World class runners, unconstrained
This Saturday, December 8th, is the Desert Solstice Track Invitational, hosted at Central High School’s 400m all-weather track in Phoenix, AZ.
Although trail events may offer more dramatic enticements in terrain and scenery, track based events such as Solstice oblige some world class runners to put on the best performances of their lives.
This is pure, unconstrained running. Absolute endurance.
11 world records have been set here. And 60 national records, too.
The Desert Solstice race consists of only 30 participants, and is a qualifier for the National 24 Hour Team. The roster has some of the most lauded runners in the world: Courtney Dauwalter, Camille Herron, Zach Bitter, among many others.
The Desert Solstice race offers prizes for Men’s and Women’s 100 mile and 24 Hour performances, but records for 12 Hour are noted as well; Herron set the Women’s World Record for 12 Hour last year with a performance of 149,130 meters. Just for a sense of the tempo Desert Solstice: the qualification standard is at least 124 miles in 24 hours, or a hundred miles in under 17:30. These are top rank prerequisites.
Some may find such events too detached from running’s primal character, from the experience of trekking real land as our ancestors once did. Yet the constrained arena of track ultra performances fosters its own necessity. By evening the runners’ experience of the racing environment, replacing rocky paths with rubber, we gain a more accurate measure of athletes’ performances.
This is the case not only from runner to runner, but also from year to year. While natural path conditions can alter drastically with temperature and humidity, the rubber track retains a consistent foothold from season to season. Events such as Desert Solstice, then, offer us a site to reflect on more neutral measures of endurance, and on running performances across the years. Of course, subjective influences such as health and diet can never be eliminated, but that’s just part of the sport!