Monday, October 24, 2011

Top US Ultramarathon Course Records

*updated 10/28/2011

My list of the current most impressive ultramarathon course records on US turf. My opinion is largely tied to the history of the event. In other words, older races that have seen their share of gifted runners, have a bit more credibility. Also, any race where the course changes significantly from year to year also makes it tougher to pin point a strong record. I will add that my opinion may not be worth anything, but it is, afterall, just my silly opinion.

JFK 50- Eric Clifton's 5:46 from 1994. The fact that hundreds of the top distance runners in the US have failed to break this mark makes it the most impressive current course record I can think of. Clifton, a 2:38 marathoner, simply had the perfect day. Numerous 50 mile champs and sub 2:20 marathoners have tried, but no one else has yet to break the 5:50 barrier at JFK.
*I do, however, predict that Michael Wardian will set a course record in 2011. He's fresh off an impressive course record 5:33 at the Tussey Mountainback 50 Miler. I predict low 5:40's if not something in the high 5:30's, possibly in the 5:38-5:42 range. I also think guys like Geoff Roes, Todd Braje, Matt Woods, and Andy Henshaw have the ability to challenge the record in the future. There are a couple other guys on the bubble like Michael Arnstein, Max King, and Oz Pearlman, but, for now, my money is on Wardian.

*Recently added- Ian Sharman's 12:44 from the 2011 Rocky Raccoon. Sharman crushed Eric Clifton's long standing course record, and handily won over a deep field with Karl Meltzer, Tony Krupicka, Mike Arnstein, Mike Wolfe, Zach Gingerich, and Hal Koerner.

Hardrock- Kyle Skagg's 23:23 in 2008. Nobody else has broken 24 hours. Arguably the toughest official 100 miler in the country. The record isn't very old, and few true elites have run Hardrock, but it is by no means a "soft" record. I think the person who breaks the record will absolutely have to be a high altitude runner, perhaps Kilian Jornet, a healthy Tony Krupicka, or Geoff Roes. Skaggs, afterall, trained an entire summer on the Hardrock course before racing it. Kilian is probably the most realistic challenger considering his UTMB dominance. It does sound like Hardrock legend Karl Meltzer wants to reclaim the course record. But, in which direction?

Leadville- Matt Carpenter's 15:42 in 2005. It would take another high altitude specialist to challenge this. Not even Krupicka, in his best form, came close. This will stand for a while, and more impressively is that Carpenter never really pursued ultras. Recent winning times have been nearly a minute per mile slower.

Badwater- Valmir Nunez 22:51 in 2007. The combination of being able to run in extreme heat and run the equivalent of a 150 mile 24 hour race is mind blowing. 120+ degrees for 135 miles, and a "chilly" 90 degrees at night. I can't think of anyone who could challenge this, though recent happenings suggest Mike Morton could, though I doubt he's interested in the Badwater record, or race. But, you can't ignore that his 163 miles covered during a hot, sandy, Hinson Lake 24 hour suggests he could be the man. His time serving in Afghanistan doesn't hurt either. Could he be the first person to break 22 hours? We also can't rule out former/current champs Oswaldo Lopez and Akos Konya.

Speaking of Mike Morton. His 163 miles on a hot day at the Hinson Lake 24 hour in September was just sick. He ran through crowds of 250+ slower runners(much slower), and nearly matched Scott Jurek's American record for 24 hours. Scott ran a fast, paved, course in ideal conditions (with other fast pace setters). Morton's performance belongs on this list. His Western States course record is also a story of legend. He's been off the radar for nearly a decade, but wow is he back in a big way. He may not race again for a while, but what a come back!

Any Ann Trason course record will probably not get broken any time soon. Though, I suspect someone like Ellie Greenwood has the speed and tenacity to challenge some of them.

Western States: Geoff Roes' 15:07 in 2010. After the results from 2011, this record may not last as long as originally thought. I suspect a sub 15 hour time isn't too far off. But, for now, to have the course record of the oldest 100 mile race, is still pretty impressive.

Promise Land- Clark Zealand's 4:30 from 2002. On the grand scheme of things, Promise Land is probably considered a smaller race. However, over the years some very talented runners have run this event, and nobody has really come near Zealand's time of 4:30. Most years winners have been a solid 15-20 minutes off. In truth, I could see some west coast elites coming out and running 4:20's, but it hasn't happened yet.

*New. Jim O'brien's 1989 17:35 at Angeles Crest. Overlooked this race, mostly because I'm an east coaster. But, sure enough this event has been around 25 years, has had a remarkebly consistent course, and was 2 miles longer during O'brien's CR year. Guys like Jurek, Koerner, and Pacheco haven't really come any closer than 1-2 hours. Jurek wasn't close to O'brien's time, eventhough this overlapped the time he started his amazing 7 year winning streak at Western States. Gives some perspective doesn't it?

Mountain Masochist: Geoff Roes' 6:27 from 2009. Geoff knocked a ridiculous 21 minutes off Dave Mackey's impressive CR. The speed was lacking in the '10 event with a 7:23 winning time, but in most years nobody even comes within 30 minutes of Geoff's time. I'd say Tony Krupicka's White River course record is close to on par, but that course is about 3 miles shorter than the Masochist (53ish mile course).

Okay, I am adding Geoff Roes' 18:30 from the 2009 Wasatch 100. It's an old race with some gnarley climbs. Not quite Hardrock and Leadville type of altitude, but enough to make it rough on the flatlanders. Geoff knocked over an hour off Kyle Skagg's '07 record, and other than Mr.Meltzer, nobody has been within an hour of Geoff, or under 19 hours. Mr. Roes owns 3 of arguably the top 10 most impressive US ultra course records.

Honorable Mention- Maybe these are more impressive. Less impressive. What do you think?

Tom Johnsons 5:33 from the 1994 American River 50, along w/Ann Trason's 6:09 in '93

Tony Krupicka's 6:27 from the 2010 White River 50. Bested Uli Steidl's old CR twice.

Zach Gingerich's 13:23 from the 2010 Umstead 100. Warm day, where he crushed the CR. Nobody else has been under 14 hours, though I suspect another low 13's, or sub 13 may happen soon.

Andy Henshaw's 6:47 from the 2011 Mad City 100k

Dave Mackey's 7:53 at the 2008 Miwok 100k.

*Not a race, but it's worth mentioning Jennifer Pharr Davis' AT overall speed record of 46 days and 11 hours. Completed July 2011.


dvroes said...

I am a little biased but Geoff's 18:30 and change at Wasatch deserves a mention. No one has ever come within an hour of his time.

Mike Bailey said...

Aha! I almost put it on the list. That is a stout course record, especially since Geof and Karl were duking it out that day. That kind of competition usually creates course record times. I do think that for a 31 year old event, it'd be nice to see a bigger group of elites go at it. The 26k climb and moderate altitude, perhaps, scares off the fast flatlanders?

Tater said...

1989 Jim O'Brien 17.35.48 at AC100. Closest anybody has ever come to that was 2008 Hal Koerner in 18:29.30. That course gets little recognition but it is a BIATCH!

Michael said...

I think Oswaldo Lopez was frightfully close to breaking the Badwater record this year...The man has run quite a few fast marathons...this is off the top of my head but I believe he ran somewhere @2:40 in Big Sur.

Michael said...

Oswaldo Lopez seemed to be pretty close to the record Badwater time this year...He's had some fast marathon finishes, this is off the top of my head but I believe he's finished the Big Sur International Marathon a few time @2:40...Pretty fast, why wouldn't he be listed as a guy with a shot at cracking the record this summer...The Man's legit!

Mike Bailey said...

@Tater. Yes, guess I didn't know my Angeles Crest race history. That's a pretty amazing course record. In fact, I've read the course that year was 2 miles LONGER. Guys like Jurek, Koerner, Pacheco, and AJW haven't really come within 1-2 hours.

@Michael. You're right. It was silly of me to overlook Lopez as a course record contender. Sub 24 at Badwater is crazy enough. Sub 23 takes it to a whole new level. Maybe Lopez is the man? However, I think Akos Konya has a shot too, should he decide to reclaim the title.

AJW said...

Great post, and I agree on O'Brien's record at AC100. Still one of the great runs of all time on a course that many have attempted. Seems that most are able to match or beat his splits up until Shortcut (Mile 59) and then he blows them away. Would like to see Tony give it a try and he has said as much, as well. He's even been on the course to see what it's about. We'll see.

And, as impressive as Tony's 5:42 at AR is it is not the CR, that is held by Tom Johnson, three time WS100 winner. I think he did a 5:33.


Mike Bailey said...

AJW, thanks for correcting me! Tony mentioned in his race report that he was chasing Carl Anderson's 5:44. I assumed that was the CR, but I was wrong. Johnson's 5:33 is now on the list.

Speaking of split times, it's interesting how even with more advanced runner tracking technology, runners haven't set more CR's. It's fun to look back and see how fast people were running even in the mid and early 90's.