Readings On Ultramarathon Races (100K)

To those who are  interested to join the 1st Bataan Death March 102K Ultramarathon Race, this article shows the history of 100K races.

Why 100 ?

The Universal Ultra

Although any race beyond the standard marathon of 42.195 km is reckoned to be an ultra, across the world there is one particular distance that has become universally popular – the 100km. 100km races have been held as far north as Baffin Island in the North West Territories of the Canadian Arctic and as far south as Puerto Varas in Chile; as far west as Honolulu in Hawaii, and as far east as Rotorua in New Zealand. The races are held on tracks, trails, road loops and from point to point; through cities, towns, villages, forests, across deserts and over mountains. Some cater for a mere handful of enthusiasts while others feature a cast of thousands. Each year there are probably considerably more than two hundred such races around the world. 

In 1926, one of the most intriguing episodes in the history of the 100kms event took place. A 100kms race was held as part of the Central American Games held in Mexico and two Tarahumara Indians, Tomas Zafiro and Leonicio San Miguel ran from Puchuca to Mexico City in a time of 9h37min. Newspaper reporters at the finish recorded that they were not even panting. Their run created so much interest in Mexico that Government officials and sportsmen petitioned the International Athletics authorities to accept the record as official, and moreover, to include the 100km event in the 1928 Olympic Games at Amsterdam. Nothing came from these efforts.

The leading Ultrarunners of the `20s and `30s, Arthur Newton and Hardy Ballington, surpassed the Tarahumaras’ time for the approximate 100km distance.

These marks were to be further improved in the 1950s when the South African Wally Hayward clocked 7:41:36 for 62.25 miles/100.18km on the track en route to his 24 hours world best, and Britain’s Ron Hopcroft, 7:33:29 for 64 miles/102.99km on the Bath road. Hopcroft’s mark was set in 1958, just before the 100kms road event was to begin its re-emergence on to the world stage.

1972 seems to have been a watershed in the development of the 100 kms event, with races being conducted in several countries. Two years later the world’s two Super Powers, not wishing to be outdone, introduced their own 100km events. Lake Waramaug was to be the first such race in the United States, and Odessa the first in the then Soviet Union. By 1977 there was a 100km Club organising track races in South Africa, and a track 100km had taken place in San Sebastian, in northern Spain. During the seventies and early eighties the spread of the road 100km event in Europe proceeded steadily.

The first such race in Australasia was probably a track 100km, held in Canterbury, New Zealand in 1980, although Australian George Perdon had clocked 7:26:14 en route to his 100 mile track run in 1970.

In the mid eighties 100km running began in South America with races in Brazil and Chile, and in 1987 the Saroma 100km began in Japan.

At the last count there were 100km events in at least fifty countries around the globe. Many countries are content with just two or three a year, but two nationalities seem particularly addicted. The French put on well over twenty such races each year. The Japanese go in for numbers in 100km races, as opposed to numbers of 100km races. There are currently three Japanese 100km races with a thousand or more solo starters each year, and they also have several smaller 100km with only 150 or so runners as well.

In the early 80’s the 100km event developed a stage further and national championships at this distance began to be recognised first in France and the United States, then in Germany and Spain. From that it was short step to international competition, and in 1984 a Three Countries Cup was developed.

In 1987 the first IAU 100km Championships was held, at Torhout in Belgium. This was a competition for individuals only. The following year, at Santander, came the first IAU 100km race with IAAF recognition. In 1990 the event went out of Europe for the first time, when it was held in Duluth in the United States. In 1994 the race went to Asia, hosted by the Japanese Lake Saroma event. The Duluth event had seen the first international team competition, which by 1997 had grown to 23 national men’s team and 13 national women’s teams.

1990 was a very significant year in the development of the event. At an IAAF Council meeting at Athens in September the 100km was added to this list of officially recognised road distances.

Over the years, several runners have made a major impact upon the 100km event. The original `Mr 100km’ was Helmut Urbach of the then West Germany. Since the 1960s he won some twenty-two races in five different countries. He was the first man to duck under seven hours for the track 100km. In 1975 he ran 6:59:57 to hold the world best for a week. The following weekend Cavin Woodward won the Tipton 100 miler in a new world best, passing the 100km point in a world 100km best of 6:25:28.

The most prolific 100km runner of all time is Henri Girault of France who completed his 500th 100km event in Houston, Texas on 28 February 2004. He has run a 100km race in every continent except Antarctica, and at the last count had run 100km in some 26 countries.

The most remarkable 100km performance belongs to a runner who ran 6:18 in his first ever 100kms. In his second he ran 6:10:20. After close to twenty years, Don Ritchie’s great track record is still in a class of its own. On the road, the world loop best is 6:16:41 by Jean-Paul Praet of Belgium, and the point to point best is 6:13:33 by Takahiro Sunada set in 1998. Apart from the marks set by the now retired Praet and Takahiro Sunada of Japan, sub 6:20 marks are very rare and even performances under 6:30 are uncommon. There were no sub 6:30 marks in 2001, 2002, 2003 & 2004 and only one in 2005 (Gregory Murzin, Lake Saroma Japan 26 June).

The greatest 100km competitor of recent times has been Konstantin Santalov of Russia, who has won the World 100km Challenge three times. He was famed for running high-class 100km races very close to one another. The most remarkable example of this was when he won the IAU European 100km at Winschoten in 1993 in 6:26:20 one weekend and then the following weekend ran 6:23:15 at Amiens.

In the late 90’s the Japanese have emerged as a force to be reckoned with, as first Noriko Kawaguchi became the second best female performer of all time with 7:11: 42, and then Yashfumi Mikami produced the best male mark seen for three years in 1997, followed by the fastest road time yet on a calibrated bicycle measured course, 6:13:33 by Takahiro Sunada set in 1998. These are the best ever debuts made at the 100km distance.

For women, the 100km was opened up internationally by two of the runners who also set world marathon bests, Christa Vahlensieck [then West Germany] and Chantal Langlace of France. It was at the IAU 100km Championships at Santander in 1988 that Ann Trason [USA] first came to international prominence. She won the world title in a new world best of 7:30:49. Germany’s Birgit Lennartz improved this first to 7:26:52 a year later, and then the following year reduced it still further to 7:18:57.

In 1993 Ann Trason took the world best once more, with 7:09:44 at Amiens, but her greatest 100km was to come in the 1995 World 100km Challenge at Winschoten when she ran 7:00:48 to set the then world best.

The year 2000 saw the biggest breakthrough yet by a woman who, incidentally, was also a Japanese. Using the Lake Saroma race as a training run in her marathon preparation, Tomoe Abe ran 6:33:11, to surpass the previous best mark by some twenty-seven minutes. Although the Saroma course is point to point and there is evidence of wind assistance, this cannot detract from this phenomenal performance.

With Asia, South America & Europe contending for supremacy over the 100km, the strength and talent of Africa must not be overlooked. South Africa has over 25,000 ultrarunners, with several of their ultra races having over 2000 runners. The 90km Comrades alone attracted over 20,000 finishers within the 12 hr deadline in 2000!

As to the future, Don Ritchie’s 6:10 is likely to take a few years to surpass. It will probably take a 2:10 or faster marathon runner to run sub 6 hours. Sunada ran 2:10 for a new marathon personal best at the Berlin marathon in 2000.

The first sub-7 hour 100km by a woman has already been achieved, but it may be some time before another woman breaks through this barrier.

Classic races like the London to Brighton, Comrades, Spartathlon and trail 100 milers like the Western States will always be a major attraction for many runners but, to thousands of others around the world, Ultrarunning means the 100km – the Universal Ultra.

Reference: Compiled with the assistance of ultra running historian Andy Milroy.


3 thoughts on “Readings On Ultramarathon Races (100K)

  1. Hello Sir Jovie,

    I was just wondering if the course lay-out will be safe and at the same time challenging enough for foreign Ultramarathoners? Will there be enough check Points to monitor every runner’s health condition and guide them to the right directions?

    I am very eager to introduce this race and help you promote the event to the Ultramarathon community here in California. Hopefully, Our very own Pinoy Ultramarathoner Mr. Ben Gaetos could grace the event. Maybe we could even partner the event with a travel agency so they could take care of all accommodations for the foreign participants. Just a suggestion though!

    More power to you and I commend you for all the great work that you are doing to the running community in the philippines.

    Mabuhay Ka Baldrunner!

    Gotta Run,


    P.S. Congratulations to your new running team!


  2. Hello Bald Runner! Nice photos of running in nature… My husband and I just finished the amazing book “Born to Run.” A must-read for runners. I was just wondering — does the Philippines have a group with a running tradition like the Raramuri people (Tarahumara)? A special indigenous energy drink too? Perhaps in the mountain provinces? The old folks certainly floated up the mountains very quickly up there compared to me and my group in heavy hiking boots (which I never use anymore). Perhaps, I can get some deep insight into running from my own ancestry! (I also posted this question on the FitMommy & Takbo sites.)
    “When you run on the earth and run with the earth, you can run forever.”
    — saying of the Raramuri people


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