Runners in action during the Marathon of Mont Blanc (AFP / Getty Images)

Mountain Running

Mountain and Trail Running

Official website: World Mountain Running Association
Official website: International Trail Running Association

How it works

Mountain and trail running is a form of endurance running where athletes race each other to record the fastest time over a set course. In the shorter events women and men race separately and in the longer ones they run together.

The discipline takes place on various types of natural terrain (sand, dirt, forest paths, single track footpaths, snow trails, etc) and in various kinds of environment (mountains, forests, plains, deserts, etc). While some races call themselves mountain races and some trail races, there is often considerable overlap.

Races take place mostly on off-road surfaces, however sections of paved surfaces (e.g. asphalt, concrete, macadam, etc) are acceptable as a way to reach or link the trails of the course but should be kept to a minimum and not exceed 25% of the total length. Preferably existing roads and trails should be used. 

Courses must be laid out and marked in such a way that no navigation skills will be required from the athletes or require the use of specific equipment, such as mountaineering equipment. The use of hiking poles is permitted at the discretion of the race organiser, especially in longer races. Again, especially in longer races, the race organiser may recommend or impose mandatory equipment, such as minimum clothing, windjackets, headlamps, water and food, due to the conditions expected to be encountered during the event.

Courses must be designed to ensure the safety of athletes and officials. Specific conditions, such as high altitude, changing weather conditions and available infrastructure, should be respected. Importantly, they should be designed to both showcase the natural environment of the host venue and fully respect the natural environment within which the events take place.

For the World Championships, races are held over the distances stated in the table below, and all courses must be measured in such a way as to create an accurate GPX track file that provides distance and elevation (gain and loss).

Race Distance Elevation Ideal men's winning time
Long Trail 75-85km 3500m-6000m 7hr 45 to 8hr 15
Short Trail 35-45km 2000m-3000m 3hr 45 to 4hr 15
Senior Classic
(up and down)
12-15km 600m-900m 55-60 minutes
Junior Classic
(up and down)
5-7km 300m-450m 25-30 minutes
Senior Uphill 4-7km 700m-1000m
(average incline should be more than 10%)
40-50 minutes


Mountain and trail running have a long history. Distance runners have long run on trails to train and have done so in the mountains to prepare for other events. Formally the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) was born in 1984 as the International Committee of Mountain Running (ICMR). In 1985, it first staged ‘the World Trophy’, attracting entries from more than 30 countries. In 2002, the IAAF (now World Athletics) Congress officially recognised it as an International Competition and in 2009 the name was changed to the Mountain Running World Championships.

It is difficult to pinpoint the first formal trail running races. Perhaps the earliest known is the Dipsea Trail Race dating from 1905. Other well-known events started in the 1970s, including the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (1974) and Sierre Zinal (1977).

Trail running experienced a boom in the 2000s, with the first edition of the UTMB® in 2003. 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, and the first World Trail Running Championships was held in 2007. 

In 2017, recognising the similarities and overlap between mountain running and trail running, World Athletics, WMRA and ITRA worked together to create one definition, Rule 57 of the World Athletics rule book, and in 2021 the first ever combined world championships was held – the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships (WMTRC) in Thailand.

This event, delayed one year by Covid, was part of the realigned global calendar, with the WMTRC being held in even years, and regional championships in odd years (the European championships is called the European Athletics Off Road Running Championship).

Did you know

As well as the world and regional championships, mountain and trail runners are able to take part in a number of annual global series such as the WMRA World Cup, the World Trail Majors, the Golden Trail Series and the UTMB series.

Runners’ performances are ranked both by ITRA’s Performance Index (which evaluates the performance of each runner and can be used to compare the speed of all runners, at all levels, from all around the world, even of athletes who have never run the in same race) and the WMRA World Ranking (based on race performances).


Marco De Gasperi

De Gasperi won six individual gold medals at the World Championships: five in the senior category (1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2007 – all up and down races) and one in the junior division (1996 – uphill race).

As a member of the Italian team he also won a lot of gold medals, 11 gold as a senior (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2011) plus two gold as a junior (1995 and 1996). Note: in 2005 he didn’t run the World Mountain Running Championships.

De Gasperi also won three silver medals (2006, 2009, 2012) and one bronze as a member of the Italian senior team (2010). In total, he won 23 medals (19 gold, three silver and one bronze) at the World Championships.

Isabelle Guillot

At the World Championships Isabelle Guillot won four gold medals (1989, 1991, 1993 and 1997) which is the same as two other women, Austrians Gudrun Pflueger (1992, 1994, 1995, 1996) and Andrea Mayr (2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012).

Individually Guillot won also three silver (1994, 1995 and 1996) and two bronze (1988 and 2006). As a member of the French team, Guillot won four gold, one silver and three bronze, while as members of the Austrian Team Pflueger won one gold and two silver and Mayr won only two silver medals.