For most people, the 26.2 miles that make up a marathon are a long and grueling distance. The more adventurous will undertake such a distance in disbelief, entering in order to see if they can finish at all. Then there’s marathoners, who run extreme distances at extreme speeds, chart their performance, try weird and demanding diets, garner sponsorships, hire trainers, take “vacations” to harsh landscapes in order to train for their race schedule.
Then, there’s ultramarathoners, who are just monsters, who practically can’t stop running, who wake up at 4 am to start their morning runs and then run again after work, if they have enough hours in the day to work a job. Ultramarathoners tend to get into the sport the same way that drug addicts do, in an all consuming obsessive rush. They need longer and longer runs to get their fix, and collect race numbers like take out menus; completely reinventing themselves as human animals on the run towards a freedom and a mental toughness that is completely unparalleled. Finally, there’s The 10 Most Ridiculously Impressive Ultra-Marathoners of All Time. Wait till you see what they’re like...
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No. 10 - Ted McDonald
Years Active: 2004 - Present
Longest Recorded Run: 100 miles
Crazy because... Mr. McDonald is one of those guys, the sandaled runner.
Ted McDonald, may not have the most storied distance career, though he is well regarded in the community. What he has really done for distance running is introduce and reinforce the idea that long distance high-logging maniacs don't need to blow so much money on fancy shoes; that the mechanics for a healthy running stride are already built in. Of course, he was not the first person to have this idea, and it is in many ways just a version of the Tarahumara Indians humble running tradition, but he was able to pass on the injury reducing technique and lack of heel running that has really advanced people's skillset in the past few years. He's been a huge proponent in the movement of running shoes away from heel cushion platforms, to minimal unhindering slippers. Ted's been running ultra's in sandals for almost 20 years, and while he doesn't shatter speed barriers, that's still enough of a feat right there.
No. 9 - Bernd Heinrich
Years Active: 1979 - 1985
Longest Recorded Run: 100 miles
Crazy because... Bernd ran his first marathon at the age of 40.
He was just slogging along until to his surprise, he heard the winner being announced before the final mile. Amazed at how close he was, he began to sprint to the finish line, passing the leader for one hell of a surprise victory. When he ran the Boston Marathon next, he found himself zooming past runners on the last miles, and then before he felt he hit his real stride, he ran out of race and just barely finished first. Heinrich realized that he needed a bigger race. But Bernd Heinrich, despite his wonderful newfound gift, was not interested in logging the number of races that nut jobs like Scott Jurek, Dean Karnazes and current company do. He ran only a handful of races in his career after the marathon. Of course, most of them resulted in an American or World record at the time. When he is not running thrillingly long distances, he is an incredibly gifted scholar and teacher who has written a number of books on biology, ecology, evolution, insect physiology, and "Racing the Antelope," a beautiful book about the evolution and history of running. But when he decides to take time off from his teaching and studies, he clocks in at the outdoor office and trains hard and long and breaks a world record or two. The man's got talents.
No. 8 - Ted Corbitt
Years Active: 1951 - 2003
Longest Recorded Run: 100 miles
Crazy beacuse... Ted Corbitt, at age 84, walked 68 miles to finish 17th out of 35 in a 24-hour race.
Though he discovered his love of running from a sordid past, during segretation times in America, Corbitt was forced to walk to school while white children took the bus, he remains an inspiration. Far from being resentful, he is grateful for this time of discovery. He ran throughout school, but didn't really begin to train until he had become a physical therapist and obtained his master's degree. He had his sights on the Boston Marathon, ever since he read about it as a child. He ran and placed 15th despite succumbing to the intense heat. Pretty good for a first marathon. After this race, his passion was unquenchable. He ran marathons, 50 milers, won the triple in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics (5,000m 10,000m, marathon), and set the world record for the 100 miler at the age of 50. But even more important than his incredible feats on the course was his influence on the culture and makeup of the sport itself. He became the first president of the Roadrunner's Club of America and was a huge advocate for the meticulous measuring of courses that is standard in the sport today. He was one of the first five inductees into the Distance Running Hall of Fame, and up to the year he died, he would attend every New York distance race to encourage runners and learn of their experiences with the sport, like the father of long distance running that he was.
No. 7 - Bruce Fordyce
Years Active: 1977 - Present
Longest Recorded Run: 62 miles
Crazy because... Fordyce won the Comrades Marathon...8 times in a row.
The thing that makes the Comrades Marathon different than any other in the world, has nothing to do with the terrain or the distance, though neither make it easy. The Comrades Marathon stands out simply because of its wild popularity. It is broadcast all over South Africa and other parts of the world like the Tour de France. People are scattered along the whole course and 100,000 are waiting in the stadium at the finish. Sure, the race runs on his home turf, but this shouldn't take any credit from him as his 50 mile record has sat unbroken for 21 years now. This sort of feat does happen in long distance running, but is less and less common every year, as the sport swells in popularity, intensity, and with new technology. Bruce Fordyce also stood against apartheid as a public figure, long before it was acceptable or safe to do so. He is probably the only ultra runner who gets compared to Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan in dominance and Nelson Mandela and Bill Rodgers in attitude. It's no exaggeration.
No. 6 - Cliff Young
Years Active: 1983 - 2000
Longest Recorded Run: 544 miles
Crazy because... he won an Ultramarathon at age 61.
There is often talk of youth accomplishing feats that many people can only dream of their whole life, especially in China. This is the opposite story. Cliff Young, in overalls and work boots, ran the Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon for the first time in 1983. Young grew up on a vast 2,000 kilometer farm where he often had to herd the sheep in himself, sometimes claiming that it took him two or three days of running. So when the spectators of the big race asked him if he really thought he could finish, he didn't feel he needed much of an explanation. The forerunners left him way behind at the gun, but Young carved away at their initial lead every day by NOT SLEEPING. After five days of machine like running--which spectators likened more to shuffling-- he beat the pack by almost a full day. He didn't know there was a prize for the race and gave his entire windfall to other runners. The shuffle of the beloved man was adopted by many as the style of least resistance, and Cliff Young's legend lives on to inspire anyone with a heart, a will, and a sense of wonder.
No. 5 - Tarahumara Indians in Mexico
Years Active: 17th Century - Present
Longest Recorded Run: 200 miles (but probably more)
Crazy because... Running in sandals and with no formal training and still being the boss.
Living in the Copper Canyons (Mexico's grand Canyon), the Tarahumara refer to themselves as the running people. They pride themselves on their ability to go great distances and over very difficult terrain, but the thing that people who have run with them intimately (Caballero Blanco and Scott Jurek) know is their joy. Their exceptional zest for running and their simple way of life have left them practically immune to the most common ailments among American men, especially heart disease, stroke, and gastrointestinal cancers, not to mention social problems like theft, murder, and suicide. They live in a more or less unaltered terrain, where only they know the winding paths through the ribbons of the canyon beds. Once a year they race another village across the canyons for a full day, kicking a wooden ball ahead of them. Occasionally a member of the tribe will go to America to race(and win) a 100 miler. They wear open toed sandals, and a sort of sheet around their waist when they run, which makes them look slightly like birds. And despite all this mythical sounding history, there is nothing particularly healthy about their diet of corn, beer, tequila, and sometimes cigarettes. They seem instead to be propelled and protected ultimately by their joy, and not by any solvable wisdom.
No. 4 - Serge Girard
Years Active: 1997 - Present
Longest Recorded Run: 16, 784 miles
Crazy because... Serge runs unimaginable distances (to most people), without stopping.
Serge Girard does not understand races. What arbitrary distances are people running these days? He is not interested. Serge runs the course of the land, a manifest destiny sort of runner. He's run across every continent except Antarctica (and there's still time for that). And in 2009 he ran without rest. To clarify, he ran 365 days straight for a grand total of 27,000 km in 25 of 27 European countries. He makes Forrest Gump look like a little kid chasing after a ball.
No. 3 - Yiannis Kouros
Years Active: 1977 - Present
Longest Recorded Run: 646 miles
Crazy because... Kouros taps into his mind power to get through races.
He is an accomplished musician and poet who uses his love of the arts as inspiration during his endurance runs... That sentence is 100% non-ironic. For Yiannis it is all about the mental game. For instance, his training regiment (which he doesn't recommend to anyone) consists entirely of track work. He never runs more than 12 Kilometers (7.5 miles), breaking this distance up into even smaller series. When does he do his long runs? The races are his long runs. He has some real gems about denying the body respite from pain like "The pain is the reality, but your mind can inspire you past it," and "when other people get tired they stop. I don't. I take over my body with my mind, I tell it that it's not tired and it listens." His 100 mile world record still stands from 1984; a feat that threatens to last for years to come. In his heyday he held every distance and time record over 100 miles and 24 hours. He is the living embodiment of Pheidippides and even played him in a movie version. He is a running Renaissance man. If the technology existed he could paint a picture, compose a song, cite a sonnet and send an emoticon laden inspirational tweet about pain during his 100 miler, but alas, it wasn't yet possible.
No. 2 - Dean Karnazes
Years Active: 1991 - Present
Longest Recorded Run: 3,000 miles
Crazy because... Dean had his running epiphany while drinking, and remembered it the next morning.
Probably the most impressive thing about Dean Karnazes is the story of how he became an ultra runner. Supposedly, on his 30th birthday, after leaving his sobriety at the door of a near-by bar, he felt anxious on such a landmark day. He slipped out of his own party, walked back to his house, put on some running shoes and split down the road. He ended up 30 miles out of town, having outrun his drunk by a few hours and discovered something special within himself. And he's been sharing that something special with the running community and the general public for 15 years now. Dean Karnazes is like the yin to Scott Jurek's yan. Both men have turned their extreme gifts into inspiring books and public speaking engagements, but while Jurek has a quiet Buddhist-like calm, Karnazes has that in your face American tenacity, sponsorships, magazine covers, Espy's. He does not believe in sitting. He sleeps four hours a night. He is the ultra runner who most often has his shirt off. But whatever you think about Karnazes, his drive is untouchable. He ran 50 Marathons in 50 states in 50 days and then decided to run from the last Marathon in New York back to California. During a three day straight run in Northern California he fell asleep for 60 ft (his estimate) without falling or even swerving. Maybe if he can figure out how to sleep while running, he can cut those four hours down to two.
No. 1 - Scott Jurek
Years Active: 1994 - Present
Longest Recorded Run: 166 miles
Crazy because... Scott Jurek is an absolute machine. The dude sprained his ankle at the half-way mark of the Western States 100, and where a normal human would stop, or at least slow down, yes Jurek finished first, as he had the year before.
He did one better at the Hardrock 100, this time spraining it before the race, giving it time to swell up to about grapefruit size, and not only won a race IN THE MOUNTAINS, but this time set a course record for time and pain threshold. In Badwater, which starts in Death Valley (elev. -282') and finishes on Mount Whitney (elev. 8360'), he collapsed on the side of the road for a full 10 minutes, wheezing and vomiting before coming back to life and finishing with a course record. He's done it all, from going to the home country of distance running lore to win the Spartathlon a couple times, to going to the home of the Tarahumara Indians in the Copper Canyons of Mexico and racing their fastest living runner in a scene out of a movie no one has seen. He came in second, so he came back the next year and won for good measure. And just to throw a little fire on your already blown mind, he accomplished all of this, on an all vegan diet; one that he began just months before the first of his seven Western States 100 victories. Perhaps his quiet diet may account for the fact that after every single race, he waits at the finish line to congratulate runners as they pass and thank them for participating. While all ultra runners are clearly built for running, Scott Jurek is exhibit A in the argument that man was meant to run.
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