In 1980, at the age of 32, Roy Pirrung was 60 pounds overweight, smoked 2 packs of cigarettes a day, and was a self-described binge drinker. He decided to take up running to help change his lifestyle. Within a year he was 60 pounds lighter, tobacco and alcohol free, and ran his first marathon, in 3:16. Only two years after that his marathon time was down to 2:38. It would seem he was born to run. In 1985 he ran his first ultra, the Ice Age 50 Mile trail race in Wisconsin, finishing 5th in one of the most competitive trail ultras in the country. Only four months later he won the Fond du Lac 24-Hour race with just under 138 miles, and found himself ranked #1 American at that event for the year. Yes, he was born to run.
Ultra racing success continued at a brisk pace for Pirrung. In 1987 he became a national champion for the first time, winning the USA 100 Mile Championship in New York City. A year later he garnered his second national title and his first national record, winning the inaugural USA 24-Hour Championship in Atlanta with a new American Road Record of 145 miles, 1464 yards. The following year, 1989, he returned to New York City for the 100 Mile National Championship, only to suffer the misfortune of going up against multiple national recordholder Rae Clark (2011 American Ultra Hall of Fame inductee), who proceeded to obliterate the American Record by running 12:12. However, Pirrung took the silver medal in 13:15, putting him at #5 on the all-time U.S. list for the distance. It was time to up his game and go international. He went right to the top.
In September 1989 Roy Pirrung traveled to Greece to run the 155-mile Spartathlon, from Athens to Sparta. The 24-Hour World Championship did not yet exist, and the Spartathlon served as the most competitive international ultra for 24-hour specialists. In preparation he increased his training mileage to over 200 miles per week, sometimes hitting 250. In the hot, hilly race Pirrung finished 4th in 27:08:45, the first time an American had broken 30 hours for the course. Four months later he represented the USA in the inaugural IAU International 24-Hour Championship at Milton Keynes, England. Running well at halfway, he then faltered badly and was required to leave the course under a forced medical watch. After a brief rest he rebounded remarkably, running faster than anyone on the course in the closing hours to finish third in a stellar international field and setting a new American Record with 154 miles, 313 yards.
In 1991 Pirrung won his second USA National 24-Hour Run Championship title in Portland, OR with 148 miles, 798 yards, which again ranked him #1 American for the year at that event. In 1992 he returned to the Spartathlon, this time improving to a third place finish. Ultrarunning Magazine ranked it the #2 ultra performance of the year for an American. In 1993 he was bronze medalist at the USA National 24-Hour Championship, and silver medalist the following year. In 1996, heading into his second decade of successful ultra competition at the age of 48, he won the Cornbelt Running Club 24-Hour with 138+ miles, then returned to the Spartathlon for yet another 4th place finish.
In 1997 Roy Pirrung extended his racing range, finishing 2nd in the world’s premier 48-Hour race at Surgeres, France, setting a new American Record with 243 miles, 779 yards. En route he covered just under 148 miles at the 24-hour mark. Later that year he once again won the silver medal at the USA 24-Hour Championship. For 1997 he was selected by USA Track & Field as the winner of the Ted Corbitt award, representing the #1 male ultrarunner in the country. The next year, 1998, he again made the podium at the USA 24-Hour National Championship, finishing 3rd overall at the age of 50. The following year he placed 5th in the same national championship and returned to France to finish 3rd in the Surgeres 48 Hour. Two years later he returned again to finish 2nd at Surgeres. And he would continue to place in the top 4 at the USA 24-Hour Championship for an additional five years (finishing as high as 2nd overall in 2007 at age 59), and in the top 3 one additional year at the Surgeres 48-Hour, in his mid-late 50’s.
Roy Pirrung’s ultra career continued at a world-class level for over two decades, and continues today at a similar level in the Masters age-group categories. He has raced in almost every state in the USA, and in 26 different countries on 5 continents. He has run in almost two dozen USA 24-Hour National Championships, has won two of them, and has placed in the top 5 in 17 of them. In addition to his three open National Championship gold medals and his three open American Records, he has won over 80 Masters age-group National Championship Titles and has broken over 50 Masters age-group National Records. He served as a member of the original National Ultra Subcommittee of USA Track & Field (USATF), and he continues to serve currently on the Mountain/Ultra/Trail Council of USATF. He has also served as the USA representative to the International Association of Ultrarunners General Council, and as the president of the American Ultrarunning Association.
We welcome Roy Pirrung into the American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame.
(Note: In order to become eligible for induction into the American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame, an athlete must have been retired from ultramarathon competition for 10 years or have reached the age of 60)