Whether you’re in the running world or not, you’ve probably met an ultra distance runner at some point in your life. The sport is fairly new, but it seems to be growing in popularity as more people achieve unthinkable feats. Here are a few of our favorite moments in the sport’s history.
The Founding Years
“Pedestrianism,” the predecessor of ultrarunning, caught the United States by storm in the mid nineteenth century. In 1867 Edward Payson Weston walked from Portland to Chicago in 25 days, and the rest is history. People started paying attention to the cultish sport, and a strong rivalry developed between Payson and another man named Daniel O’Leary.
The two competed in a series of six day races, which soon developed into the “Long Distance Championship of the World” competition. Fans bet a lot of money on the races, and the winning athletes made quite a bit of money.
Before long the six day walking competition developed into a “go as you please” pace and ultra distance running was born. In 1879 Fred Hitchborn set a world record in the race when he logged 565 miles in six days. After that the 623 mile record was held for 100 years by George Littlewood.
Yiannis Kouros beat the longstanding record just before the sport’s popularity was replaced by fast car racing, but ultra distance running still exists in some circles, and those who are still into it have achieved some truly amazing feats.
4,000 Miles in 111 Days
Running through 100 degree heat, intense wind and injuries sounds like a nightmare to most people. Charlie Engle, Ray Zahab, and Kevin Lin, however, took on the challenge of running through the Sahara Desert. They ran through Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya, and Egypt along the way, and say that their journey was a life changing experience. A crew filmed the entire experience and released a documentary called Running The Sahara in 2007.
Every year about 70 people attempt to make their way from Bad Water, Death Valley to the portals of Mount Whitney. The distance between the two spots is 135 miles, and the run takes you from the lowest point in the United States to the highest. Runners ascend 13,000 feet and challenge 130 degree heat. To battle the high temperatures, runners are forced to run on a white line so their soles don’t melt. They also have to wear heat suits. The average finish time is about 35 hours (straight competition, no sleep), but recent winners have achieved times between 24 and 25 hours.
A Mile a Day
Running a single mile day doesn’t seem too difficult, but when you think about running through illness, the day your children were born, and on your wedding day, the achievement sounds a bit more difficult. Mark Covert has run at least one mile every day since July 23, 1968 when he was a high school senior. He often runs well over a mile a day, averaging about 5 miles every workout. At his peak he was logging about 150 miles per week, but he’s still running every day and going strong the entire way.
3:43 Marathon – Backwards
Xu Zhenjun of China not only ran an entire marathon in under four hours, but he ran it backwards. Backwards running is said to have been founded by Timothy “Bud” Badyna who also completed a marathon and 10k both backward. Some people may find the phenomenon a bit off the wall, but there is actually quite a following for backwards running, and many sites swear by the health benefits of backward running.
7 Days, 7 Continents, 7 Marathons
Running a marathon takes intense training and endurance but factor in jet lag and dramatic temperature changes and running seven consecutive marathons on seven different continents seems next to impossible. Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Dr. Michael Stroud managed the feat, traveling from Chile to the Falkland Islands, Sydney, Singapore, London, Cairo and New York City on their journey.
2 hours 4 minutes 36 second Marathon
Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia holds the world record for the marathon with an astonishing 2:4:36 time. Broken down that is a 4 minute, 48 second per mile pace for 26.2 straight miles.
Buddhist monks in Mount Hiei, Japan are pushing the limits of the human body. On a quest to reach spiritual enlightenment, the monks set out each day after their morning prayer at 1:30am in order to achieve 100 consecutive days of 26.2-mile marathons. Only 46 men have completed the feat it since the monks started the challenge in 1885.