The 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 some 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.

Manitou’s Revenge, New York

Grueling. Gnarly. Nasty. That’s how the organizers of Manitou’s Revenge describe their 54-mile ultramarathon in the Catskills, and it’s certainly accurate given the 15,000 feet of climbing, much of it steep and sometimes hand over hand. If that isn’t bad enough, the course gets progressively more difficult as you go along. Given the difficult and often remote course, aid stations are few and far between, so racers are expected to be reasonably self-sufficient. Runners have 23 hours to complete the course, which they often need on this brutal course. At least the scenery is beautiful, if you can wipe away your tears long enough to enjoy it.

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, they hold a 200-mile version every other year.

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. 

The swag at Vermont’s Devil’s Den Ultra is unparalleled. (Race Mozey Photo)

Devil’s Den Ultra, Vermont

This ultra in early October takes place during peak foliage season on Wright Mountain in Bradford, Vermont. Sounds nice, right? Think again, as this aptly-named event is like a journey through Hell, with repeated steep, leg-burning climbs. The event features a six-mile course with 1,600 feet of elevation each loop. And it piles up fast. Runners can sign up for multiple laps for 30 hours, 12 hours, or a single six-mile loop. To be an official finisher of the 30-hour length, runners must complete a 50K, while 12-hour runners need to be an active participant for the entire 12-hours. For 30-hour runners, if the repeated climbs don’t make you question reality, the appearance along the course overnight of skeletons, severed arms, and disembodied heads, courtesy of the race director’s sense of humor (it is October, after all) will make you wonder if you’re hallucinating. 

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 a handful of finishers.

Jigger Johnson 100, New Hampshire

This 100-mile race isn’t just one of the toughest 100-milers in the Northeast, it’s one of the hardest in the world. This out-and-back race through New Hampshire’s White Mountains is actually 112 miles and includes a horrifying 32,000 feet of elevation gain. The course starts at Waterville Valley and travels to the South Moat trailhead and back. The event also has a 50-mile and 20-mile option. The 50-mile is actually 56 miles with 16,000 feet of gain.

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.

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