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Marco Olmo

In a sport where the accolade, legend, is not easily bestowed, there is one man who everyone can agree deserves it – Marco Olmo. Marco Olmo is an Italian ultra-runner who came to fame on the ultrarunning scene when he won the most prestigious race of them all, the Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) in 2006 and then again in 2007. What was extraordinary was not only that he won the race, but that he did so for the first time when he was 58 and the second time when he was 59.

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Tim Tollefson

LA Sportiva Lavaredo has 5,800 meters(19,000 feet) of elevation gain over 120 kilometers (75 miles) of distance.Winners Males:Tim Tollefson (USA)Jia-Sheng Shen (China)Sam McCutcheon (New Zealand) Females:Kathrin Götz (Switzerland)Audrey Tanguy (France)

Francesca Pretto (Italy)

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The Amazing woman of ultra running

‘The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” Eliza Colbert

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Vol State boasts 2 records broken as Angels showrunners the way

By Larry Carroll

There are plenty of ultra-marathons that could be called a “race,” and with that designation give the uninitiated an idea to wrap their heads around something they’ll most likely never experience. Then there are the ultra-marathons that take it one step further – Badwater, Barkley – adding in unique elements and obstacles so intimidating that “race” seems less of a relevant noun and could instead be replaced by something like “near-death experience.” 

The Vol State 500k Relay, it would seem hard to argue, is one of those races. 

On July 11, photos began emerging on social media of what one athlete dubbed “abnormal people,” crowded onto a Mississippi River ferry in running shorts. They were standing under a beautiful sky, which was something akin to false advertising when you consider what they were about to endure.

Once the ferry hit land in Kentucky, participants disembarked and were then on their own until they reached “The Rock,” a destination atop Northeast Georgia’s Sand Mountain. Many have been running ever since.

An estimated 120 participants took place in this year’s Vol State, but it was Greg Armstrong of Castalian Springs who finished first, setting a new course record of 3 days, 14 hours, 11 minutes and 31 seconds. Of course, this being the event that proudly advertises itself as “a journey, an adventure, and an exploration of inner space,” Armstrong won with no crew to help him, finding his own water, food, and resting places where he could during the 314-mile trek. In fact, it was his “uncrewed” status that made his run all the more notable.

“For me ‘unaided’ meant no hotels, no showers, and very minimal road Angel support,” Armstrong tells Tennessee’s Lewis Herald newspaper (“Running to The Rock” : Vol State Roadrace is more than just a test of fitness). “I rested for 10 min on a cot in front of a church, maybe 15 on a lawn chair at the Nutt house but all other horizontal breaks were in ditches, park benches or side of the road. I almost broke my vow of no hotels in Manchester but resisted. I applaud anyone that covers the 314 miles on foot, my hat is off to anyone that reaches the Rock!”

Making his time perhaps even more amazing is the fact that Armstrong – the event’s defending champion, 3-time winner, course record-holder, and Tennessee native – ran in Teva sandals. 72 hours into the race, he had already run an astounding 262 miles while his nearest competitor (Johan Steene) was 13 miles behind. Sixteen runners, meanwhile, had at that point quit. Additional male competitors who have finished include:

2. Johan Steene 3:22:07:19

3. Alan Abbs 4:07:18:19

4. Sean Ranney 4:12:54:15

5. Aaron Bradner 5:08:15:13

6. Jeff Stafford 5:13:35:52

7. Henry Lupton 5:14:44:34

8. Tim Purol 5:16:51:02

9. Terry Bonnett 5:17:40:06

10. Seth Crowe 5:18:56:54

Armstrong finished ahead of the race’s typical pace, which is stated on their website as being between four to ten days to complete. Runners must cover 50.24K per day to finish in the allotted 10 days, regardless of whether they run or walk. 

Entering day 8 in the July heat and humidity, participants are still navigating their way along the highways and backroads of Tennessee, perhaps worrying about where they’ll find their next food morsel or drink of water. 

Where those necessities may come from, however, has become a minor point of contention. On July 16, race director Laz Lake complained on Facebook (Laz is complaining that Vol State angels are too generous) about local “Angels” who have been supporting the racers with food, drinks, chairs and more – and asked them to knock it off. 

“Goodies beside the road, maybe a hose, a canopy for shade, mats or cots to sleep on… this is all great,” he wrote. “But taking people into your home for showers, putting them in your beds, doing their laundry, cooking them meals, letting them hang out like some parasitic relative all day… this is way, way too much! those people are way beyond crewed!”

Vol State racers may sign up as “crewed” or “screwed” (which means uncrewed), but regardless of crew support and bus transportation to the starting line, it seems like Angel help is in abundance for those who want it. 

On the women’s side, Bev Anderson-Abbs finished first in her rookie run of Vol State, setting a new uncrewed women’s course record of 4 days, 7 hours, 17 minutes and 55 seconds. Comparing her experience to that of her husband Alan (who ran Vol State in 2013, and again alongside her this year, she tells (Laz is complaining that Vol State angels are too generous) Canadian Running magazine that times have changed. 

“There are coolers all over the place with water, snacks, chairs set up, and I thought, this is not like what I expected,” she says of the course. “There were very few places where you really had to think about what you needed to make it to the next place where you could get water or food. For the most part, you could just hop from cooler to cooler.”

Additional female finishers (as of July 17) include:

2. Kimberly Durst (5:15:51:51)

3. Denise Calcagino (5:21:25:29)

4. Christina Pierce (5:23:46:49)

5. Judy Rupp (6:07:11:32)

6. Karen Jackson (6:07:53:40)

7. Andrea Beasley (6:14:54:23)

Not all the drama, however, played out at the finish line. One racer reported seeing a mountain lion in Twitter, another was reportedly struck by a Dodge Caravan – but kept running Facebook, and there were apparently some very aggressive dogs around mile 210 (“Running to The Rock” : Vol State Roadrace is more than just a test of fitness). All of which serves as proof once again that the Vol State 500K is a race…er, near-death experience…like none other.   

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Badwater 2019 breaks records, makes romance

by Larry Carroll

The Badwater is pretty much the antithesis of boring – dubbed “The World’s Toughest Footrace,” it is 135 miles of pain via punishing heat and relentless elevation – but the 2019 installment, in particular, proved to be one worth remembering. Just over 21 hours after the race began, the event had a new male record holder, a new female record holder, and a top contender for the most romantic moment in the history of the sport.

Japanese ultra-marathoner Yoshihiko Ishikawa set a new course record in California’s Death Valley on Monday night/Tuesday morning, crossing the finish line in 21 hours, 33 minutes and 1 second. It was some 23 minutes faster than Pete Kostelnick’s 21:56:32 mark from 2016. Ishikawa had spent 21 hours journey from the lowest elevation in the continental United States (Death Valley) to the highest point (Mt. Whitney), which seems only appropriate since his life was about to also reach a high point – and we’re not talking about the record-setting win.

Moments after Ishikawa crossed the finish line, having conquered three mountain ranges and 14, 600 feet of ascent, he dropped to one knee. But it wasn’t for the reasons you might expect, as the 31-year-old athlete asked his girlfriend to marry him. She replied in the affirmative, which undoubtedly renewed his spirit faster than any Gatorade or orange slice ever could.

The newly-engaged Ishikawa finished on top of a pack of most Americans, with a few international athletes also thrown into the mix:

2. Harvey Lewis (Cincinnati, Ohio) 26:11:18

3. Tetsuo Kiso (Japan) 28:02:04

4. Lee Whitaker (Fort Mill, South Carolina) 28:13:11

5. Richard Kabanuck (Clovis, New Mexico) 28:13:55

6. Grant Maughan (Australia) 28:30:33

7. Steve Slaby (Callaway, Maryland) 29:26:43

8. Joshua Holmes (Los Angeles, California) 29:35:53

9. Flavio Fernandes Vieira (Brazil) 30:29:14

10. Eric Hunziker (Cincinnati, Ohio) 31:15:46

Although the female side of the race had decidedly fewer marriage proposals, it was not lacking in equally impressive and historic athletic accomplishment. Patrycja Bereznowska of Poland finished second overall with a time of 24:13:24. Setting a new course record, Bereznowska’s time was more than 90 minutes faster than Alyson Venti’s 2016 time of 25:53:07.

Hailing from the small village of Wieliszew (population: 3,122) in east-central Poland, the veteran Bereznowska came to Badlands with a supportive social media team who posted pictures of her running through the desert and videos of them greeting her with inspirational messages as she tackled the last 18 miles of the race. The team also posted photos of baked crackers with the phrase “Go Pati” and a heart on them.

A specialist in 24-hour running, Bereznowska was originally more focused on equestrian racing – competing in such events as the world championship of horse-drawn long-distance rallies. In 2007 she began running professionally, and she has since spent much of the last decade winning medals in her native Poland and setting records throughout the world. Bereznowska is a two-time unofficial world record holder in 24 hours running (no official records are kept), a bronze medal winner in the 24-hour World Cup, and holds a Ph.D. in agricultural sciences in the field of zootechnics from the University of Life Sciences in Lublin, Poland.

The 43-year-old Bereznowska is a former Spartathlon winner –– as is Ishikawa. The race is considered similar to Badwater in terms of extreme temperatures and elevation, so it should be no surprise that Bereznowska set a course record there as well.

The women’s field was similarly dominated by Americans overall, with a few international runners in the mix:

2. Gina Slaby (Callaway, Maryland) 29:26:45

3. Lisa DeVona (Pompano Beach, Florida) 32:36:17

4. Caryn Lubetsky (Miami Shores, Florida) 33:42:39

5. Pamela Chapman-Markle (San Leon, Texas) 34:03:47

6. Suzi Swinehart (Fort Wayne, Indiana) 34:16:59

7. Annie Weiss (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) 35:25:31 

8. Silvia Amodio (Uruguay) 36:17:48

9. Kerri Kanuga (Cayman Islands) 37:58:24

10. Estela Vaz Rodrigues (Brazil) 39:18:30

Photos posted to the official Badwater Instagram account show Ishikawa down on his right knee, with the finish line behind him in the darkened evening. His girlfriend, wearing a fluorescent green vest and with a camera over her shoulder, seems overcome by emotion. Additional photos show the couple embracing, wiping away tears, and then posing for photos. On a night when new male and female course records were set, it was just another reason that Badwater 2019 will go down in history.

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Tollefson and Krupicka lead American athletes hoping to dominate Lavaredo

by Larry Carroll

Running through the streets of Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy is an experience like none other. Located in the Southern Alps on the Boite river, the charming ski town is lined with walking streets, simple storefronts and a church spiral in the town center. The crowd cheers “Bravo, bravo!” as you jog past, head torch reflecting the path ahead; the sounds of bells and vuvuzelas pierce the evening air.

For more than a decade, thousands of runners have traveled from all over the world to do exactly this, via the Lavaredo Ultra Trail, renowned as one of the most beautiful running races in the world. With 6,000m of ascent and a journey around northern Italy’s Dolomites that puts runners up close and personal with the region’s beautiful and distinctive mountain ranges, the race is as picturesque as it is punishing.

As the years go by, a formidable American presence has been increasing in visibility at Lavaredo. This point was underlined last year, as Minnesota’s Tim Tollefson finished 3rd behind countryman Hayden Hawks, the Lavaredo winner. In the 2019 installment, Tollefson returns with his eyes on the prize. An elite runner and full-time physical therapist, Tollefson typically keeps a lighter racing volume than his peers, which he believes helps with recovery.

Will the vuvuzelas blow for Tollefson on June 28, as participants race away from the starting line at nightfall, head torches ablaze? The 34-year-old certainly hopes so. Tollefson recently tweeted that he “began listening to podcasts and music intermittently while running,” but “very quickly it was realized that Apple earphones were designed by the devil.” Calling his attempts to grapple with the ubiquitous white earbuds “comical,” here’s hoping that Tollefson’s Lavaredo experience goes more smoothly than his battles with technology.

Another storyline this year is the return of American trail running legend Anton Krupicka, who won the 2014 Lavaredo while calling it “the most beautiful race I’ve ever run.” Known for his long hair, beard and minimal running gear (often sans shirt, wearing lightweight shoes), Krupicka ran his first marathon at age 12, ran 200 miles a week in his twenties, and was a prominent figure in ultra-running before his 30th birthday. Five years ago, Krupicka won Lavaredo with a sprained ankle; now the Nebraska native returns, and if he’s healthy the sky appears to be the limit in this race through the Dolomites.

Over on the women’s side, any runner regardless of nationality seems likely to have their hands full with Brazilian superstar Fernanda Maciel. A onetime gymnast who was competing on major events by age 10, she then studied martial arts before eventually falling in love with running at age 15. In the years since she has won numerous races — including the 2011 Lavaredo. Another run through Cortina d’Ampezzo in 2015 had her finishing third, so the 2019 Lavaredo offers a chance at redemption.

This year’s Lavaredo is one of transition and, as they say on their website, “novelties.” Most significantly, after ten years of sponsorship by The North Face, the race will now be branded La Sportiva. Lavaredo has also added a 4th trail length (the 87km UltraDolomites), and the start of the Cortina trail has been distanced from the others to reduce congestion. Some things, however, never change — and Lavaredo will always be a race of breathtaking beauty, physical punishment, and infectious charm.

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With Western States, Courtney Dauwalter closes out a stunning year

by Larry Carroll

As the summer officially descends upon us, the ultra-running community is asking itself one question: Which will be hotter in the next few months, the temperature on the trail or Courtney Dauwalter?

For those paying attention, the Colorado-based 34-year-old has strung together twelve months of running that are becoming the stuff of legend. It began with a dominant Western States 100 win in June of 2018 that was more than 2 hours faster than the 2017 Women’s winner. Now, as the Western States is on us once again, observers are left wondering how she’ll bookend this year of dominance.

Will she beat everyone at the Western States, both female and male? It certainly seems possible, as she has done exactly that in nearly a dozen other ultras, and last year’s 17:27:00 time would have made her competitive with many past male winners. Will she turn the race into a laugher? Also possible, as a 240-miler in Moab, Utah once had Dauwalter finishing 10 hours ahead of second place.

For many athletes, winning the Western States and then training for the next would be enough. But in between the two, the former high school science teacher has never stopped running — or winning.

A few weeks after the Western States, she ran a 50 miler in Squamish, British Columbia. She then returned to Colorado for the Continental Divide Trail Run a week later, finishing first in the 50K. 

Those were likely just warm-ups, however, for the Tahoe 200 Endurance Run, which took place in September. All she did was destroy the previous women’s record by 18 hours, running a race whose requirement is that it be finished in 100 hours — while doing it in less than half that.

Then came Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra. Taking place in October, Dauwalter made headlines by covering a distance of 279 miles in three days. The brutal Tennessee-based event has one basic rule, as simple as it is punishing: The last one running wins. After 68 hours of running without sleep, she found herself alone with male competitor Johan Steene, ultimately settling for second place.

After taking a break for the holidays and admittedly doing a lot of sitting, Dauwalter roared back in February with New Zealand’s Tarawera Ultra. Posting a start-to-finish women’s win, she dominated the 102 km race and celebrated her 34th birthday shortly thereafter.

Next up was March’s Behind the Rocks Ultra in Moab (1st place), April’s Madeira Island Ultra-Trail (1st place) and June’s Mueller Marathon in Divide, Colorado (also 1st place).

Dauwalter has indicated that, following this year’s Western States, she has plans to tackle many other big races and give the 24-Hour World Championships another shot. The next question on the minds of observers, then, seems to be an obvious one: Could her upcoming 12 months be even more impressive?

Photo credit @ Lavaredo Ultra Trail 

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