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Desert Solstice: will the 24-hour world record go down this weekend?

In 24-hour racing, anything is possible

Photo by: Zach Bitter/Instagram

With strict COVID-19 protocols, 24 runners are set to race at Aravaipa Running’s Desert Solstice 24-hour and 100-mile event, beginning Saturday morning, December 12, on the track at Phoenix’s Central High School. After mountain runner Kilian Jornet failed to break Yiannis Kouros’s 24-hour world record earlier this month in Norway, all eyes will be on competitors like Zach Bitter, Harvey Lewis, Olivier Leblond and Jake Jackson in the invitation-only event where 14 world records and 80 national records have been set.

RELATED: Yiannis Kouros suggests Kilian Jornet is shoe doping for 24-hour world record attempt 

Students of the record doubt that it’s in danger this weekend, though in ultra racing, anything is possible. Twenty-three years ago, in 1997, Kouros ran 303.5 kilometres (188.5 miles) on a track in Adelaide, Australia, and some believe it to be the greatest ultrarunning record of all time: in a report last year, LetsRun discovered that Kouros actually holds the eleven fastest 24-hour times ever recorded – with his world record in the top position.

It takes some confidence (some would say hubris) to publicly target a record as ambitious as this one when you have never raced on the track, as Jornet had not, and some observers (including Kouros himself) were critical of Jornet’s attempt for that reason. In Facebook posts that have since been taken down, Kouros also criticized it for being a marketing project by Salomon, along the lines of Nike’s Breaking2 and INEOS 1:49 events, as opposed to an actual race open to multiple competitors.

Kilian Jornet
Kilian Jornet at UTMB. Photo: Pascal Tournaire/UTMB
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Bitter is an impressive runner. He holds multiple world and American ultrarunning records, including the 100-mile world record (11:19:13). But he has never actually completed a 24-hour race. The men’s U.S. 24-hour record on the track is held by Rae Clark at 265.932 km; the overall 24-hour U.S. record belongs to Mike Morton, with 277.543 km.

Leblond, Jackson and Lewis were all members of the U.S. 24-hour team that won gold in Albi, France a year ago (Leblond finished third overall, with 275.485 km), and Lewis was the runner who finally caved to Courtney Dauwalter, the U.S. team champion, Big’s Backyard Ultra national championships earlier this year, where the U.S. finished second to Belgium.

The women’s race features 2019 overall 24-hour champion Marisa Lizak, among others. Lizak recently broke the women’s 48-hour American record at Three Days at the Fair in New Jersey. 

The race is following the Arizona rules for outdoor events. Athletes must produce two negative COVID tests in the week preceding the race. Race staff and volunteers must also furnish a negative test and be masked at all times. Spectators are not allowed.

The race starts at 8:00 a.m. Mountain (10:00 a.m. ET). Click here to follow the live webcast.

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