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