Trail running

Official website: International Trail Running Association

How it works

Trail running takes place on different types of natural off-road terrain (sand, dirt roads, forest paths, single track footpaths, snow trails etc), and in various kinds of environment (mountains, forests, plains, deserts, etc). Trail running races do not have limits on the distance or elevation gain or loss, and the properly marked course must represent a logical discovery of a region.

Trail running races do not require the use of specific equipment to complete the course, such as rock climbing or mountaineering equipment. However, the use of hiking poles may be permitted.

Competitions shall be based on the concept of self-sufficiency, meaning that the athletes will have to be autonomous between aid stations in terms of gear, communications, food and drink.


Since the mid-1990s, the popularity of trail running has grown at a rate of 15% each year for the past decade and the future looks even brighter as new countries and entrants discover the joy of running in the environment, with the current estimates at 20 million trail-runners worldwide. The International Trail Running Association (ITRA) was founded in 2013, with the aim to promote trail running around the world and give voice to all parties involved in the sport. In 2015, trail running was recognised by World Athletics as a discipline of athletics. Today ITRA is World Athletics' partner for the management of trail running worldwide.

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact birth date of trail running; however, the first organised races took place in the United States in California with the Dipsea Trail Race. The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (1974) and Leadville Trail 100 (1983) are also among the pioneers of this sport, followed closely by the Marathon des Sables in Morocco (1986) and the Grand Raid de La Réunion (1989).

Trail running experienced a boom in the 2000s in Europe with the first edition of the UTMB® in 2003, then followed by many other races. Today trail running is quickly expanding into Asia and South America and has become one of the fastest growing sports in the world.

Did you know?

ITRA developed criteria to help assess and certify routes, thereby providing an accurate idea of the effort involved. This service certifies the distance, the elevation gain and loss and supplies an evaluation of the race's level of difficulty by rating it on a scale from 0 to 6 points. Discover more here.

Trail running races are also classified according to their distance. You can find a global list of all these races on ITRA's international trail races calendar.

As trail running takes place on different terrain, conditions and technicality, it is not possible to directly compare the times in two different races. To overcome this, ITRA has developed a ranking system to evaluate the performance of each trail runner called the performance index (PI). This PI can be used to compare the speed of all trail runners, at all levels, from all around the world, even of athletes who have never run the in same race. See the world’s top ranked trail runners on the official ITRA performance index.

Gold standard

Kilian Jornet Burgada has won all the hardest and most prestigious trail races in the world. His wins span a wide range of distances and varying types of terrain, making him one of the true masters of the sport. Kilian has finished more than 50 races with an ITRA score above 900 ITRA. Jim Walmsley is the fastest trail runner in long-distances races. His 2019 victory in the Western States Endurance Run gave him the highest ever ITRA score of 966.

Meghan Kimmel from the United States is the most successful and consistently high performing woman over the past 10 years. She shines in highly technical, medium distance trail races and has many notable victories such as Marathon du Mont Blanc in 2017. New Zealander Ruth Croft currently represents the highest level of trail running. With a general performance index of 800, she won the CCC® in 2015 and the OCC® twice, first in 2018 and again in 2019 where she attained an ITRA score of 820.


Ann Trason

Between 1989 and 2003 Ann Trason recorded 14 victories and held the course record for 18 years at the Western States Endurance Run, one of the most sought-after races in the world, placing her amongst the legends of trail running.

Dawa Dachhiri Sherpa

Dawa Dachhiri Sherpa from Nepal has been competing in trail races for more than 20 years and has marked his place in the history of trail running with more than 100 career wins, including the symbolic first edition of UTMB® in 2003.