By Jonathan Gault
May 28, 2020
Inspired by the success of last month’s Quarantine Backyard Ultra, a handful of elite runners will attempt to break treadmill world records across five distances next week. Sara Hall, the fastest American female marathoner of 2019, is the headliner, and will be shooting for the women’s treadmill half marathon record of 1:20:43 (Hall’s pb is 1:08:58).
The event, which will be held on Saturday, June 6, and is known as the Chaski Challenge, is the brainchild of Tyler Andrews, a 2:15 marathoner who ran a world best of 2:46:06 for 50,000 meters on the track in 2018 (LRC recorded a podcast with him shortly before that race). Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Andrews had planned to spend the spring training with Jim Walmsley in Flagstaff as the two men prepared to race the famed Comrades Marathon in South Africa. Instead, Andrews is now based at his parents’ house in Concord, Mass., but is still training hard and wanted to create an opportunity to allow himself and others to demonstrate their fitness.
“A lot of people are really fit out there right now and have nothing to do with it,” Andrews says. “So we wanted to do that. And then just create a really compelling, fun, conversation-provoking event that people can watch on a Saturday night and have fun with.”
Similar to the Quarantine Backyard Ultra, the Chaski Challenge will feature a free live online broadcast and tracking of the record attempts around the country with cameras aimed at each elite runner’s treadmill. 2016 Olympian Marielle Hall and ultrarunner Kris Brown (13th at 2019 Western States 100) will serve as commentators.
“Chaski Endurance Collective, which is my coaching collective, we have a bunch of different athletes from different areas on staff and we were kind of just bouncing around ideas and talking about what could we do that’s kind of building off what Quarantine Backyard Ultra did really well, because that event just absolutely crushed it,” Andrews says.
Andrews also felt the inclusive nature of the Quarantine Backyard Ultra — anyone could sign up and compete — was one of the keys to its success, and to that end, the Chaski Challenge will feature free-to-enter 5k and 50k races, which anyone can sign up for and complete during a 24-hour window beginning on June 5 at 4 p.m. ET (there is an optional donation to Feeding America’s COVID-19 relief efforts).
At 6 p.m. ET on June 6, the broadcast will begin with the men’s 50k, which features Andrews, 2014 world 100k champ Max King, and Quarantine Backyard Ultra champion Mike Wardian (2:54 50k pb). Midway through that race, the men’s half marathon (featuring 61:51 man John Raneri) and the women’s half marathon (featuring Hall and 2:27 marathoner Renee Metivier) will begin. Mario Mendoza will also be attempting to break the 50-mile record; that attempt will begin prior to the broadcast. The current treadmill world records for each event are as follows (the men will also try to break the marathon record en route to 50k):
Women’s half marathon: 1:20:43, Jenna Wrieden, USA, 2014
Men’s half marathon: 1:03:37, Tyler Andrews, USA, 2015
Men’s marathon: 2:20:45, Paul Zwama, Netherlands, 2018
Men’s 50k: 2:56:35, Matthias Kyburz, Switzerland, 2020
Men’s 50-mile: 4:57:45, Jacob Puzey, USA, 2016
Andrews chose those events because he believes each record is ripe for the taking. The 50k record has been broken three times already this year; both Wardian and Mendoza are former holders of the record.
“We are 100% sure that we are going to break these records in this race,” says Andrews. “There’s zero question. The women’s half marathon mark is 1:20. I’m pretty sure that women out there have done that in training before and not recorded it. We’re not just looking to break these; we want to make these legitimate. We want to have actual, really good athletes just totally destroy them and set them way out of reach.”
Andrews feels confident he is just as fit as when he ran 2:46 for 50,000 meters in 2018; on Sunday, he ran a workout of 7 x 5k (16:19, 16:20, 16:20, 16:16, 16:11, 16:07, 15:51) with 1k recovery for a total of 41k on the treadmill in 2:16. He will be making the attempt in a room that doubles as his office and a storage room for his dad’s clothes.
“There’s a TV inside the cabinet [in front of the treadmill],” Andrews says. “I don’t watch television when I’m running, but I actually kind of like it because it’s almost a black mirror, so I can see my upper running form, so I can see if I’m starting to list to one side or slouch a little bit.”
Hall bouncing back from Olympic Trials disappointment
Andrews has run into one issue with the Chaski Challenge: Hall will not be able to run her portion of the event live. Instead, she will record her attempt this week, and it will be played at the same time as the other attempts on the broadcast next week. Still, she is excited to give it a go.
“It’s a tough time for all sports, but especially with ours including the masses, people need things to stay motivated or to get a benchmark of fitness,” Hall says. “I wanted to support that and it will be nice to get a benchmark of fitness for myself in the process and hopefully provide some entertainment to people.”
Hall’s most recent race was the US Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta on February 29, where she dropped out after 22 miles. Hall says her recovery has been “a process.”
“I wanted that team more than any other race of my career, so I think I’m still somewhat getting over the disappointment and I think I’ll always look back on it with frustration,” Hall says.
After falling short in the Marathon Trials, Hall’s initial plan was to give the track trials a go in either the 5,000 or 10,000; even once they were postponed, her recent training has focused on those distances. She eventually plans to transition into a buildup for a fall 2020 marathon (if they happen) before returning to the track for the 2021 Olympic Trials.
For a woman who has run 1:08 for a half, 1:20 should be a piece of cake — theoretically. But Hall is not peaking for the Chaski Challenge. And since she rarely runs on treadmills, she doesn’t want to risk injury by giving a full race effort. In addition, she’ll likely be running at almost 7,000 feet in Flagstaff — which Hall says usually knocks 15 seconds per mile off her tempo pace. Still, record pace is just 6:10 per mile, which is very attainable for Hall, even with those caveats.
Hall won’t be able to make her attempt from the comfort of home as her treadmill is currently broken. Her plan is to head to a gym (which are now open in Arizona) and take her shot there. Unlike most half marathon record attempts, however, Hall will be able to have her four daughters cheer her on every step of the way — if they choose to.
“I’ll create a playlist to give me some entertainment and the girls will probably cheer me on, but will likely get bored after a few minutes and wander off,” Hall says.
More details, including how to sign up, here.