its second year, this series of races contains six short course and three longer course races. It’s hard to pick one of these as a standout so we thought we’d just include the lot, but our personal favs have to be the Kedumba half marathon, probably one of the toughest halves around, as well as the Mount Solitary race – technically an ultra, but who’s worried about a few kms!).

The Running Wild guys came along just at the right time. With so many people moving from a marathon, straight up to an ultra distance, there was a huge gap in between and these guys have filled it, as evidenced by the fact that they regularly get over 200 people per event. Coupled with the fact that all of this is staged at various locations in the Blue Mountains and you have the perfect recipe for successful race organisation.

The Puffing Billy Great Train Race, VIC

Making sure we show our Victorian cousins some love, the Puffing Billy Great Train race is described as Australia’s longest running ‘fun run’ and has its own rather unique twist. While competitors race each other, one of the major draw cards is the fact that competitors race against the steam locomotive, Puffing Billy, over 13.2 kilometres through the hills and fern gullies of the picturesque Dandenong Ranges from Belgrave to Emerald Lake Park. The race is on May 6th, but unfortunately has already sold out, and get this… over 3,200 people are entered to have a crack at beating the steam locomotive – how good is that? The Great Train Race is organised by Puffing Billy Railway volunteers and all proceeds go towards the maintenance of Puffing Billy’s family of locomotives. If you fancy some of this action, get yourself lined up for 2013.

Runners try their hand at going head to head with a steam engine - Puffing Billy

The Routeburn Classic, South Island, NZ

Showing the Kiwi love is the Routeburn Classic,  an ‘adventure run’ over New Zealand’s world-famous Routeburn Track. Staged in late April (be quick there are 14 spots left for this year’s run) it is an exclusive event and limited to 350 people. The track is 32 kilometers long and climbs to 1127 meters above sea level.

Stunna of a track along the Routeburn Classic


Set in a New Zealand National Park and inside a World Heritage Area in Fiordland on the south-west of New Zealands South Island. The event encompasses changing terrain from lush native bush to an exposed alpine environment. In sections it appears the track has been cut by nature rather than by man. There are some aggressive up hill climbs and a challenging technical down hill. The track for the most part is technical in nature with rocks and tree roots all a part of the challenge. The descent back to native forest follows rivers and waterfalls to the finish line.

The Grizzly – Devon, UK

Given that half  of Ultra168 hails from the Motherland, it wouldn’t be right unless we added in one of our own to the mix. The Grizzly, which is held in Devon, is a twenty-ish mile run of mud, hills, bogs and beaches. The 2012 edition has just been run, but for 2013 the hundreds of mud-tastic runners will be towing the line on March 10th. The people behind the scenes at the Grizzly go by names like ‘Dave the Dung-Beetle’ and ‘Lean Mean Runner-Bean’, meaning that this is no ordinary event.For more details if you’re ever in the UK in March and fancy a trot out, click here.

The Great Nosh – NSW

Put on by the Bennelong Northside Orienteers, this run is now in its staggering 38th year and remains a firm classic in the Sydney running calendar. Competitors can run or walk on a traffic-free course from Lindfield Oval via Roseville Bridge to Seaforth Oval through some of Sydney’s most spectacular bushland.  The course is 15.25km, mostly on bush tracks and fire trails, with some steep sections. This is another one that sells out faster than a fat kid can knock through 10 donuts, so if you’re keen, watch out for race day which is on Sunday 3rd June – entries open now.

The Coastal Classic, NSW

Up there for the views and scenery with the Footpoint Trail Series is the Coastal Classic, a 29km trail run along one of the most stunning tracks in Australia. It has everything to offer from rocky terrain, sand running and beaches, to cliff-tops, bushland, rainforest and steep hill inclines. The scenery is spectacular with breathtaking coastal views on the beach and from the cliff tops. This event sells out fast than an Apple fan-boy can get his arse down the Apple store before the launch of the next iPhone. The next event is on September 1st – be quick.

Moontrekker 40km – Hong Kong

We bet there are some pretty amazing view at Moontrekker

Now in its fourth year, the MoonTrekker race aims to challenge the hearts, minds and legs of Hong-Kong’s most intrepid adventurers. The 40km and the shorter 25km endurance hikes begin at 9:00pm/11:20pm in Mui Wo, on Lantau Island, and take participants though the island’s stunning scenic country trails. The last section of the route passes through the sleepy Po Lam Zen Monastery in Tai Tong Tsai and leads hikers up Hong Kong’s second highest peak—delivering racers to Hong Kong’s famous and best dawn panoramas. The question on most people’s lips as they make their way through the trails is whether they will it make home before sunrise? For further info, click here.

Willy to Billy – NSW

This one is a personal fav of mine, having run it twice, and all for a great cause too. This event has become one of the must do trail races in NSW for those that fancy a good old thrash before ultra season starts. The course distance is 34.4km, with 20kms of undulating hills, a few of them a little steep, along fire trails and bush. The last 15 km’s includes 8kms of downhill dirt road and then 7km graded ascent to the finish. It’s that final ascent that makes or breaks a runners race, and I remember pipping a certain Running Mad Kiwi to the line a few years back 🙂 Around 300 people will line-up for this one, and the next race date is on August 25th this year. if you’ve never done it before – do it.

City to Surf – NSW

You can’t have a non-ultra list without including the world’s largest participated run in the ranks. Whatever you might think of the race, it still draws around 70,000 people each from pram-pushers to the country’s elites. Starting at Hyde Park, the 14km route finishes on the infamous Bondi Beach with plenty of after-race refreshments consumed at some of the many bars on the strip. The next race is on August 12th.

The Lightening Strike (30km) – ACT

The Lightning Strike race is a 30km event starting in the Brindabella Mountain Range and running back to the Event Hub at Stromlo Forest Park. The course takes in some of the stunning features of the surrounding Canberra region and is designed to commemorate the 2003 Canberra Bush fires by starting close to the original lightning strike which ignited the fires. The event is part of the fast-growing Stromlo Running Festival, which contains a number of events, including an inaugural 12hr track race too. Held in February, you can find more details here.

We’re sure you all will have an opinion on this, so if you feel hard done by, or want to share a non-ultra with us, let us know about it!

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

17 thoughts on “The Ultra168 Top ‘Non-Ultras’

  1. Woodford to Glenbrook. Half a dozen nice runnable hills to start with and then the downhill starts. Guaranteed negative split for all runners. Always a great family vibe.
    Fitzroy Falls Fire Trail Marathon. First ever marathon and personal fav. Testing course, nothing technical about it. Few solid hills, lots of helpful vollies on the course and best of all, the post race best burgers on the circuit. All this for about $70 – bargain.

  2. I can highly recommend the Running Wild Series. I am a member and it is easily worth the drive from Sydney CBD. The organisors do a brilliant job in the Blue Mountains. A SPECTACULAR venue for trail running. Very much looking forward to season 3 later this year!

  3. you’d have to rate 6FT as a non-ultra too, surely Rod?
    : )

    The only reason you’d even think about rating Footpoint’s 10km ahead of Coastal Classic is if you can’t run the extra 20km. CC has such an awesome range of vegetation and actually hitting multiple headlands separated by sweet sand runs and temperate and subtropical vege is just an awesome reason to keep going as fast as you can to get to the next surprise.

    Routeburn gets far less attention here than Kepler which seems like the name race to do in NZ, but the course is just amazing – running along fairly narrow trail that’s not quite single under a giant rainbow-blowing waterfall, along cliff faces edged by cloud with dropdowns to gorgeous still lagoon, gnarly twisted sections of root-ravaged rocky Hobbit country, sweeping valley and mountain views whenever there isn’t a lush bit of mossy forest in your way, and water running beside sections of the path like a naturally carved mossy gutter. Just amazing – highly worth a visit and a run if you’re ever on the South Island.

    nice write-up Dan.

    1. PS FP’s 10km is a fun morning, and Footpoint is a great running store where everyone except Josh is awesome 😉 but Coastal Classic can’t be beat, even if it doesn’t feature a gorilla poo run-past.

      1. Having a 10 minute chat with roger is more challenging and scenic than all of the above mentioned races, that’s what’s so great about roger.
        I rate coastal classic out of all of these as well its an amazing run and for the ultra types you can always turn around and run back to your car.

    2. Cheers Roge. Also, just to let people know, these are not ranked in any particular order… just the order I wrote them down in 🙂 Like I Said, happily welcome other peoples thoughts and input too… I know the list is not exhaustive!

  4. Glad Moontrekker in Hong Kong got a mention. Hong Kong is packed with plenty of awesome trail races, but Moontrekker is unique in that it takes place at night. For a hilly Hong Kong race it also has very few steps (apart from the final gruelling climb) and steps are something that visiting Aussie runners often struggle with!


    1. The Routeburn is utter magic, NZ Mountain running at its best, great to see it made your list.

      PS: It looks like the photo you have of the Routeburn Classic is from the Speights Coast to Coast, just sayin.

      1. Fair call Charlie – I tend to forget about it (or perhaps deliberately ignore it), but you’re right; it can be absolutely disgusting. When I moved here my attitude was “I’m just here for two years so no problem”, after being here for six I’ve got to wonder what breathing in all that gunk is doing for my long term health. Still stairs were the main complaint of most of the overseas runners I spoke to after the HK 100 In February.

    1. Hi Jono, nice to have you come on an share some of your favourite European races. You are certainly spoilt for choice when it comes to stunning trails in your adopted backyard. Will you be heading over to Transvulcania and or Zegama to spectate and or run ?



  5. There is a nice weekend of running in the Lamington Classic. Two traverses of the Border Track between O’Reilly’s and Binna Burra, starting and finishing at the former, overnighting at the latter. 22 kilometres of trail heaven each way. An annual “must do” for aficionados.

  6. A few more great non-ultras from Hong Kong: King of the Hills full mountain “marathon” series are in the 34-38K range but feature 2000+ meter elevation gains and a hard core following; Lantau 2 Peaks is only 21K but goes up and over the 2nd and 3rd highest peaks in HK.

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