Humans aren’t sprinters. We are in it for the long haul. How far can man run in a single day? We don’t have to guess. There is a decades-long tradition of racing against the 24-hour clock. See below for the most bone-cracking and blistering 24-hour distances ever completed by man.
Yiannis Kouros – 188.27 miles/303.3 km (1997)
Yiannis Kouros isn’t called the “Running God” for nothing. During the 80s and 90s this mustachioed superhuman dominated virtually every ultrarunning event. According to the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU), Kouros currently owns speed records for the 100 mile road race and 1,000 mile road race, plus distance records for the 12 hour road race, 24 hour road race, 48 hour road race, and 6 day road race, during which he covered nearly 639 miles on foot. Kouros basically owns the ultrarunning record book. His record-setting 24-hour distance might be the capstone on his historic career. In October 1997, Kouros ran around a track in Adelaide, Australia for 24 hours, establishing an average pace of 7:41 per mile. When the day was done, Kouros had covered 188.27 miles, nearly a marathon more than the distance covered by the winner at the last IAU European 24-hour champion, Ivan Cudlin.
Yiannis Kouros – 180.2 miles/290.22 km (1998)
No, listing the “Running God” twice isn’t cheating. One year after setting the record for the greatest distance ever covered in 24 hours, Kouros was at it again, destroying the 24-hour outdoor record on a one-mile asphalt loop in Basel, Switzerland. He raced out to the lead as soon as the Sri Chinmoy began and completed his first lap in 6:57. But he soon settled into a pace of about 7:20, alternating between sips of sports drink and water on every second lap. 10 hours into the race, and 81 miles behind him, Kouros began drinking coca-cola to get him through a long and cool night, with Greek music blasting out of his tent to push him around the course. When the sun arose, Kouros went back to sports drink and water, occasionally mixing in maple syrup to keep him going strong. Kouros’ unconventional hydration tactics and raw talent propelled him 21 miles farther than anyone else that day. Nobody has come close to his outdoor record since.
Denis Zhalybin – 175.4 miles/282.28 km (2006)
In 2006, mysterious 25-year-old Russian ultramarathoner Denis Zhalybin ran farther in 24 hours than anyone not named Kouros had ever run. Not much is known about Zhalybin, whose 2006 distance is sandwiched between three longer distances by Kouros and the fifth longest distance, also by Kouros. In 2008, Zhalybin won the Five Points Life Marathon in Gainesville, Florida, completing the 26.2 mile course in 2 hours 30 minutes and 35 seconds. But that, and the brief details made available on his running resume, is about all we know of this ultra distance runner. Let us know if you catch up to him. We doubt you will.
Scott Jurek 165.6 miles/266.57 km (2010)
Over the past decade, American Scott Jurek has established himself as one of the greatest modern endurance racers of all-time. He’s won the Hardrock Hundred once, the Badwater Ultramarathon twice, the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run 7 times, and the Spartathlon three times. Not familiar with the Spartathlon? It’s an epic 153 mile (246 km) race in Greece established to determine whether it was possible to run from Athens to Sparta within 36 hours, a grueling challenge completed by Pheidippides in 490 BC as the Persians threatened to invade from the Aegean (see the race map here). Jurek proved it’s more than possible, finishing the race faster than Pheidippides, and faster than anyone else, besides, of course, Yiannis Kouros, who holds the 4 fastest Spartathlon times. But Jurek’s greatest achievement might be his personal best 24-hour distance of 165.6 miles, a distance covered in Brive-la-Gaillarde, France in 2010, and that until this year remained the greatest distance ever run by an American in 24 hours.
Mike Morton 172.46 miles/277.55 km (2012)
Newsflash: There’s a new American ultrarunning champion on earth. On September 9, 2012 in Katowice, Poland Mike Morton, 41, of Lithia, Florida, ran 172.46 miles, breaking the previous American record set by Scott Jurek by nearly 7 miles. Morton, a former Navy diver, has been featured at The Adrenalist before. In July, he won the Badwater Ultramarathon, leaving the competition in the Death Valley dust. It’s anyone’s guess what’s next for Morton, but if anyone has a chance to catch up to Yiannis Kouros’ records, Morton might be the man.