May 20, 2019
Editor’s note: HOKA ONE ONE is sponsoring LetsRun.com’s exploration of the ultramarathon over the month of May, trying to determine the answer to the question: “What are the best ultramarathons in the world?” You can join the debate here. While this is sponsored content, HOKA had no say in what was written.
For the last week or so, we’ve been asking ourselves “What are the best ultramarathoning records?” A few days ago, we shared 7 legendary records that greatly impress us. However, today it is time to reveal the one ultramarathon record that we consider to be the GOAT – greatest of all time.
It’s impossible to find the #1 ultramarathon record that everyone will agree on. The ultramarathon world is so diverse with so many different types of races and so many different distances that people will always be able to debate what truly is the best record, as direct comparisons are next to impossible. That also makes the discussion a little more interesting.
When we were looking for the GOAT record, we were looking for a few things. All else being equal, we preferred that the record be from a set distance (say 100k or 100 miles) rather than a course record because courses are very hard to compare to each other and often times even the same race has a slightly different course from year to year. Additionally, we preferred to pick a record that is from a race/distance that is regularly run. And we definitely wanted to pick a record that stood up to a statistical analysis of its worthiness. The longer the record has existed, the more likely it was to be chosen. Additionally, when comparing the record to the opposite sex’s record for the same event, we wanted it to fare well.
And we’ve found a winner. The holder of the record is Yiannis Kouros of Greece/Australia.
Kouros is an ultramarathon legend, particularly for races lasting 24 hours and longer. When it came time to pick the #1 ultramarathon record of all time, it didn’t take that long to realize Kouros’ name was going to be on it – the question soon became, “Which of his records is his best?”
Kouros, 63, was in his prime in the late 1990s and yet he still holds a slew of world records. Still to this day, he’s run farther than any human ever has in 24 hours (188.58 mi/303.506 km, in 1997), 48 hours (294.212 mi/473.495 km in 1996) and six days (644.23 mi/1,036.8 km in 2005). But we had to choose one and it wasn’t a tough choice.
The Best Ultramarathon Record Out There – Yiannis Kouros’ 24-Hour Record of 303.306 Km (188.68 Miles) From 1997
Why we love the 24-hour record
Well, one of the biggest appeals of the 24-hour record is its simplicity. It’s a classic event in ultramarathoning. How far can you run in a day?
That’s a very natural record and one that resonates much better than 48 hours or 6 days. If we are going to do 2-day records, why not 3 and 4? And 6 days? We know what those of you who aren’t ultra aficionados are thinking, “Why isn’t it 7 days – how long can you run in a week?”
The answer is because the 6-day race is a classic distance in ultrarunning since the 6-day race became VERY popular back in the 1870s when up to 70,000 paying spectators would watch them. In the 1800s, it was likely a six-day race and not a seven-day race because the sabbath was taken a little more seriously back then. Regardless, Kouros has a fine history in the event. Only 11 times has a human covered more than 1,000 km in 6 days on foot and Kouros is the leader of the group at 1,036.8 km or 644.2 miles back in 2005. Kouros is the only human to have run more than 1,000 km in six days more than once – he’s done it 4 times and has 4 of the top 5 marks in history.
|The 12 1000+ KM Six-Day Performances *Via ultramarkus (slightly edited)
1. 2005 Yiannis Kouros, 49 1036.80km / 644.10 miles Colac, Australia
2. 1992 Jean-Gilles Boussiquet, 48 1030 km* / 640 miles La Rochelle, France
3. 1988 Yiannis Kouros, 32 1028.938 km / 639.48 miles New York, USA (Split in 1000 mile race)
4. 1984 Yiannis Kouros, 28 1023km/ 635,79 miles Colac, Australia (December)
5. 1984 Yiannis Kouros, 28 1022.068km / 635 miles New York, USA (July)
6. 2007 Wolfgang Schwerk, 52 1010.08km / 627.76 miles Erkrath, Germany
7. 1992 Gilbert Mainix, 57 1007.60km /626.10 miles La Rochelle, France
8. 1888 George Littlewood 1003.02km / 623.25 miles New York, USA
9. 1989 Bryan Smith, 46 1002.00km /622.62 miles Colac, Australia
10. 1990 James Zarei, 46 1001.52km / 622.31 miles Gateshead, Great Britain
11. 1888 James Albert Cathcart 1000.61km / 621.75 miles New York, USA *ultramarkus listed the #2 mark at 1034 km but we believe it’s 1030.
Kouros’ record 6-day run comes out to an average of 107.35 miles per day and while that’s impressive, it was never going to be our #1 mark as it’s an obscure distance and he only beat a guy from the 1880s by just over 20 miles (3.34%).
At the 48-hour distance, Kouros is even more dominant from a historical perspective. He holds the top 6 marks in history and 9 of the top 11.
The Top 48-Hour Runs In History in Km (Via Statistik.d-u-v.org)
- 473.495 Yiannis Kouros 13feb1956 AUS 1 Surgeres 05may1996
- 470.270 Yiannis Kouros 13feb1956 AUS 1 Surgeres 08may1995
- 452.270 Yiannis Kouros 13feb1956 AUS 1 Montauban 17mar1995
- 443.337 Yiannis Kouros 13feb1956 AUS 1 Surgeres 30may2004
- 438.813 Yiannis Kouros 13feb1956 AUS 1 Surgeres 04may2003
- 436.702 Yiannis Kouros 13feb1956 AUS 1 Surgeres 05may2002
- 433.686 Martin Fryer 10sep1961 AUS 1 Surgeres 26may2009 track
- 433.384 Tomas Rusek 27aug1948 CZE 2 Surgeres 08may1995
- 433.095 Yiannis Kouros 13feb1956 GRE 1 Ronne 25may2008
- 432.400 Yiannis Kouros 13feb1956 AUS 1 Colac 26nov2005
- 428.890 Yiannis Kouros 13feb1956 GRE 1 New York 04jul1984
All else being equal, 24 hours was going to win out over 48 hours or 6 days. It’s sort of the opposite of the marathon/half marathon comparison. In the marathon world, a full marathon is a much bigger deal than a half. In the ultramarathon world, a 24-hour run is a much bigger deal than a 48-hour run.
And at the 24-hour marathon distance, Kouros was unbelievable. If you think holding 9 of the top 11 marks for 48 hours is impressive, then you’ll like the fact that Kouros holds the 11 best marks ever recorded in a 24-hour period.
The Top 24-Hour Runs In History in Km (Via Statistik.d-u-v.org)
- 303.306 Yiannis Kouros Adelaide 04oct1997 1997 track
- 295.030 Yiannis Kouros Canberra 05oct1997 1997 track
- 294.104 Yiannis Kouros Coburg 14apr1996 1996 track
- 290.221 Yiannis Kouros Basel 03may1998 1998 road
- 286.463 Yiannis Kouros New York 29sep1985 1985 road
- 285.362 Yiannis Kouros Surgeres 07may1995 1995 track
- 285.002 Yiannis Kouros Surgeres 04may1996 1996 track
- 284.853 Yiannis Kouros New York 08nov1984 1984 road
- 284.070 Yiannis Kouros 1Soochow 03mar2002 2002 track
- 283.600 Yiannis Kouros Montauban 17mar1985 1985 track
- 282.981 Yiannis Kouros Coburg 09apr1995 1995 track
- 282.282 Denis Zhalybin Sankt Peterburg 03sep2006 2006 road
His record of 303.306 km (188.67 miles) is more than 21 km (13.01 miles) better than the next best mark recorded by anyone in history (Russia’s Denis Zhalybin 282.282 km in 2006). That’s 7.45% better. Maybe the best way to think of this is in terms of pace per mile. Kouros averaged 7:38.44 mile pace all day long whereas the next best man in history only averaged 8:12.58 per mile. So Kouros is 34.14 seconds per mile faster than anyone else in history over 24 hours. That’s unreal. If they were racing a marathon at those paces, Kouros would win by nearly 15 minutes (14:55), but Kouros completed 7.2 marathons in a 24-hour period.
If it’s not already apparent why Kouros’ mark has stood the test of time since October 4, 1997, then consider this final stat. Camille Herron‘s women’s world record of 262.1927 km (162.91 miles) is 15.76% slower than Kouros’ men’s WR of 303.506 km (188.59 mi). If we were going to bump up Herron’s mark to get it into the 10-12% range where most women’s track and field/swimming records are in relation to the men, then we’d have to add 8.8 km (5.5 miles) to her distance, meaning she’d have had to drop her average time by 17.2 seconds per miles, from 8:50.3 to 8:33.1.
So there you have it, the greatest ultramarathon record of all time – the GOAT – is Yiannis Kouros’ 24-hour record of 303.306 km (188.68 miles) from 1997.
Our new ultramarathon discussion topic for this week is: *MB: Who are the greatest ultramarathon runners in history? Post your thoughts and you could win some free Hoka great.
Note: We are going to attempt to interview Kouros. If he thinks his 48-hour record or 6-day record is better, we’ll probably acquiesce to his expertise.