Participation and performance trends in 6-hour ultra-marathoners: A retrospective data analysis of worldwide participation from 1991-2010


  • Luca Ehrensperger University of Zurich, Switzerland
  • Beat Knechtle University of Zurich, Switzerland
  • Christoph Alexander Rüst University of Zurich, Switzerland
  • Thomas Rosemann University of Zurich, Switzerland



Ultra-Endurance, Running, Nationality, Age, Gender


Participation trends in 6-hour ultra-marathons held word-wide were investigated to gain basic demographic data on 6-hour ultra-marathoners and where these races took place. Participation trends and the association between nationality and race performance were investigated in all 6-hour races held worldwide between 1991 and 2010. Participation increased linearly in both women and men across years. The annual number of finishes was significantly higher in men than in women (P=0.013). The male-to-female ratio remained stable at ~4 since 1991. Runners in age group 45-49 years showed the largest increase in participation for both men (800 participants in 18 years) and women (208 participants in 16 years). Europe attracted most of the runners from other continents (166 runners), more than all other continents combined (55 runners). European runners also showed the best top ten performances (73±3 km for women and 77±11 km for men), while African (with 65±9 km for men) and South American (54±4 km for women and 65±2 km for men) runners showed the weakest. To summarize, participation in 6-hour ultra-marathons increased across years. Most of the development took place in Europe and in athletes in the age group 45-49 years. Europe also attracted the most diverse field of athletes with runners from all other continents. European runners accounted for the most runners and achieved the best top ten performances.


Download data is not yet available.


ABOU SHOAK M, KNECHTLE B, RÜST CA, LEPERS R, ROSEMANN T. European dominance in multistage ultramarathons: an analysis of finisher rate and performance trends from 1992 to 2010. Open Access J Sports Med. 2013;4:9-18.

BAKER J, HORTON S. East African running dominance revisited: a role for stereotype threat? Br J Sports Med. 2003;37:553-5.

COETZER P, NOAKES TD, SANDERS B, LAMBERT MI, BOSCH AN, WIGGINS T, DENNIS SC. Superior fatigue resistance of elite black South African distance runners. J Appl Physiol. 1993;75:1822-7.

DUV: Deutsche Ultramarathon-Vereinigung, Retrieved from in December 2010

EICHENBERGER E, KNECHTLE B, RÜST CA, LEPERS R, ROSEMANN T, ONYWERA VO. The aspect of nationality and performance in a mountain ultra-marathon – the 'Swiss Alpine Marathon'. J Hum Sport Exerc. 2013;7:748-62.

HERBST L, KNECHTLE B, LOPEZ CL, ANDONIE JL, FRAIRE OS, KOHLER G, RÜST CA, ROSEMANN T. Pacing strategy and change in body composition during a Deca Iron Triathlon. Chin J Physiol. 2011;54:255-63.

HOFFMAN MD. Performance trends in 161-km ultramarathons. Int J Sports Med. 2010;31:31-7.

HOFFMAN MD, WEGELIN JA. The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run: participation and performance trends. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41:2191-8.

JOKL P, SETHI PM, COOPER AJ. Master's performance in the New York City Marathon 1983-1999. Br J Sports Med. 2004;38:408-12.

KNECHTLE B, KNECHTLE P, LEPERS R. Participation and performance trends in ultra triathlon from 1985 to 2009. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2011a;21:e82-90.

KNECHTLE B, KNECHTLE P, ROSEMANN T. Race performance in male mountain ultra-marathoners: anthropometry or training? Percept Mot Skills. 2010a;110:721-35.

KNECHTLE B, KNECHTLE P, ROSEMANN T, LEPERS R. Predictor variables for a 100-km race time in male ultra-marathoners. Percept Mot Skills. 2010b;111:681-93.

KNECHTLE B, KNECHTLE P, ROSEMANNT, SENN O. Personal best time and training volume, not anthropometry, is related to race performance in the 'Swiss Bike Masters' mountain bike ultramarathon. J Strength Cond Res. 2011b;25:1312-7.

KNECHTLE B, RÜST CA, ROSEMANN T, LEPERS R. Age-related changes in 100-km ultra-marathon running performance. Age (Dordr). 2012;34:1033-45.

KNECHTLE B, RÜST CA, ROSEMANN T. The aspect of nationality in participation and performance in ultra-marathon running – a comparison between 'Badwater' and 'Spartathlon'

Knechtle B, Rüst CA, Rosemann T. OA Sports Medicine. 2013;1:1.

KROUSE RZ, RANSDELL LB, LUCAS SM, PRITCHARD ME. Motivation, goal orientation, coaching, and training habits of women ultrarunners. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25:2835-42.

LARSEN HB. Kenyan dominance in distance running. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2003;136:161-70.

LAZZER S, SALVADEGO D, REJC E, BUGLIONE A, ANTONUTTO G, DI PRAMPERO PE. The energetics of ultra-endurance running. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011; 112:1709-15.

LEE MS, TANAKA K. Significance of health fitness appraisal in an aging society. Appl Human Sci. 1997;16:123-31.

LEPERS R, CATTAGNI T. Do older athletes reach limits in their performance during marathon running? Age (Dordr). 2012;34:773-81.

LEPERS R, KNECHTLE B, KNECHTLE P, ROSEMANN T. Analysis of ultra-triathlon performances. Open Access J Sports Med. 2011;2:131-136.

LEPERS R, MAFFIULETTI NA. Age and gender interactions in ultraendurance performance: insight from the triathlon. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43:134-9.

LUCIA A, ESTEVE-LANAO J, OLIVÁN J, GÓMEZ-GALLEGO F, SAN JUAN AF, SANTIAGO C, PÉREZ M, CHAMORRO-VIÑA C, FOSTER C. Physiological characteristic of the best Eritrean runners-exceptional running economy. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2006;31:530-40.

MILLET GY, BANFI JC, KERHERVE H, MORIN JB, VINCENT L, ESTRADE C, GEYSSANT A, FEASSON L. Physiological and biological factors associated with a 24 h treadmill ultra-marathon performance. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2011;21:54-61.

ONYWERA VO, SCOTT RA, BOIT MK, PITSILADIS YP. Demographic characteristics of elite Kenyan endurance runners. J Sports Sci. 2006;24:415-22.

PARISE CA, HOFFMAN MD. Influence of temperature and performance level on pacing a 161 km trail ultramarathon. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2011;6:243-51.

PARRY D, CHINNASAMY C, PAPADOPOULOU E, NOAKES T, MICKLEREIGHT D. Cognition and performance: anxiety, mood and perceived exertion among Ironman triathletes. Br J Sports Med. 2011;45:1088-94.

RAPOPORT BI. Metabolic factors limiting performance in marathon runners. PLoS Comput Biol. 2010;6:e1000960.

RUIZ-JUAN F, SANCHO AZ. Predictor variable of motivation on Spanish master athletes. J Hum Sport Exerc. 2012;7:617-28.

SALTIN B, LARSEN H, TERRADOS N, BANGSBO J, BAK T, KIM CK, SVEDENHAG J, ROLF CJ. Aerobic exercise capacity at sea level and at altitude in Kenyan boys, junior and senior runners compared with Scandinavian runners. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 1995;5:209-21.

SCOTT RA, GEORGIADES E, WILSON RH, GOODWIN WH, WOLDE B, PITSILADIS YP. Demographic characteristics of elite Ethiopian endurance runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003;35:1727-32.

SIGG K, KNECHTLE B, RÜST CA, LEPERS R, ROSEMANN T. Central European triathletes dominate Double Iron ultratriathlon - analysis of participation and performance 1985 – 2011. Open Access J Sports Med. 2012;3:159-68.

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc (2012). List of countries by life expectancy Retrieved from

ZARYSKI C, SMITH DJ. Training principles and issues for ultra-endurance athletes. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2005;4:165-70.



Statistics RUA



How to Cite

Ehrensperger, L., Knechtle, B., Rüst, C. A., & Rosemann, T. (2013). Participation and performance trends in 6-hour ultra-marathoners: A retrospective data analysis of worldwide participation from 1991-2010. Journal of Human Sport and Exercise, 8(4), 905–924.



Performance Analysis of Sport

Similar Articles

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.

Most read articles by the same author(s)