Are Records Made to be Broken?

AJW's TaproomJim Walmsley’s world-best 50-mile run last weekend was a truly extraordinary accomplishment. Bruce Fordyce’s decades-old record was one of the few records in ultrarunning that some observers thought would never be broken. In reflecting on this accomplishment, I found myself thinking back to some of the best course records in trail ultrarunning and whether they, too, could ever be broken. So, here are the four course records in North American 100-mile trail running that I believe may never be broken.

Jim O’Brien at the Angeles Crest 100 Mile 

While the Angeles Crest 100 course has gone through significant revisions over the decades (including the current dispute over the Mt Baden-Powell wilderness designation), no runner since Jim O’Brien’s 17:35 in 1989 has come within 50 minutes of the record, and only Hal Koerner with his 18:29 in 2008 has come within an hour of O’Brien. Accomplished other runners including Ben Hian, Tom Nielsen, and Scott Jurek have all pursued the record over the years, and yet O’Brien’s mark remains untouched.

Ellie Greenwood at the Western States 100

In 2012, Ellie Greenwood became the first and only woman to complete the Western States 100 in under 17 hours when she clocked a remarkable 16:47. In fact, to date only four women have even completed Western States in under 18 hours with Greenwood’s closest pursuer being Courtney Dauwaulter in 17:27 at the 2018 race. Greenwood quite simply obliterated the women’s field in 2012, finishing a full 80 minutes ahead of second-place Rory Bosio.

Matt Carpenter at the Leadville Trail 100 Mile

After succumbing to trashed quadriceps and walking it in at the 2004 Leadville Trail 100 Mile, Matt Carpenter returned in 2005 to run 15:42. Carpenter’s run broke the existing course record by over 45 minutes and to date only Rob Krar in 2018 has run under 16 hours. Carpenter ran the race that year with meticulous precision, running every single step and keeping his aggregate aid-station time under 10 minutes. He also finished an eye popping three hours and 20 minutes faster than second-place Dan Vega.

Ann Trason at the Leadville Trail 100 Mile

While Trason is known more for her 14 victories at Western States, her 1994 course record run at the Leadville Trail 100 Mile stands alone. Running with a pack of Tarahumara indigenous peoples for much of the day and night, Trason finished second overall and set the course record at 18:06. Trason’s closest pursuer, similar to O’Brien’s at Angeles Crest, finished over 50 minutes slower than Trason’s extraordinary time when Clare Gallagher ran 19 flat in 2016.

While there is some truth to the old adage that ‘records are made to be broken’ as Jim Walmsley proved last weekend, these four records, set over the past few decades, provide, in my view, some of the toughest tests in modern ultramarathon running.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Periodic Brewing, a relatively new brewery in Leadville, Colorado. Periodic’s American Wheat Ale is a crisp and smooth wheat ale that has a touch of bitterness and a hint of sweetness. With a slight banana flavor and a refreshing finish, Periodic’s Wheat is a perfect summer beer.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

What other records in trail running and ultrarunning have so far stood the test of time?

Jim Walmsley on his way to a new 50-mile world best last week in California. Photo: Jocelyn Schmidt

There are 36 comments

  1. Jon

    Nowhere near as old as some on the list, but Sim Jae Duk and his 2006 Massanutten 100 record has (so far) stood up really well. Beat the course record by 30 minutes and the closest anyone has come to breaking his record is Speedgoat who was “still” almost 40 minutes off Duk’s time. Ironically, Meltzer on that same day also broke the old course record (finishing 2nd) and they are the only two who have broken 18 hours. I’m sure Karl can chime in with more about that day.

    1. speedgoat

      19 minutes behind……just sayin’ :-) 17:59 was mine, 17:40 was Duk’s. but yes, his time may never get beaten at MMT. It is also on a faster course. The course run that particular year was changed a bit due to what I “think” was the Duncan Canyon (hollow) fire. Still a remarkable time, there weren’t many people who could hang on the rocks like Duk could. He was great. That year I won 6 100s, and the MMT second place finish was only comparable to my 15:48 at San Diego in the fall. That MMT run was one of my best ever 100s, and I didn’t win. haha

      1. Pat

        Every year I see that course record, and just sneaking under 20 hours at Massanutten is my dream. Course change this year makes MMT only 100.6 miles, not the previous 103.8. Another faster course, but I bet we still won’t come close.

        1. Sarah

          Shorter course, and no second climb up Jawbone…it’s Crisman Hollow Rd from Gap 2 to the finish. Though there’s something sad about not seeing that yellow plate pointing straight ahead at the top of Jawbone, I’m certain it will make for some speedy times this weekend!

  2. Iggy

    Although a shorter distance than the ones you mention above, I believe that Matt Carpenter’s 3:16:39 at Pikes Peak Marathon is going to take a few more years to be broken… Unless you get a Kilian vs Walmsley race such as the upcoming Sierre-Zinal.

  3. AJW

    Hey Iggy, completely agree with you on Matt’s Pikes record. That may never be broken. In the shorter distance category I also think Andy Jones’ (not to be confused with the much slower Andy Jones-Wilkins:) 3:59 at Strolling Jim has stood the test of time and is a worthy contender for an unbreakable record.

    1. Iggy

      AJW: I agree. Strolling Jim record is legit, and it reminds me of JFK50… The 1982 record of 5:53:05 stood for years and then was broken by Max King (5:34:59 – 2012), and then again by Walmsley in 2016 (5:21:29). Maybe Strolling Jim needs more high caliber competition?

      1. Sean

        You missed some steps there. Clifton broke the JFK course record in 1994 with a 5:46 and held it for a long time. Riddle broke the record in 2011 with a 5:40. Then Max, and then Jim.

  4. Jon Hobby Jogger

    Gary Robbins course record at the HURT 100 is one of the stoutest in ultra running… doesn’t get as much attention because there are seldom more than 2 or 3 elites running it any given year… if I’m not mistaken, only Geoff Roes and Gary himself have come within an hour of his 2013 time of 19:35… I was on the course that year and it was an amazing thing to witness

  5. AJW

    Indeed that is a stout record. I remember when Matt Estes ran 20:43 in 2007 at HURT that that record would last forever. Then Gary obliterated it 6 years later. Not sure it’s as stout, however, as Matt and Jim above.

      1. Mike Halovatch

        Agree with Karl, unless you’ve actually been to HURT you don’t realize how difficult a 4 hour loop is. It’s an insane pace where you are putting A LOT at risk. As Jon mentioned, this race falls a touch under the radar due to the limited amount of participants, the time of year it falls, and the location. That being said, elites can get into the race so the record could be challenged legitimately, unlike some other races where even for an elite to gain entry it’s difficult (i.e. Hardrock) so records can’t be challenged on demand.

  6. John Vanderpot

    If we’re calling ’em out, my guess is Bret Maune’s 52:03 down at Barkley’s craziness is probably pretty safe for now — the 2nd fastest finish there is 55:42, and from what they say, let’s face it, most people would be more that happy just to get a finish!

    1. Ryan

      The Barkley course changes year to year, so anyone who wins it has their own course record. I agree that no one will go faster than 52:03 though.

  7. Running Expert

    Krar’s Leadville performance this year would have been under Matt’s record time had it been run on the original course.

  8. Jon

    Of course, if you listen to the folks over at LetsRun.com, every single one of these records would be absolutely demolished by any top East African marathon runner if they had a year to train for it! Ha! Of course, most of this conversation is from people who chase BQs on flat and downhill road courses and consider Boston to be hilly (Different strokes for different folks, I guess!)

  9. Mpho

    I have a feeling that the current and defending champ of the Comrades ultramarathon, Bongmusa Mthembu, could take on the 50mile record, taking nothing away from Jim of course.
    Mthembu already has a faster 100km than Bruce Fordyce as a fellow South African and his dismantling of the Kenyan contingent in the last 4km of this year’s 56km Two Oceans ultra only proved that he’s in his prime and will likely defend his Comrades title successfully.

  10. TimI

    if the PPM record survives 2019 & KJ it will stand for some time (duh)
    If Jim Walmsley really wants LT100 he has a shot to get it. I think it will take more than one attempt for him to get it
    On equally “good” days Matt Carpenter could outlast either in the so called pain cave.
    All three have to be considered among the best ever – with no doubt

  11. andy mcbreen

    Ronan, Very well stated comment regarding Jim’s WS 100 record. I believe He is the only runner out there to have a shot at His record. There are several runners who have awesome giftings in technical mountain courses, But lack the fast twitch Cross Country and track background combined with a great talent for technical mountainess single track that Jim is blessed with,

  12. mark

    Hi! Just wondering why you’re including Ann Trasons 2nd place as a record for the 1994 Leadville was 100? If the article is about a “world record” should the Tarahumara not be counted! In fact why are you not counting them anyway? The guy who won that race surely has the course record? Am I missing something? Forgive me if I am!

    1. TimI

      The difference is between the men’s world record and the woman’s world record. I think Ann finished second overall, first female and in record time

      What a fiasco with Sememya

  13. Lee Smith

    My 2004 course record from my wife’s parents’ old cabin in Waskesiu, Saskatchewan to the end of the old highway, a 40 mile round trip, is untouchable. They sold the cabin years ago. :)

    1. TimI

      You will always have the Bear Mountain 50 mile record on the original course. That was sick. I think you won & defended. I saw you once running 3rd w 1/2 mile to go – you were relieved when I told you no one was close. Seems like yesterday

  14. James

    What about Doug Latimer’s over 50 record at Western States? 18:43:58 in 1987. I know Karl took a run at it in 2018. And I just noticed that Meghan Laws did 18:50:19 in 2011 at age 50. Legendary! I wonder how long it will take for anyone to come near that record.

    1. speedgoat

      Latimer’s record is very breakable. Age group records are really tough to judge as a monumental performance. I had 3 runs at WS, and sucked at all 3. If I could actually have a good day, I could run at least 17:30. But all heresay until it’s done, which will never happen now. Getting in the race is impossible. Meghan Laws at 18:50. Yup, solid for a long time. She’s got too much local knowledge.

    2. AT

      I can see Jeff Browning breaking that if he’s running Western in a few years. Can’t recall when he turns 50, but I thought it was coming here soon. Hard to believe he’s nearing 50..sheesh..

  15. Sam

    Is there a good reason to actually believe that any of these are unbreakable? Or is that just shorthand for very stout records with a decent history of not-close attempts?

    Like fast performances in trail ultras are just so high variance with still a lot of growth at the top end of the sport (as well as each running of most races usually having only a handful of people that could even hope to attack records) that it seems strange to me to claim that any record is unbreakable.

    Interested to hear thoughts around this.

  16. Alex

    I think either Angeles Crest or Leadville would be within Jim’s grasp if he decided to prioritize them. Not sure either will wind up rising to the top of his list. Even a gifted athlete like JW can only throw down a couple of truly 100% effort ultras per year, and there are lots of other high-profile races out there. Guessing Comrades might be the next big goal, especially if he’s going to spend some time focusing on running fast on the road in anticipation of the Olympic Marathon Trials.

  17. caper

    Saving a record may never be broken is short sighted at best. What makes any of us believe nobody will come alone and break it? Each year the focus on the sport grows larger, the strength of the participants greater, and the training/technology behind it better. Every single one of these will be broken unless the race ends. Yes all are impressive times, but everything is breakable. It may take years, decades, what ever…but someone will break it.

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