Course Records & Their Relative Difficulty: Men’s 100 Mile Examples

AJWs TaproomDavid Riddle’s Course Record setting run at the JFK 50 mile last Saturday got me thinking about Course Records for ultras and the relative stoutness of some of them. In a sport that is relatively young, of course, there are some courses where the record seems to be broken every other year and others that seem a bit more difficult to break. With his fantastic run at JFK, Riddle took down a 17-year old record. Here’s a quick look at some intriguing men’s 100 mile course records. We’re looking for you to share what you think are the most impressive trail running and ultrarunning course records for men and women.

Western States 100: Geoff Roes 15:07 is now the standard at this storied race. However, what makes the WS record so intriguing is not the record itself but the changes in the course over the years. By now everyone knows that Jim King’s 14:54 was run at the WS 90, so nobody pays much attention to it. But, since Cal Street was added and the course became a legitimate 100 miler the record has gone from the low-16’s to the low 15’s on about five different courses. For a thorough analysis of all these course changes you can see Craig Thornley’s article on his blog. All of the changes to the course since the addition of Cal Street have been made between the start and Last Chance (Mile 43). Therefore, a good place to measure CR stoutness is from Last Chance to the Finish. And over that section, indeed, in 2010, Geoff Roes ran 40 minutes faster than Scott Jurek did in 2004 putting to rest any debate. In my novice opinion, I think sub-15 will happen at WS sometime in the near future.

Leadville 100: After trying once in 2004 and walking in, Matt Carpenter got it right at Leadville in 2005 and obliterated the Course Record by over 90 minutes. His 15:42 has now stood strong for six years and could last a good deal longer. Anton Krupicka has come within 40 minutes of the record on two occasions and could get even closer over the next few years but, of course, time will tell. In addition, the course change that was made in 2009 as a result of a helicopter crash in the vicinity appears to now have been made permanent. Most Leadville veterans agree that this “new” course is a few minutes slower adding an additional challenge to Carpenter’s already robust Course Record.

Hardrock 100: This race actually has two course records as it is run in alternate directions every year. As a result, Karl Meltzer holds the counter-clockwise record of 24:38 set in 2009 and Kyle Skaggs holds the clockwise record of 23:23 set in 2008. Most observers believe that Skaggs’ record is the more impressive of the two. However, long-time Hardrock veterans also note that the counter-clockwise course is significantly more difficult than the clockwise course and that, indeed, Karl’s record may be just as stout. Regardless, it is clear that both records could prove tough to beat. There have been runners within an hour of Karl’s record since 2009, but there has been nobody even within two hours of Kyle since the run when he beat the second place guy (Scott Jaime) by over six hours!

Javelina and Rocky Raccoon 100s: These two records were set in 2011 by Hal Koerner and Ian Sharman and while they were set in races that do not have the same history or prestige of those discussed above, the two times, 13:47 and 12:44 are, quite simply, smokin’ fast and are likely to be in the mix for men’s Performance of the Year (along with Riddle’s JFK record) in 2011. Whether the records themselves will stand the test of time is another story.

Angeles Crest 100: From my perspective, this is the grandaddy of all Course Records. Set by Jim O’Brien in 1989, 17:35 over the rugged backcountry of the San Gabriel’s has stood the test of time. The course changes since 1989 have been minimal (in fact, the course is now two miles shorter since it no longer finishes in the Rose Bowl) and the trail conditions have actually improved over the two decades since O’Brien’s incredible run. One runner, Hal Koerner, came within an hour of O’Brien in 2008 (18:29) and was just over an hour behind him in 2006. Only two other runners, Ben Hian and Jorge Pacheco have even run under 19 hours (Hian twice, Pacheco once). According to the locals, O’Brien’s training leading up to the 1989 event was incredible as he strung together 10 consecutive 200 mile weeks and had a perfect nutrition plan on race day (Mango Nectar and CarboPlex, evidently). That, coupled with the fact that race day temperatures were in the 60’s, made it the perfect day. Anton Krupicka has suggested that if he gets bypassed in the Hardrock lottery that he would like to run AC. I, for one, would love to see that as it could be as close as anyone gets to O’Brien and may encourage other speedsters to head out to the San Gabriel’s to test themselves on one of the oldest and purest 100 mile courses in the country.

All this, of course, pales in comparison to the now unbreakable Grand Teton 100 mile course record set in 2010. :)

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

AJW Taproom’s Beer of the Week
Bell's Two Hearted AleAJW’s beer of the week is Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale from Bell’s Brewery in Michigan.

This week’s beer of the week comes from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and pays tribute to Ernest Hemingway’s timeless classic, “Big Two-Hearted River.” Bell Beer’s Two Hearted Ale sports a nice crisp hoppy aroma with just the right amount of spice. In contrast to other IPA’s, the touch of sweetness in Two Hearted Ale softens the alcohol and brings out the beer flavor. Definitely a cool weather beer to have after a long run.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • How tough do you think it’ll be for folks to break the course records AJW notes?
  • What are some of the other more impressive trail running or ultrarunning course records out there?