A Data-Driven Primer on 200+ Mile Races

A look into 200+ miles races, including variation in pace over the course of an event and the role of rest time in finishing times.

By on April 24, 2024 | Comments

When Dylan Bowman interviewed David Callahan and Jay Kelley, the leaders of UltraSignup, on the Freetrail podcast in October 2023, they discussed the growing popularity of “super-long” trail running events. This category includes races of 200 miles or more, where Callahan and Kelley observed notable growth among UltraSignup race entries.

With more people taking an interest and participating in 200-mile-or-longer trail races, I decided to use this month’s column to serve as a data-driven primer on the event. In particular, we are focusing on how finishers pace themselves across these longer distances, including extended breaks at aid stations. If you’re “super-long” curious, this article gives you something beyond anecdotes to understand how finishers tackle these events.

Bryon Powell - 2015 Ultra Gobi - on course

iRunFar’s Bryon Powell making his way through some of Ultra-Trail Gobi Race’s 250 miles in 2015. Photo: Nick Muzik


With the 2024 edition of the Cocodona 250 Mile starting on May 6, we draw on splits from that event for much of this article. We also use data from Destination Trail Races’ Bigfoot 200 Mile and Tahoe 200 Mile to examine what proportion of their finish time runners spend moving versus resting.

That said, it’s important to note that the popularity of trail races that are 200 miles or longer is not limited to the United States. Tor des Géants is one of the most iconic super-long races, and was first held in 2010. It takes place in the Aosta Valley in the Italian Alps each September, with up to 1,100 participants. The Spine Race is another iconic event, covering 268 miles along the Pennine Way in the United Kingdom.

Sabrina running in sun and blue skies near the start of the race.

Sabrina Verjee running strong in the early stages of the 2022 Tor des Geants, on her way to victory. Photo: KnowJack Media

Although the Cocodona 250 Mile course has 20 aid stations and 4 water stations, there have been variations in the course to date. So, when calculating average paces from one aid station to the next, I only used checkpoints where at least two previous editions of the race had an aid station within a mile of that point in the race. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s appropriate to our goal of understanding how Cocodona 250 Mile participants pace themselves during the race.

The course has sustained or concentrated ascents between miles 11 and 40, miles 163 and 173, and around mile 240. The graph below reflects this, as all runners averaged slower paces on those sections of the course.

To calculate pacing data, I collected the splits for all previous finishers. Since aid station locations have varied slightly over the years, I normalized the data by creating a master spreadsheet including splits at common locations across multiple years. I then calculated each runner’s average pace between aid stations where I had a split available, factoring in that the distances between aid stations might change a little from one year to the next. I then grouped the runners as follows:

  • Runners who finished in 75 hours or less were “Top Finishers”
  • The average finishing time was 106 hours, so everyone who finished within 2 hours over or under that time, or 104 to 108 hours, became members of the “Mid-Pack” 
  • Official finishers who finished in 119 to 125 hours were classified as “Back of Pack”

I calculated the average pace for each “leg” of the race for each group — the distance between aid stations where splits were recorded in my dataset.

Finally, a note about terminology: I am of the understanding that for most people who register for races of 200 miles or more, these events represent personal endurance challenges more than races in which entrants compete against one another for their finishing positions. For that reason, I use the term “events” at least as often as the term “race” in this article.

Similarly, because many finishers cover most of their miles by hiking, I opted to refer to all entrants as “participants” rather than “runners.” I didn’t want to downplay or fail to appreciate the role of hiking in the effective execution of these events.

Sarah Ostaszewski - 2023 Cocodona 250 Mile - photo 2

Sarah Ostaszewski on her way to winning the 2023 Cocodona 250 Mile. Photo courtesy of Sarah Ostaszewski.

Moving Pace at the Cocodona 250 Mile

It’s worth noting there is a wide range of experiences at the Cocodona 250 Mile. As of April 2024, the men’s course record is held by Joe McConaughy, who covered 250.3 miles in 59 hours, 28 minutes, and 54 seconds in 2022. The women’s course record is held at 71:10:22 by Annie Hughes, who set that mark in 2022.

The event has a time limit of 125 hours, so some runners spend more days on the course than McConaughy and Hughes each did. In the race’s three-year history, 16% of all finishers have spent at least twice as long on course as McConaughy, for example.

This may highlight some of the appeal of super-long events: each runner engages in a lot of problem-solving and strategy because there is no guarantee that a race plan that works for one finisher will work for another.

Distribution of Cocodona 250 Mile Participants by Finishing Time, in Hours

Cocodona 250 Finisher Distribution

The bar chart above sorts previous finishing times into bins to show the distribution of finishing times, giving readers a sense of how long most participants take to finish the event.

While their finishing times may vary significantly, Cocodona 250 Mile finishers have a lot in common when it comes to which sections of the race slow them down. In the chart below, runners in each of my classifications had slower average paces on each of the race’s hilliest sections, with a fourth pace spike between miles 211 and 215 that happens to correspond with the race’s final sleep station.

Average Segment Pace among Cocodona 250 Mile Participants, by Finisher Group

Cocodona 250 Pacing Graph with Elevation

The line graph above shows the average pace between aid stations for each group of runners. These runner groups were constructed by the author to identify possible trends that might explain how each cohort of runners paces the Cocodona 250 Mile.

In the graph above, it is noteworthy that runners in the three groups generally remain consistent relative to each other over the course of the race — at least until the final miles.

When we previously looked at pacing for the IAU 24-Hour World Championships, there was a striking difference between the frontrunners and the back of the pack. The runners who ran the farthest were, as a group, more consistent in their pacing, whereas the 24-hour runners who racked up fewer miles had more fluctuations in their pacing.

The graph above suggests that, for roughly the first 230 miles of the race, runners in each group remain consistent, relative to each other. The difference comes in the final 20 miles when the top finishers maintained paces that suggest running or steady hiking, while runners in the other groups slowed down significantly.

Rest Strategies at 200-Plus-Mile Races

Compared to trail races of 100 miles and shorter, one of the most distinctive challenges of 200-plus-mile trail races is managing fatigue. Joe McConaughy’s course record of 59:28:54 and Annie Hughes’ course record of 71:10:22 each represent more than two days of hard effort. Finishing closer to the 125-hour time limit can mean five-plus days on the course. Out of necessity, runners in these super-long events spend more time stopped to eat, sleep, and manage other needs.

Annie Hughes - 2022 Cocodona 250 Mile champion - feature

Annie Hughes crossing the line as 2022 Cocodona 250 Mile champion. Photo: Alex Potter

While the graph above suggests Cocodona 250 Mile runners fall into distinctive groups based on their pacing strategies, data from the 2023 Bigfoot 200 Mile suggests otherwise. To create the graph above, I calculated each finisher’s pace in minutes per mile for each leg of the race. Since the race clock is always going, I factored any rest time into my calculation — if it takes a runner two hours to cover four miles because they rest for an hour and then average 15 minutes per mile, I considered that to be a net average of 30 minutes per mile. In contrast, Bigfoot 200 Mile data on Trackleaders.com calculated an average pace based only on the time runners were moving.

The average pace for 2023 finishers of the Bigfoot 200 Mile was 4.026 miles per hour (excluding time they were not moving and were instead resting or otherwise caring for themselves). The graph below shows that most runners were within that range. There were runners who finished within three days and had the same average moving pace as runners who finished a full 24 hours or more behind them. This highlights how much of a difference a runner’s rest strategy impacts their overall finishing time.

Average Miles Per Hour Compared to Finishing Time in Days for 2023 Bigfoot 200 Mile Finishers

Bigfoot 200 Pacing Scatterplot

In the above graph, each finisher of the 2023 edition of the Bigfoot 200 Mile is one data point on a scatterplot. The graph shows that runners who finished Bigfoot in under three days did not have significantly faster average moving paces than runners who finished the event in over four days. The average miles per hour is only based on runners’ moving time. The time that runners spent in aid stations is not factored into this pace.

The graph below corroborates this idea. The live tracking system for the 2023 Bigfoot 200 Mile recorded each participant’s “run/rest percentage.” It calculated the proportion of each participant’s finishing time spent moving forward on the course, compared to resting/not moving. The trend is easy to spot: The fastest finishers spent almost all their time on the course, with relatively little time not moving forward.

This suggests that stopping to rest dramatically slows event participants, but the reality is likely more nuanced. For many runners, taking the time to troubleshoot gear or physical issues, take in adequate nutrition, and stop for sleep is necessary for them to finish. Sleeping for several hours will delay a runner’s finish, but it may also improve their odds of finishing. This is where each runner makes decisions based on their fitness, race goals, and race-day experience.

Percent of Time Spent Running Compared to Finishing Time in Days for 2023 Bigfoot 200 Mile Finishers

Bigfoot 200 Scatterplot - Percent of Time spent Moving

In the above graph, each finisher of the 2023 edition of the Bigfoot 200 is one data point on a scatterplot. The graph shows that runners who finished Bigfoot in under three days spent a larger proportion of their time moving compared to participants who finished closer to the time cutoff.

The distribution chart below complements the scatterplot above. It better illustrates which run/rest percentages are the most frequent. It reveals that most finishers spend at least one-third of their time resting and/or not moving forward, and 23 of the finishers across the Tahoe 200 Mile and Bigfoot 200 Mile spent less than 50% of their time moving on course.

Bigfoot 200 Distribution Bar Chart - Percent of Time spent Moving

The bar graph above shows the “Run/Rest Percentage” data from the Trackleaders.com live tracking for the 2023 Tahoe 200 Mile and Bigfoot 200 Mile editions. They were the two Destination Trail races from 2023 that were 200 miles or longer and had this data available. The graph shows that only two finishers of these events spent 81% or more of their time moving. Most other participants spent significant time resting, a distinctive aspect of pacing and managing fatigue in super-long races.

The Bigfoot 200 Mile live tracking system provides fascinating and potentially useful insights by distinguishing time spent moving on the course compared to time spent resting/not moving. The tracking system classified all time spent moving as running, so it does not distinguish between running and hiking. More qualitative data or deeper analysis of individual runners’ tracking data would be necessary to understand better when and how participants adjust their pace on the course.

Courtney Dauwalter racing the 2018 Tahoe 200 Mile. Photo: Max Romney

Closing Thoughts

What are the key takeaways here? We’ve got a couple of fun ones for you!

  • Cocodona 250 Mile finishers tend to run at slower paces from the beginning, compared to other ultramarathon distances.
  • In the final 20 miles of the Cocodona 250 Mile, we see the greatest pace slow-down of all runners.
  • Among finishers of the Bigfoot 200 Mile and Tahoe 200 Mile, less time spent resting is generally correlated with faster finishes.
  • The Cocodona 250 Mile pace graph is a poignant reminder of the large distances between aid stations. Runners preparing for their first super-long race may need to carry more gear, fluids, and calories than in a typical 100-mile race.

Like so many articles I’ve written for this column, I am struck by how much remains unquantified. This just-for-fun analysis used a relatively small dataset that, for feasibility, excluded global events, including renowned races like Tor des Géants.

However, because 200-plus-mile races are still relatively niche, this cursory analysis can still contribute something new to our understanding of how finishers tackle these events. These insights may be particularly useful for people considering such an event or training for their first. If you fall into that category, best of luck!

Bryon Powell - 2015 Ultra Gobi - rest point

iRunFar’s Bryon Powell in a rest point after a full night of sleep during the 2015 Ultra-Trail Gobi Race 250 Mile. Photo: Nick Muzik

Call for Comments

  • Do you have any personal experience with races of 200-plus miles? If so, can you share any insights on pacing and rest strategies?
  • The author, Mallory Richard, is a self-admitted fan of Aravaipa Running’s races, like the Cocodona 250 Mile, partly because Aravaipa publishes lots of data, including splits in easy-to-use formats, on their race websites. Do you know of some other data-friendly race directors we should show some love in future columns?

[Editor’s Note: We kindly remind readers that the Running the Numbers column is a just-for-fun analysis. While we always endeavor to analyze accurately, we limit the scope of each article in order to make the work doable for author Mallory Richard, and the results digestible for readers like you.]

Joe McConaughy - Stringbean - 2022 Cocodona 250 Mile champion 2

Joe McConaughy on his way to winning the 2022 Cocodona 250 Mile. Photo courtesy of Joe McConaughy.

Mallory Richard

Mallory Richard is a data analyst and trail runner in Winnipeg, Canada.