Who is who in “Trail Running”

Some call it trail running, others mountain running, even running in the mountains or skyrunning, or fellrunning. Whatever you call the action of running in a outdoor space in a natural surface it’s not a single discipline but a complete and complexe sport. For simplification of the matter, from now on, in this article I will use the term “trail running” to talk about the globality of those namings.

Discipline vs Sport: To make it easy, we all know that Usain Bolt and Eliud Kipchoge did athletics, they run, but we also understand that they don’t do the same discipline. In trail running is the same. Trail running is not a discipline of running but a sport in its hole, and to pretend that what Urban Zemmer and François d’Haene do is the same is to not have a real picture of the different disciplines of the sport.

That said, as a old sport who was not very popular profitable until the early 2000’s, the structure of the competitions is been changing constantly. New federations or private institutions have entered to be part of it and the disciplines has been blurry because of it. We often get confused because in a single year they’re several world champions and some times in the same distance but under different umbrellas. Here you can see an explanation of who is who in trail running today, to understand better the different disciplines, circuits and federations.

A few important concepts to start:

Distance: Short distance: under 20km- middle distance: 20-50km – long distance: 50-100km – Ultra: over 100km

Technicality: is the technical dificulty of the route, in this page we will use Easy (1) / Intermediate (2-3) / Difficult (4-5). For more information you can read this article: trail running label

Type of competition: a Circuit is a series of races where the addition of all or several races results determines the final rank. A Championship is a single race.

History: It is important to know where we come from to understand why and how we are. Here a uncomplete history of competitions.


List of International Circuits (4)

*UTMB World Series is not a Circuit but a series of events to qualify for a championship.

List of International Championships (10)

MOUNTAIN & TRAIL RUNNING CHAMPIONSHIPS: (WMRA, ITRA, IAU, World Athletics) Participation by National federations.

  • Classic Mountain Running ( ca.12km-600-1000m, non technical) categories: M, W, U20M, U20W
  • Uphill Mountain Running ( ca.4-7km, 700-1,000m, non technical) categories: M, W
  • Short Trail Running (ca. 40km, 2,000-3,000m) categories: M, W
  • Long Trail Running (ca. 80km, 3,500-6,000m)

SKYRUNNING WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: (ISF) Participation by National federations.

  • Vertical Kilometer (ca 2-4km, 1000m) categories: M, W, U23, U20, U17
  • Skyrace (20 to 49km, >1200m, technical) categories M, W // U23, U20 and U17 in shorter distances.
  • Sky Ultra (50 to 99km > 3,000m, technical) categories: M, W

UTMB WORLD: (UTMB Series, Private) Participation by qualification in the series (open)

  • 50K (OCC, 55km, 3500m ) categories: M, W,
  • 100K (CCC, 100km, 6100m) categories M, W
  • 100M (UTMB 170km 10.000m) categories: M, W

They are some other circuits and championships that haven’t reached much attention like the Spartan Trail World Championship or the XTerra trail running world championships.

Mountain Running World CupCupWMRAShort115 races1985Openhttps://www.wmra.info
World Mountain & Trail Running ChampionshipsChampionshipWMRA+ITRA+World Athletics+IAUShort, middle, Long1-24 (Short, Uphill, middle, long)1985/2012National teamshttps://www.worldathletics.org/hosting/iaaf-events/world-mountain-and-trail-running-championships
Skyrunner World SeriesCup ISF- UIAAMiddle3-515 races1995Openhttps://www.skyrunnerworldseries.com
World Skyrunning ChampsChampionshipsISF – UIAAShort-Middle, long3-53 (Skyrace, Skyultra, VK)1995National teamshttps://www.skyrunning.com
UTMB WorldChampionshipsPrivateMiddle, Long, Ultra1-2+30 selection races and 3 finals (50-100-160k)2003/ 2022Openhttps://utmbworld.com
Golden Trail SeriesCupPrivateMiddle1-35+final2018Openhttps://www.goldentrailseries.com
Spartan Trail World ChampionshipCupPrivateMiddle – Long10 races2021Openhttps://www.spartan.com/pages/trail-world-championship
XTERRA Trail Running World Championship ChampionshipPrivateShort1 raceOpenhttps://www.xterraplanet.com/trailrunworlds