Without trails our sport would not exist. Sure there are road ultras and many “trail” ultras entail portions along fireroads, tow paths, running tracks and, gasp, even pavement. But if you look at the most popular and iconic ultras, they all include some epic trails. So yes, we need them.
Author Karl Hoagland
Many comparisons have been made to modern-day ultrarunners and the Pioneers who crossed the continent in covered wagons back in the 1840s and 1850s. The Pioneers risked everything and took on a massively arduous 2,000-mile trek, often for a dream or nebulous “better life” out west. As with ultrarunners, a common question from onlookers was: “why?”
Let’s face it, ultrarunning is a really difficult activity. It requires a huge time and lifestyle commitment. But many people are attracted, like moths to flame, to the opportunity to do something epic. And often once they do a few ultras they realize there is a steep learning curve and they achieve faster, and faster, times. Soon, they are pulled into the drive to reach their highest potential by racing ultras – they are all-in.
We recently conducted a reader survey and received almost 1,000 responses – thank you for your feedback. The positive comments were encouraging and nice to hear. Over 98% of respondents said UltraRunning Magazine is interesting, informative, trustworthy and reliable. Roughly 95% believe UR provides unique content and useful information.
Most ultrarunners are fueled by a desire to push their limits and explore the boundaries of what is possible. They are drawn to training for and completing ultras because they want to challenge themselves and achieve big goals. The process of committing, training and executing on race day consumes, and ultimately defines, the ultrarunner’s life. The experience and satisfaction of knowing you put everything on the line in an epic test, is what endures.
With the increasing popularity of Fastest Known Times and the completion of more and more epic feats of human endurance, we thought it was time to properly recognize and honor this portion of the ultrarunning community. As with the Ultrarunners of the Year (UROY) process, which is led by John Medinger, we are fortunate to have an icon of the sport oversee and conduct this process for FKTs, Buzz Burrell.
We hadn’t attended the Western States lottery in a few years and I was not expecting the spectacle that was ahead of us that morning in the packed auditorium at Placer High School in Auburn, California. I knew it would be flawlessly conducted, high energy and even entertaining.
But to be honest, I had forgotten how life-changing ultramarathons can be in people’s lives, and the visceral emotions that are unleashed when someone’s name is chosen.
Rarely in ultrarunning do you see the word “phenom” used to describe the sport’s best runners. But in 2016 the sport was taken over by the phenomenal record-smashing performances of Jim Walmsley. The 26 year-old from Flagstaff, Arizona kicked off the year with a dominant win and course-record at the Black Canyon 100K, and from there he seemingly never took his foot off the gas pedal. With his Western States Golden Ticket in hand, Walmsley continued to race – and set records – at some of the most competitive ultras, including the Lake Sonoma 50-miler in April.
At age 30 Lickteig reached the pinnacle of the sport with a dominating win at the Western States 100- posting the third fastest time in the venerable event’s 40+ year history – and on one of the hottest days on record. Before and after that huge win last year, Lickteig won six other ultras (including three overall wins) and placed second at the highly competitive Lake Sonoma 50-miler in April.
Editor’s note: I was recently chatting with my teenage daughter about how our days were going – I told her that I was interviewing an ultrarunner who had recently broken a 26-year-old epic record. “Oh really, what race?” she asked. “A 3,000-miler starting in San Francisco and ending in New York City. He ran across the country, doing over 70 miles a day, every day, breaking the record by four days.” Her reply: “Damn, son!” There really are no words to describe the enormity of Pete Kostelnick’s accomplishment, but these two seem to resonate.
As Tropical John Medinger astutely observed, ultrarunning is a hard sport for everyone – back of the pack, middle of the pack and those at the front – and it is this shared experience of suffering that brings all ultrarunners together and makes our sport so special. This sense of connectedness is what keeps the first finishers of an ultra cheering for the last finishers, and it’s what makes our community so strong.
On Sunday, September 18 at 3:38 a.m. Karl Meltzer emerged from the trail at the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain, Georgia after departing Mt. Katahdin in Maine on August 3 at 5 a.m. After 2,190 miles he bagged his biggest ultramarathon win. The winningest 100-mile racer in the history of our sport, with 38 victories at the distance, had failed in two previous attempts at the AT FKT. But at 48 years young, the third time was a charm.
Ultrarunners’ feet take a pounding like no others’. They are the workhorses that allow us to do what we do. But too often, we take them for granted until something goes south down there – usually during a big race. It’s only then that we remember just how crucial their health and happiness is to our ability to perform and get it done mile after mile.
In modern society, with ubiquitous technology making life easier, and media streaming all forms of drama and entertainment 24/7, the opportunity and inclination for us as individuals to do something truly epic is becoming scarcer all the time. In fact recent surveys indicate that Americans average over 10 hours in front of an electronic screen every day
Toeing the line and completing an ultramarathon is a huge accomplishment. But racing an ultra is an entirely different proposition. Both are wonderful and life changing endeavors, but since this is our racing-themed issue, we want to give props to the serious racers out there. We’re not just talking about the elites; we’re talking about anyone trying for their own personal maximum footspeed over a mappable distance.
Eric Byrnes is a former professional baseball player who recently turned his athletic focus to endurance sports and ultrarunning. Byrnes was not just any ballplayer; in his 10-year career from 2000 to 2010, he hit over 100 homeruns and stole over 100 bases. In fact, he is one of only 10 major leaguers to ever hit over 20 homers and steal 50 bases in the same season.
The UltraRunning Race Series records the race results of every ultrarunner in North America and calculates points for each one based on all relevant factors. It adds up every ultrarunner’s best scores at each of the primary ultra distances – 50k, 50-mile, 100k and 100-mile – and voila, that’s your score.
Late last year, I was pacing the leader of a 100-mile race when we went off course at mile 75. I had joined her at mile 68 and she was naturally tired and feeling a lot of fatigue and pain, but she was still cruising in the twilight about 12 hours into the race. She was no longer focused on just securing the win – she was now after a PR and the course record of just under 19 hours
We recently had a “strategic planning retreat,” which in our case really meant that four of us got together in a fun setting (Sunriver, Oregon) to do some running, eat good food and hang out with local ultrarunners. Oh, and also deal with all the stuff that built up and we put off for the past year or so.
At age 62, having just completed a grueling 100-mile mountain race in which he finished first in his age group, Fred Brooks died suddenly when his car crashed on an interstate highway just hours after the race was completed. He was in the second year of a comeback to ultrarunning after a six-year hiatus.
Here at UltraRunning, we get all sorts of race reports, and they have always been a key part of the magazine. Amongst our team, we read and edit each one at least five times in all—so we really appreciate the good ones. The stories that entertain, inform and educate.
We want to bring the races alive for you, and inspire you to get out there and get after it yourself—to overcome challenges and have life-changing experiences you can only find at ultras. Nothing fits that bill like a great race report and photos.
An ultrarunning adage says that after you start the sport, you improve for seven consecutive years. Your body and mind need that much time to figure it all out and go from “just” completing the distances to racing them at peak levels. For me, this has held very true—2010 was my seventh year, and that’s when I had by far my best races at all distances, with personal bests in all six of them.
Of all the important relationships in life, my relationship with the trails is one of the most complex and profound of all. Some days running the trail is like a magic carpet ride—every step easy and flowing and I’m one with the world. At times like this the trail allows me to connect with nature, know myself and be truly present. But other times the trail is a punishing taskmaster, with every rut, root, rock and impediment a massive hurdle.
When I was facing a huge life decision, my mom encouraged me to choose my destiny over my fate. I really didn’t know what she was talking about and when I looked the words up in the dictionary they were basically synonymous. More research revealed that the differences are subtle, but huge.
A recent Wall Street Journal article looked at the use of marijuana to mitigate the challenges of ultrarunning and enhance performance. The point was that THC is a banned performance-enhancing drug, so to use it during competition is cheating. Of course it is. Thank you, Rupert Murdoch.