The 5 Hardest Trail and Ultra Races in the Northeast

The Northeast is home to trail and ultra races of all shapes and sizes, with varying distances, terrain and formats. Among these races, a few stand out as being particularly… sadistic. Races with such brutal conditions and demands that they seem more like a punishment than a fun time. While most people who hear about the pain and suffering involved in these races think “That is stupid,” there are those who instead say “Pain and suffering? Sign me up!” For those deranged souls, here are five of the Northeast’s most punishing trail and ultra races.

 

A runner cools off in a stream during the Eastern States 100. (Jeff Calvert/Eastern States 100 Photo)

 

Eastern States 100, Pennsylvania 

It might not be nearly as well known as its western cousin, but the Eastern States 100 is one of the most challenging 100-milers in the country. The race is held in August and features a 103-mile single loop trail that begins and ends at Pennsylvania’s scenic Little Pine State Park. The course boasts a total elevation gain of more than 20,000 feet, and it has a strict 36-hour cutoff. It’s also a qualifier for the iconic Western States 100.

 

Racers endure the unforgiving terrain at the Peak Bloodroot 100. (Luis Escobar/Peak Races Photo)

 

Peak Bloodroot Ultra, Vermont  

The Peak Bloodroot 100 isn’t your typical 100-mile ultra. Held annually each May in Vermont’s Green Mountains, this race features killer elevation and hellish terrain that make it one of the toughest 100-mile races in the country. Racers tackle 10-mile loops over Pittsfield, Vermont’s mountainous terrain. Complete the race, and you’ll have climbed the kind of elevation usually reserved for a Himalayan peak, all while enduring terrain filled with loose, jagged rocks, slippery, dangerous roots, and wildly unpredictable weather. If 100 miles seems too much, you can also try their 50-, 30- and 10-mile versions of the race. If 100 isn’t enough, some years they hold a 200- and even a 500-mile version.

 

Above: Ben Nephew, 13-time winner of the Escarpment Trail Run, navigates steep, rocky terrain. Top Feature Photo: A runner in the Escarpment Trail Run carefully approaches one of the trail’s dangerous descents. (Escarpment Trail Run Photos)

 

Escarpment Trail Run, New York

Sure, compared to the mileage of the other races on this list, New York’s Escarpment Trail Run might seem tame. After all, it’s only 18 miles. But what it lacks in distance, it makes up for in ridiculous terrain and a tight 6-hour cut-off. This single track trail in the northern Catskills crosses no roads and has total elevation changes of nearly 10,000 feet. It is extremely rocky and runners must expect to navigate over boulders, downed trees, gullies and hidden roots the entire distance. If that’s not tough enough, racers are also warned to be prepared to deal with bees (yes, bees), slippery rocks, porcupines, black bears and anything else that can be found in the Catskills’ wilderness. In many places, runners must climb hand-over-fist to scale a rise. There are sections of the course that travel along cliffs, and racers are cautioned that if they’re not careful, they could fall to their death. Fun. 

 

 

Infinitus, Vermont

Each spring, the Endurance Society holds a variety of rugged trail races in Brandon, Vermont, where their 100-mile race option is one of the shorter distances. While they offer race distances such as an 8-miler, a marathon and an 88K, they also offer a 250-miler and a deca-marathon, which is 10 marathons in 10 days. While that probably sounds challenging enough, their top event is an 888K in which racers must complete more than 500 miles in under the strict 240-hour cutoff. Understandably, this race has only had four finishers.

 

Self-Transcendence 3100-Mile Race, New York

Often described as the “Mount Everest of ultramarathons,” the Self-Transcendence 3100-Mile Race is the longest certified foot race in the world. It doesn’t take place on scenic, wilderness trails like most ultras. Instead, runners must circle the same short route around one city block in Queens, New York for up to 52 days. Not only must runners average roughly 60 miles a day for nearly two months, they also must endure the mind-numbing mental challenge of running 5,649 laps in the same scenery.