The Modern Pedestrians
The demise of public interest in extreme ultradistance races occurred at the exact time that interest in marathon running was rekindled by the inclusion of that race in the first modem Olympic Games in Greece in 1896.
The next ultradistance events of importance were the second running of the London-to-Brighton race in 1899; the first professional London-to-Brighton race, won by Len Hurst in 1903; and the first running of the Comrades Marathon in 1921. Out of interest in the Comrades Marathon, Arthur Newton traveled to Britain to set a new London-to-Brighton record in 1924 and a new 160 km road record in 1928 before traveling to Canada in 1931 for the first “modem” indoor 24-hour run (see post 5), in which he eased past Rowell’s 1-day best with 152 miles 540 yards. Another 20 years passed before another 24-hour race was staged, in which Wally Hayward eclipsed Newton’s record; only in 1973 were 24-hour track races again held on a regular basis in South Africa, Italy, and Great Britain. In the first such British race, Ron Bently eclipsed Hayward’s 24-hour mark by running 259.7 km, a 1-day record that stood until 1979. In May 1981 Jean-Gilles Boussiquet of France extended the record to 272.7 km; he had previously set world records of 260.8 and 264 km. The following year the British runner Dave Dowdle increased this to 274.6 km, a distance that has since been surpassed by the modem Greek phenomenon Yiannis Kouros.
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Events longer than 24 hours have an even briefer modem history. In May 1979, the American Don Choi organized a race that was the first 48-hour race in well over 80 years. A year later he organized the first 6-day race, which he won with a distance of 645.6 km. The remaining history of the modem 6-day events revolves around one runnerYiannis Kouroswho has now set more than 56 world records at distances from 160 to 1,000 km.
Yiannis Kouros began running as a child because, being from a poor family, he could not afford the entertainment luxuries available to other youngsters. By age
16 he was ranked among the top three schoolboys in Greece at 1,500 and 3,000 m with best times of 4:09 and 9:03, respectively, for those distances.
He sprang to international prominence when he won the inaugural 240-km Spartathlon from Sparta to Athens in September 1983. His winning time of 21:53:42 was greeted with some skepticism, particularly because he won the race by 2 hr 45 min and because other competitors were known to have accepted car rides during the race.
Any doubts about his abilities and integrity were dispelled in April 1984 when he won each stage of the 3-day, three-stage, 320-km Danube race and finished with a total time of 23:16:15, 3 hours ahead of the second runner. Less than 10 weeks later, between July 2 and 8, 1984, he competed in his first 6-day race on Randall’s Island, New York (see Exercises 8.21). After 48 hours he had completed 428.8 km, an improvement of 8.8 km on Ramon Zabalo’s record set earlier that year; after 6 days Kouros surpassed George Littlewood’s 1888 mark of 1004.2 km with a final distance of 1022.5 km. Four months later in November, running on a 1-mile circuit in Queens, New York, he set world road bests of 11:46:37 for 160 km and 15:11:48 for 200 km and a new 24-hour world best of 285 km.
Yiannis Kouros setting the world 6-day record in New York in 1984. Note. Photo courtesy of Stan Wagon/UltraRunning Magazine.
Three weeks later, in his second 6-day race, from Melbourne to Colac, Australia, he increased his world 6-day record by just over a kilometer to 1023.6 km.
In March the following year, in a 2-day race in Montauban, France, he improved his world 200-km best to 15:11:09 and his world 48-hour best to 452.8 km. One month later he won the Sydney-to-Melboume 966-km race in 125:07, and at the end of the year in Queens, he again improved his world 24-hour best to 286.6 km. In February 1986, competing in a 24-hour indoor race on a track measuring 11 laps to the mile, he set indoor world records at distances up to 100 km and beyond 200 km and ended with 251 km, a new world indoor best (albeit only 6 km better than Newton’s 1931 indoor performance in Hamilton, Ontario).