Mark Hartell, right, leads the Fellsman 2007 eventThe first race of the ultra-running challenge hoofs it into the hills next weekend.

The Wuthering Hike, a 32 miler (51km) runs from the Bronte village of Haworth in West Yorkshire, over the supposed site of Wuthering Heights – hence its name – and heads into Lancashire and Calderdale before returning over the Pennine moors to its start point. The hike also marks the first in a 12-strong series, the Vasque Ultra-Running Championship.

Mark Hartell, right, leads the Fellsman 2007 event 

Previous long-distance runners will know the series as the Montrail championship. This year it has a new main sponsor, US-based footwear firm Vasque.

For the unknowing, ultra running involves off road routes and long distances. The Wuthering Hike is one of the fastest, conditions permitting. The shortest is the Pumlumon Challenge in mid Wales, a mere sprint at 26 miles (42 kilometres). The toughest route in the series is The Fellsman, a 61-mile (98km) trog around the Yorkshire Dales taking in most of the national park’s notable peaks.

The ultra-running series was the brainchild of Mark Hartell, a specialist in the sport. He told grough that he will be going for a record 11th win in May’s Fellsman. Other notables who have taken part include Eiger conqueror and all-round eccentric hero Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Fiennes started competitive racing at the tender age of 50 and rates the High Peak Marathon, run through the night in September, as his favourite.

His nuggets of wisdom to would-be ultra runners include the following: “When you get to 55 and beyond, you need to run every other day for at least two hours and include lots of uphill, or you'll go downhill fast.”

Even more alarmingly, he suggests: “When you have a heart attack, which sooner or later you probably will, don't let it cramp your style.”

Many of the events have grown out of longstanding walking challenges. The Wuthering Hike’s first incarnation was the Haworth Hobble, and the rules still allow twelve hours to complete the route. Similarly, walkers on The Fellsman will typically take 24 to 28 hours to finish the route, somewhat longer than Hartell’s 11 hours and 8 minutes.

The West Highland Way north of Tyndrum, route of The Devil o' the HighlandsOther races in the series include the Manx Mountain Challenge, just a week after the Haworth event. The Devil o’ the Highlands follows the last part of the West Highland Way, from Tyndrum to Fort William in August. Many competitors are surprised at how hard the Shropshire 50-mile (80km) Longmynd Hike can be. Like The Fellsman, it’s a Scout-organised challenge that has had new life breathed into it by the addition of a substantial number of super-fit runners starting alongside the traditional walkers.

The West Highland Way north of Tyndrum, route of The Devil o' the Highlands

Scoring for the system sounds complicated, but is designed to reward those who both compete in as many events and keep going right to the line.

The winner in each race gets 1,000 points, with everyone else given an inverse fraction of that, depending on how much longer they take. If the winner finished in 10 hours, someone with a finish time of 15 hours would get ⅔, ie 667; a runner with a time of 20 hours would gain 500 points. Pay attention, we’ll be testing you later.

The best four results count to the final tally, with ties involving maximum scores (ie above 4,000) being decided by taking the next best scores. Marks will be awarded for showing workings out and for neatness – well, maybe not, but it does sound like a GCSE maths exam.

Team Montrail were winners in both 2006 – the series’ first year – and 2007 and will be putting up a strong challenge again. Women’s Tour de Mont Blanc winner Lizzy Hawker is favoured for a few wins in the female section. Sean Ketteridge and Jez Braggs are competitors to keep an eye on in the men’s series.

Ultra running is big in the USA, with several 100-mile races taking place each year. If Britain’s ultra-running championships seem a bit wimpish, you could try tackling the 3,100-mile Self Transcendence Race, run over 51 days. The bad news is, it covers the same 883m course in the Queens district of New York over and over. More varied is the 3,428-mile (5,517km) Bunion Derby from Los Angeles to New York. Allow three months!

Back closer to home, you have until tomorrow, 8 March, to get your entry in for the Wuthering Hike, whether walking or running. The race starts at 8am on Saturday, 15 March, from Haworth Community Centre.