Sunday 9 December 2012

Top Global Ultra Performances in 2012

This year has been spectacular for ultrarunning. Given we're near the end of 2012 and there aren't many chances for mind-blowing performances left before 2013 (probably none on trails), I thought I'd go through some of the incredible runs that people have done this year. I've been lucky enough to see many of these in person and each has been inspiring and helped to push the boundaries of our sport. There were many more great runs than those below, but these are the ones that really stood out to me as being on a different level.


Dakota Jones, Transvulcania, Canary Islands (Spain), May - With almost 15,000ft of ascent in somewhere around 50 miles in this Skyrunning Ultra, plus heat, humidity and a large portion of the world's best mountain runners, Dakota ran a 6:58 course record. Having run the course up and around a stunning volcano personally, his dominating performance was really special and set the bar early in the season.

Dakota after winning Transvulcania. Photo: International Skyrunning Federation

Ludwick Mamabolo, Comrades, South Africa, June - Arguably always the deepest field of ultrarunners in the world, it takes sub 6 min/mile pace over 55.5 hilly miles to win this in a 'down run' year. The top 10 men were spaced out by a mere nine minutes and the winner has to be considered to be one of the most impressive ultrarunners globally. Sadly, this year was marred by the fact that Mamabolo seemingly failed his A and B sample drug tests according to all the newspaper articles I could find. Strangely he's not been disqualified and there doesn't seem to be any news on this since July (when his B sample was tested and failed).

Tim Olson, Western States 100, USA, June - Admittedly the weather was favorably mild but Tim destroyed the full course and the record with his 14:47 finish (20 minutes off Geoff Roes' 2010 North American Ultra Performance of the Year). His pace over the last 38 miles distanced him from the pack who were all around course record pace (and annoyingly just a few minutes ahead of me) for the fastest finishing split ever. This is a record that I suspect will last at least until the next time the weather is freakishly easy and that could be a long time. I'm not sure anyone could come close to that time in the heat.

Mike Morton, Badwater 135, USA, July - Mike's run was a minute off the course record of 22:51 for 135 miles through Death Valley in obscene temperatures. I only saw him once while I crewed Aussie Dave Eadie since he zoomed off at such a pace it seemed impossible to sustain. He was under the course record splits until very close to the end but a slow climb up towards Mt Whitney robbed him of the record. It was the first time I witnessed Mike's running and his style and pace makes it such a great thing for the sport that he's back to full fitness and racing again.

Hal Koerner, Hard Rock 100, USA, July - Hal's proved he's a tough runner on any type of terrain but is better known for his fast times at relatively flatter 100-milers, like his wins at Western States, Rocky Raccoon and Javelina show. But he ran 24:50 for one of the fastest times ever at this insanely hard and high altitude race. Not bad for someone not living at altitude and firmly placing him among the top ultrarunners of the year.

Kilian Jornet, Skyrunning and Other Ultras, Globally, All Through Summer - I don't even know which of his runs was most impressive but he showed again that i the mountains he's second to none with wins at Speedgoat 50k (controversial and technically a DNF), Trofeo Kima, Cavalls del Vent and Grand Raid de la Reunion. He also won numerous non-ultra mountain races, often beating the best runners in the world, including Max King (see below for what he does out of the mountains).

Mike Morton, World Championship 24-hour race, Poland, September - Mike won the gold medal with one of the best 24-hour results of recent years and smashed the US record too with over 172 miles. That's an AVERAGE pace of 8:20/mile for a full day! Amazing as this is, it's still 16 miles short of Yiannis Kouros' mind-bending 188.6 miles, the world record from 1997. That's probably Yiannis' most amazing record (just my opinion there) and that's saying something from such a legend, so Mike's distance is still absolutely incredible.

Max King, UROC 100k, USA, September - After a couple of 50-milers that saw Max blow up near the end, he focused more on long runs and it paid off with 7:57 for at least 60 miles and something like 10,000ft of ascent. Running behind I was convinced he'd blow up (or more likely get lost given he has a tendency to do this while leading) but he sustained the pace and broke away from speedy marathoner and US Mountain Running Team member, Sage Canaday. Yes, there was a lot of road in this one, but not much was flat and this was probably the most impressive performance I saw this year.

Max King, JFK 50, USA, September - Last year David Riddle's 5:40 course record got the North American Performance of the Year so Max's 5:34 shows another level of pace and was yet more proof of his incredible abilities in ultras.

Miguel Heras, TNFEC San Francisco, USA, December - Probably the deepest field of the year at an ultra, although a few top contenders certainly weren't there (Max King, Geoff Roes, Anton Krupicka, Kilian Jornet and others) but there's no way that everyone will manage to turn up uninjured and pick the same race since that doesn't even happen at the Olympics. Miguel ran incredibly fast and benefited from the leaders going off course then having to catch up later. However, his closing lap was so much better than everyone else that there's a good chance he'd have caught and overtaken the leaders anyway. 5:33 for almost 47 miles of muddy hills was truly exceptional.


Anna Frost, Transvulcania, Canary Islands (Spain), May - Like Dakota's run at this race was his most impressive of the year, this was Anna's most amazing run. 8:11 smashed the course record but nobody else even got close to her and she was mainly racing to get into the top 10 men in a deep field of talent, just missing out with 11th.

Anna Frost celebrates after Transvulcania by smoking Dakota's prize. Photo: Ian Sharman

Elena Nurgalieva, Comrades, South Africa, June - The Nurgalieva twins have dominated both major South African road ultras (the other being Two Oceans) for a decade but since Olesya was having a baby there was no chance of another 1-2 finish. Even when they had a bad year in 2011 and struggled, they still managed to finish in the top two spots. Elena racked up her seventh win (third in a row) and tenth consecutive podium with her fastest ever time - 6:07 (6:36/mile) for 43rd overall!

Ellie Greenwood, Comrades/Western States 100 double, South Africa and USA, June - Ellie chased Elena down at Comrades and finished a mere minute off the win (48th overall), which is impressive enough in itself. Then three weeks later she took a whopping 50 minutes off Ann Trason's rock solid course record at Western States 100, running 16:47. These are probably the two best performances of the year by a North American (yes she comes from Scotland but is virtually a Canadian citizen now). Admittedly there's the same asterisk by the Western States time that Timmy has for his CR, but I have no doubt that both of them ran the best performances ever by a woman and man, respectively, at Western States.

Lizzy Hawker, Spartathlon 153, Greece, September - After a month in which she won the shortened UTMB and Run Rabbit Run 100, she also won the Spartathlon 153-mile road race with a course record 27:02 for third overall. Lizzy's always pushing boundaries, but that month was something special and the Spartathlon win on what must have been tired legs was impressive.

Ellie Greenwood, JFK 50, USA, November - obviously 2012 was kind of Ellie's year given her results at trail, mountain and road ultras of multiple distances. But the other really notable performance was her 17 minutes off the course record of America's biggest and oldest ultra. Her win and record was no surprise but cemented just what a versatile and fast runner she is, running 6:12 for tenth overall.

So I think it's fair to say that 2012 showed a step change in the level of trail ultrarunning with so many course records being broken, often by large margins. For example, we saw the eight of the top 20 Western States times for the men in the 2012 race, plus six of the top 20 women's times. Many major races required times that would normally win just to get anywhere close to the podium. So 2013 is something to look forward to.


  1. as always great post Ian...better than most running mag's yearly summaries.

  2. Sage Canaday's White River CR maybe too.

  3. Jusstin - Sage's run was probably the next one I'd add to that list but I think all the ones noted above impressed me even more (not that his White River didn't also blow my socks off). There were so many amazing performances this year that I could list another 20 that were also amazing, including many 2nd places, especially since there were a lot of competitive races where 2nd also broke a stout course record (WS, JFK, etc).

  4. How about a UK entry? Terry Conway, Lakeland 100: 103.9 miles, 21,760ft of ascent, 19hrs 50mins of cruising over the roughest tracks, on an unmarked course, starting before it gets dark. Course record, again. Inspirational.

  5. Came for the ultrarunning. Stayed for the Anna-Frost-smoking-a-cigar photos.