Of late I have been following trail and ultra running far more than I have in the past.

No longer is this an athletics discipline for just a few hardy types who were considered super tough, mentally and physically. Or, as thought by some, just crazy people who like inflicting pain on themselves.

Trail and ultra running these days has a huge following with distances going well beyond 100 miles covering some of the most amazing scenery and terrain.

Back in the day in the UK there were ultra classics such as the London to Brighton 53 miles, Woodford to Southend 40 and Two Bridges 36-miler, but ultra marathon races were few and far between, most of them being entirely on roads, and with far fewer people taking part. The three classics mentioned also no longer exist, although there is a 100k London to Brighton Trail race.

So why is ultra and trail running now so popular?

I watch a lot of running films on YouTube, many of them being produced by YouTubers of just average running ability who not only make some super films, but also demonstrate that it really is possible to complete such challenges for just about anyone who is prepared to test themselves. "If I can, then you can" so to speak.

So, with this in mind, I asked three ultra running friends.

Top Norfolk ultra runner Ian Thomas, a veteran of the 153-mile Sparthathlon said “There is a huge psychological element to ultra races and although I am myself competitive, it’s more about self-realisation and seeing just what I can achieve. We don’t know what our limitations are and every race is an opportunity to test ourselves whilst discovering what we are made of.”

Incidentally, Ian also holds several age group bests for ultra distance running as well as having completed the Badwater 135 last year through Death Valley, arguably the world’s toughest ultra marathon .

Another Norfolk Ultra running superstar is of course Mandy Foyster, record holder for running from Land's End to John O’Groats unassisted. However, Mandy has done so many amazing long distance runs over the years such as running from St Davids in Wales to Lowestoft (most westerly point in the UK to the most easterly), the mind-blowing 200-mile tunnel race (up and down the Coombe tunnel in Bath 100 times), plus the 100-mile Arc of Attrition ultra along the Cornish coast footpath and what really is one of the most extreme races in the UK, the 268-mile Spine Race, which follows the Pennine Way.

“Having ran marathons since the age of 17, I was looking for a new challenge and ultra marathons ticked the box for me,” she said. "For me it’s about the adventure and challenge along with a genuine love of running. I think all running distances are popular these days, but ultra running has become more accessible with beginner friendly races and generous time limits at some events. Once people have completed a few marathons, some then look for the next step up, which, of course, is an ultra. It is also something which people can do as they get older. If you can’t go any faster, it is possible to sometimes go further."

That last statement of Mandy’s is pretty much spot on. However, it really is all about being very careful when first taking one on, particularly when it comes to pace and nutrition. My first ultra race was the Nottingham to Grantham 33.5-mile Canal Race which I won, despite going off course on two occasions and adding around two miles to the distance. Why? Well because back then I lacked experience and just ran with my head down whilst running as hard as I could from start to finish. As for nutrition, the only thing I took on was water. Any further though, I am sure I would have paid for it. Making that step up and the transition from traditional distances to these ultra long races really does need to be thought about when it comes to how the body (and mind) needs to be trained.

One person who seems to have got it right is Craig Bowen Jones who, after running four sub-three hour marathons, made the decision to step up in distances, feeling he had just about gone as far as he could when it came to chasing marathon PBs.

“Personally, I have found it much easier doing ultras because the intensity isn’t the same," he said. " Not just the racing but the training too. For me, ultras are just about going from A to B in my own time and whilst I always want to give my very best, the only person I am racing is myself."

Whilst Craig says he is only challenging himself, I think it is fair to say he has had a fair bit of success too when it comes to high-placed finishing positions. His next outing is in three weeks’ time when running in the Tuscany Valley 100k World Series Trail race which also encompasses 7,000 feet of climbing.

Have a great running weekend everyone – however far you might be going.