Which is Harder to Run – 5k, Marathon or the Ultra?

I’ve seen this question discussed online so many times recently. Which run is harder to do – the 5k, marathon, or ultra marathon? Now I’m no qualified expert, but I have run each of these events to the best of my ability at that time, so I’m at least entitled to an opinion and will now share it. Silence haters 🙂 This is purely a bit of fun, nothing more. Although the question is really unanswerable, it is quite interesting to debate with other runners. I think requires more than just a simple answer alone though so here goes.


start100milerDisclaimer: this is based on my own experiences. There is no ‘one answer fits all’ to this question so it can’t really be discussed in any seriousness. It’s pretty entertaining to think about though, and a question that often comes in various other forms. For example – who would win in a mile race – Farah or Bolt? That would be something fantastic to watch. In some ways the answer to the question – which is the hardest distance, is really easy if you look at it from a ‘run effort’ perspective because I think the 5k would win hands down. And then in other ways it is more difficult to answer if you take into consideration some of the MANY other aspects of running or racing longer distances which when it comes to those events are as important as pace and effort. So late one night when I couldn’t sleep, I made some notes at the side of my bed (which in turn helped me get to sleep!). I took a number of things into consideration and made a quick scoring system for the three distances. Before I begin, if my scoring system invokes any anger then just stop reading 😉 All running at effort is hard. I get it. It’s all different for everyone and the ability to push harder at different levels varies so much as well. From super fast elite athletes to people just starting out – all very different efforts and perspectives. But we’re doing this just for fun yes? This is only my own personal experiences based on these distances. Each of them I have run very hard. Oh, and also, for this particular piece, let’s call the ultra distance at 100 miles just to be safe.


So we have 3.1 miles, 26.2 miles and finally 100 miles. Which is harder? I’ve broken this down into three areas, and those three areas into a couple more areas and scored those each out of 10 (1 being less – 10 being more)


1. The Training: [A – Time Required] [B – Running Effort] [C – Preparation]
2. The Race: [A – Time Running] [B – Running Effort] [C – Preparation]
3. The Recovery: [A – Time Recovering] [B – Affect on Body]


parkrunYes yes yes, I know that some of these are different for everyone but before getting all pitch- forky on me remember, this is based on my own experiences only. I know that “Time Required” will vary a lot. For example – someone running an overseas marathon would have a higher score for preparation than someone running one on their door step locally. It’s not a perfect scoring system, but incorporates more thought than just stating what’s harder based on pain levels experienced. Hopefully with the different categories it will all weigh out a bit more evenly. What might be interesting though, is the end result from my own experiences, so if you want to see that do continue.



This is what I scored for each. Note I award an additional +2 points where I feel the score out of ten just isn’t enough. I can do that. I’m the boss here 🙂




For me, it’s easy to see the much lower score of 40 overall for the 5k as opposed to the much higher scores of 70 and 84 for the marathon and hundred mile races. But then looking in more detail you’ll see similarities between overall scores with the marathon and ultra marathon for example when it comes to the actual event itself. I scored those almost equally with 28 and 29, but the 5k was still lower than that at 20, even with a 10+2 points for running effort. I guess where the 5k is fast and brutal it definitely shows in the scoring, although with my other categories listed it comes out much lower in overall score. My results show that the ultra marathon for me takes the cake by some way when it comes to training and recovering, which puts it ahead overall. The marathon is close to it and more painful but the the other categories bring it down in comparison. There you go. If you want a small serving of sharp and fast pain, run a fast 5k. It will hurt. If you want a large helping of pain and long hours, enter a marathon or if you want to go extra large with fries and milkshake and experience a long lasting pain, it’s the ultra.  How would you score each?


Moral of the story? Run all of these distances yourself and you’ll be able to make up your own mind. It will be different for us all and to be honest it doesn’t matter which is the hardest or toughest race. It’s all in the eye of the beholder. The only important thing is that all of the distances you run are awesome and fulfil you. Happy running all!