By Larry Carroll
It’s no secret that ultra-running has been growing in popularity for some time now, so in some ways, it seems only natural that interest in the sport would splinter off into other subsections under the ultra-running umbrella. Of course, races like the Iditarod and the Big Backyard Ultra proudly take the concept of a long-distance race, break it down and flip it on its head. Then there’s another rapidly-growing obsession, fueled by some recent record-setting efforts: The 24-hour race.
This past December, 36-year-old Camille Herron ran around a high school track in Phoenix, Arizona as many times as possible for 24 consecutive hours – finishing after 162.9 miles and establishing a new world record by about two miles. Less than a year later, Zach Bitter took to an indoor track in Milwaukee to make history, setting the world record by running 104.8 miles in 12 hours – almost as an afterthought following his obliteration of the fastest 100-mile run record.
Although many athletes have been proudly running in circles for years, there suddenly seems to be renewed interest in such offshoots of ultra-marathoning. It makes a lot of sense, then that the upcoming 2019 IAU 24 Hour World Championships is boasting increased numbers – and participation from folks like Courtney Dauwalter and Herron.
“Based on provided data we are expecting to have 363 athletes from 45 countries (38 for women and 44 for men),” the International Association of Ultra-runners says in a statement dated September 27. “This is a 26% improvement comparing to the last Championship in Belfast in 2017. With respect to individual distribution, it will be 153 women and 210 men. It is another improvement comparing to the last Championships of almost 19% and over 32% respectively.”
Set for October 26-27, this year’s 24 Hour World Championships will take place in Albi, France. It is one of the IAU’s four main world championship events (along with the 100km World Championships, the Trail World Championships, and the 50km World Championships) and the only one based on a time format rather than distance. Currently, the event’s standing records belong to USA’s Michael Morton (277.543 kilometers, in 2012) and Japan’s Mami Kudo (252.205 kilometers in 2013).
Episcopal city and birthplace of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi has a population that hovers around 50,000 and a humid subtropical climate. Operating as the world governing body of ultra-running, the IAU regulates and sanctions ultra-marathon championships and tracks records.
Of course, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them tracking some new ones later this month. For starters, Camille Heron will be working to improve the incredible pace of 8:03/mile that she maintained in December when she set her records (she also captured the women’s world record for running 100 miles on a track).
“I’m coming from a marathon background, so I know it’s hard to wrap your head around running 100K, and then 100 miles, and than 24 hours,” Herron, who ate a Taco Bell Double-decker taco and a beer at 2 am in the middle of her record-setting performance, told Outside “How Camille Herron Set a 24-Hour Running Record“. “I really had to work with my husband and coach, Conor, to think about what I might experience while running through the night and dealing with sleep deprivation, hypothermia, and nutritional needs. There are all these things you have to deal with on top of the actual running part. It’s more about your mind than your legs. It’s trying to will the legs to keep turning over through sleep deprivation. My legs just started getting really stiff and I was doing wind sprints just to try and keep my legs turning over.”
Although she may be the record holder, Herron will be competing with more than just herself in Albi. Courtney Dauwalter continues to cement a career of near-legendary proportions, having recently won the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. In 2018, she finished 2nd overall in the Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra and also broke the women’s course record for the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. Dauwalter is perhaps best known, however, for her breakthrough performance in the Moab 240 race – her 2 days, 9 hours and 59 minutes were faster than any man in the pack and she finished more than 10 hours in front of the second-place finisher.
Unfortunately, Zach Bitter will not be participating – but since she holds the record for a fastest 24-hour race among both men and women, any of the other 362 athletes hoping to dethrone Herron will be able to challenge her (and, perhaps, take a few notes) in person.