A group of 22 ultrarunners from across the U.S. gathered in Phoenix, Ariz., over the weekend to race Aravaipa Running’s Desert Solstice 24-hour and 100-mile event. The race was billed as a record attempt from Zach Bitter, who entered the event aiming to beat Greek ultrarunning legend Yiannis Kouros‘s world record of 303.5 kilometres in 24 hours from 1997. He ultimately fell well short of the record, running just 186K in the elite invite-only race that Nick Coury and Marisa Lizak won. Coury ran 250K and Lizak covered 229K to take the wins, and Olivier Leblond set a U.S. age group record with his 100-mile run.
Coury (whose brother Jamil is the founder of Aravaipa Running) ran to the win in Phoenix, but second-place finisher Ryan Montgomery certainly made him work for it, running just under 249K. Montgomery finished a little over a kilometre behind Coury, which made for an exciting final few hours of running as the race wasn’t decided until the clock officially stopped at 24 hours. Third place went to Jordan Camastro, who finished well back of Coury and Montgomery with a still-impressive final result of 231K.
Lizak won the event outright in 2019, but she had to settle for fourth overall this year, finishing less than 2K behind Camastro. She had a much bigger buffer over the second-place woman than Coury had on Montgomery, and she won by about 5K. Second went to Whitney Richman, who ran 224K, and Loretta Tobolske-Horn won the last spot on the women’s podium after running 166K.
While Bitter failed to challenge for the 24-hour record, the 48-year-old Leblond managed to run a record of his own. He set the 100-mile American record for the 45-49 age group, completing the 160K run in a blazing-fast 12:41:57. Full results from the 22-person event can be found here.
Bitter has several ultrarunning records to his name, including the amazing 100-mile world record of 11 hours, 19 minutes, 13 seconds. He’s a star ultrarunner, but he struggled over the weekend and didn’t come anywhere close to Kouros’s record. Bitter isn’t the first runner to be shattered by Kouros’s incredible mark of 303K, though, and it’s likely that he won’t be the last. In fact, he isn’t even the first runner to fail in a 24-hour world record attempt in the past 30 days, as Spanish ultrarunning champion Kilian Jornet also took a shot at the 23-year-old mark at an event in Norway in late November. Like, Bitter, Jornet failed to match Kouros, and he ended up pulling out of the attempt after 11 hours of running.
As more runners chase and fall short of the bar that Kouros set in 1997, the record becomes more and more awe-inspiring and incredible. It’s a distance that some of the best ultrarunners of this generation want so badly to better, but when they try, they hardly come close. Now that it’s on the radar of the Jornets and the Bitters of the world and they’re actively working to beat Kouros, though, the record certainly could be in jeopardy. Even so, it’s such an enormous and lofty goal that, even if top athletes dedicate themselves to the 24-hour race, Kouros’s record could stand for many decades to come.