From n=1 to n=10,000


The Ultra Ethnography arose out of an undergraduate thesis research project. That initial project followed a single subject (n=1) as he recovered and rehabilitated from a near-fatal accident that left him immobilized. The project documented the participant's physical, physiological, mental, and performative transformation over 10 months from one extreme of mobility to the other; that is, from not being able to move on his own to completing a 125km (78 mile) ultramarathon.


Like the career trajectory of many ultrarunners, The Ultra Ethnography has grown from the small steps of that first project through subsequently larger projects. The current study uses ethnographic methods to document and describe the experiences of those in the ultrarunning community on a global scale (ideally an n=10,000), exploring the nature of community: what draws individuals into the sport, how relationships are formed and maintained, how ultrarunners support one another, and what drives the practice of extreme endurance.


It is our hope to collect as many stories from the ultrarunning community as possible. Please consider participating and sharing the projet with others.

Ian MacNairn ultrarunning project description
Ian MacNairn ultrarunning project description
Rob Shaer Photography



Sport is a powerful vehicle for enriching individual and societal well-being and development. Participation in sport results in improved physical, mental, and social health for individuals, families, and societies. 2015 was recognized as the year of sport, recognizing, in part, the myriad contributions of sport both individually and societally.

The Ultra Ethnography explores the use of sport as a vehicle in building and developing community. Focus is placed on individual and organizational participation, with a view to discovering what community exists. The project will study the understanding of how a commitment to a diverse group is akin to what citizens must contend with in the global village.

Sport is social. Participants find community in participation. However, these communities are not based on shared kinship, ethnicity, culture or religion, as are traditional conceptions of community. Sport is a type of social phenomenon not predicated on the same values, norms and ideals that characterised the small scale, traditional societies in which humans developed and evolved. Sport produces a different sort of community.

Initial objectives are to:


(i) characterize the structure of ultrarunning social organization;


(ii) characterize, compare, and contrast the identity of ultrarunning groups at various levels of society; and,


(iii) document ultrarunners’ experience and understanding of community

The North Face Endurance Challenge