Monday, November 26, 2012

Top 10 ultrarunners of all time?

Recently stumbled across this article. It's a Runner's World piece that describes an ESPN competition for the "greatest athlete of all time." The athletes are broken down by category, and, perhaps surprisingly, there's a sub-category for ultrarunners.

Who was selected as the greatest ultrarunner of all time, according to ESPN?

Pam Reed.

Here's a link to her page. She's a heck of an accomplished ultrarunner, but she's rarely been the best runner in any given race she's run. She won Badwater overall in 2003. But she's not now and never has been the best ultrarunner in the world.

Nonetheless, that got me thinking. Who are the best ultrarunners of all time? I googled the question. No answer, and not even much speculation. And since I couldn't find a helpful source on the web, I decided to try to make a little list myself.

Please enjoy with the caveat that I am not an authority on this subject. Just a fan with a keyboard.

Top 10 ultrarunners of all time:

1) Yiannis Kouros - 100 miles in 11:46? 186 miles in a day? Yeah. Everyone else is competing for second.
2) Kilian Jornet - Just 25, but he races a ton, and he almost never loses. Would be the favorite in almost any ultra or mountain race on the planet.
3) Ann Trason - 13 wins at Western States; record at Leadville that looks incredibly daunting. Had no competition during her era.
4) Bruce Fordyce - 9-time winner of Comrades
5) Ellie Greenwood - Won Western States and JFK 50 this year with course records, not to mention a second place at Comrades. Here's link to her ultrasignup page. That's a whole lot of first place finishes, without much of anything else.
6) Geoff Roes - Past or present CR holder at: Western States, Wasatch, HURT, Bear, Susitna, RRR 50, etc.
7) Scott Jurek - 7-time Westen States champion? Doubt that will ever be topped.
8) Karl Meltzer - Most 100-mile victories of all time. Depending on the course, can still beat anyone in the world even today.
9) Lizzy Hawker - 24 hr. record holder for women, multiple UTMB titles, 100k World Champ; RRR 100 champ.
10) Julien Chorier - Alternated victories at Diagonale de Fous w/ KJ over the last four years. Came over to the US and owned the competition at Hardrock in 2011. Won UT-Mt. Fuji this year. Likely the second-best Euro today, after KJ.

[Update: As Nomad points out in the comments, Don Ritchie belongs on this list, and probably near the top. Check out this article for his background. Pretty humbling for anyone who thinks that modern runners are superior to those of prior generations.]

Honorable mentions: Tim Twietmeyer, Matt Carpenter, Tony Krupicka, J. Philippe Marie-Louise, Max King, Hal Koerner, Mike Morton, Mike Wardian, Ryan Sandes, Kami Semick, Nikki Kimball, Elena Nurgalieva, Kyle Skaggs [Update: Dave Mackey]

Whom did I forget? Feel free to post your own list in the comments. If I get enough, I'll do a crowdsourced list later.


  1. Not sure about the order, but seems like a reasonable list of almost two dozen that are arguably more deserving of a title than Pam Reed (not her fault).
    Although it wasn't (apparently) a criterion, having read Pam's autobiography, I'd put Tony, Scott, and Geoff as better writers and storytellers as well (throw Dakota, Clark and Joe Grant in that mix too).

  2. Carpenter, even though he barely dabbled in ultras, should be near the top of the top 10. MC is the ghost we are all chasing.

  3. Mike - It's not clear what, if any, criteria went into ESPN's decision. A simple google search shows there's a lot of better choices.

    SV - MC was on my list initially, but it's hard to justify calling him an all-time ultra great when he's only won two ultras (albeit in incredibly impressive fashion). I would argue that he is the best mountain runner in US history, though.

    GZ - If your Leadville 100 PR is slower than mine, that means you're immediately eliminated from the list of "greatest ultrarunners of all time."

  4. I think Don Ritchie should be #2. He still hold 4 world records!

    1. Wow. Can't believe I missed someone of his pedigree when I was putting together this list. I'd heard his name a few times, but it had been years since I had read about him. Appreciate the comment, and I've updated the post to note that he surely belongs.

  5. King ... I love the guy because he is SO versatile, but he is not in the conversation of best ultra runner ever yet in my opinion. He has not even done a 100.

    Yes, he is kick ass. OT qualifier in the marathon, ran 6th at this years steeple in the OTrials, set the JFK record, prior WMRC champ ... but best ever in ultras? Nope. If you are including him than Jono is in the mix too.

  6. Without Mackey in the top 3, I can't take the list seriously. He's won and set more records at the big races than all but two people that are on here.

    1. Mackey's a bad ass, and he definitely deserves at least an honorable mention. He's another one I just spaced. But looking over the list, I'm not sure there's anyone I would bump to put him on the list.

      I would say his most impressive CRs are Miwok, Dick Collins, and the Moab Red-Hot 50. Are there any other big ones I'm missing? All super impressive, but without question, not as high profile as UTMB or Western.

      As extraordinary and as consistent as he's been, I'm not sure his resume is more impressive than Karl Meltzer's long list of 100 victories -- or Ann Trason's 13 wins at Western States.

      But as I said in the post, it's just my opinion. I'm certainly not any authority.

  7. Caballo Blanco needs to be an honorable mention.