Disclaimer: This list is our opinion, of course! We took into consideration that there is such a wide range of mountain-ultra-trail events across the world; comparing these performances really is like comparing “apples to oranges.” From shorter, sub ultra-mountain races to 24hr+ events on a flat road or track, the diversity within the realm of “MUT Running” is vast! Also taken into consideration of these rankings is the duration of a race’s history, field size, and overall competitive depth. Overall though, this is just for fun (like any arbitrary “top 10 list” or subjective “ranking.”) We’d like to showcase and celebrate these performances and iconic courses/events with this article as well. Let us know your thoughts in our Message Board thread! What performances did we miss that you think deserve to be on this list?! Also check out our Women’s List here.
1. Matt Carpenter Pikes Peak Marathon CR (3:16)
Known as the “King of Pikes Peak” and extreme high-altitude distance running, Matt Carpenter has also been said to have known “every rock on the Pikes Peak Marathon course.” This legendary race up and down the 14,115’ (4300m) mountain in Colorado has an 85-year-old history and attracts hundreds of runners each year.
On a magical day in 2013, Carpenter, a 2:19 road marathoner, set the CR. He also set the record for the Ascent (approximately the half-marathon uphill split) along the way, a record that has also not been seriously approached…even by racers only doing the Ascent!
Greats like Kilian Jornet have only come within 12 minutes of this record marathon time. Amazingly, in Carpenter’s dominating 12 wins at this event, he never got within 16 minutes of his 3:16:39 course record time again. His 1993 Pikes Peak Marathon performance was certainly one of those outlier marks that has never been closely approached by any other competitive MUT Runner. In our opinion, this record is by far the most “unbreakable” MUT Running record of all-time.
2. Yiannis Kouros 24-hour World Record (188.68 miles)
This is another legendary performance that is leaps and bounds above the rest! This 24-hour record run of 188.68 miles (303.3km) probably would’ve been number one on our list if more people had attempted 24-hour races over the decades (We gave the top spot to Carpenter because of the long race history of Pikes and its relative competitive field size).
In this performance, Kouros held an average pace of 7:38 per mile (4:38/km pace) for an entire day! Many would consider Kouros the “God of Ultra Running.” This performance is just one of his jaw-dropping longer ultramarathon records. We definitely think he is the GOAT of flat and runnable ultras!
3. Kilian Jornet Sierre-Zinal CR (2:25:35)
Many thought the previous record at Sierre-Zinal of 2:29:12 (set by two-time Olympian and World Mountain Running Champion climbing monster “Jono” Wyatt) would never fall. Kilian Jornet himself had already won this 31km (19 mile) net-uphill iconic mountain race in Switzerland a half-dozen times throughout its 47-year old history. However, this was the first time he broke the 2:30 barrier.
The 2019 edition of the race featured not only an amazing depth of competition, but also fairly warm temperatures. Still, Jornet shattered not only the 2:30 barrier, but also Wyatt’s course record by nearly 4 minutes.
Jornet’s range and ability on even these fast, runnable trail courses further cements him as GOAT MUT runner.
4. David Gatebe Comrades Ultramarathon Down Run Record (5:18:19)
Comrades is considered the “ultimate human race” for a reason! The approximately 89km ultramarathon in South Africa has a 100-year history and, more recently, attracts around 20,000 runners each year. The race alternates between a net-uphill and a net-downhill point-to-point course each year…and both directions have significant rolling hills. Comrades has the biggest prize money in the sport, which attracts the best competition.
In 2016, David Gatebe cemented himself as an all-time great with an amazing course record down run time of 5:18:19. The 2:14 marathoner and 2013 Two Oceans ultramarathon champion lowered the former down run CR (set by Russian Leonid Shvetsov) by over 2 minutes.
5. Jonathan Wyatt Mt. Washington Course Record (56:41)
This classic mountain race features a completely uphill run to the highest peak in the Northeast US, Mt. Washington (Mt. Washington is in the state of New Hampshire). The course averages a steady 12% uphill grade for the entire 7.6 miles (12km).
World Mountain Running Champion and two-time Olympian Jonathan Wyatt used his 13:27 5km and 27:56 10km speed, along with his VO2max power, to tackle this uphill road course in a blistering 56:41. Known as a climbing specialist, “Jono” has run a 2:13:00 marathon and holds multiple wins at legendary net-uphill mountain races such as Sierre-Zinal and the Jungfrau Marathon.
6. Leonid Shvetsov Comrades Up Run CR (5:24:39)
The “up run” route at Comrades is slightly shorter than the “down run” on most years. However, the roughly 55-mile (88km course) climbs about 6,500’ (2000m)! With a 100-year-old history, the top prize money purse in ultramarathoning, and a large field size that now totals around 20,000 runners, Comrades is the ultimate in prestige and history!
In the 2008 edition of the race, Russian Olympian and 2:09 marathoner Leonid Shvetsov* set this CR, which has not been touched since.
*It is worth noting that several top athletes have openly claimed Shvetsov supplied them with (or offered to sell them) performance enhancing drugs like EPO during training stints in New Mexico.
7. Thompson Magawana Two Oceans CR (3:03:44)
This legendary 56km, net-uphill ultramarathon in South Africa is considered by many to be the second-most competitive ultramarathon race in the world. Each year, over 10,000 runners toe the start line of the 51-year-old race.
As a 2:10 marathoner, Thompson Magawana won Two Oceans twice, with both performances being the fastest finishing times recorded in the race. However, it was Magawana’s 1988 course record run of 3:03:44 that has withstood for decades against top-level ultra runners. Until this year, his 50km net-uphill en route split of 2:43 during that 1988 race was still considered the World Athletics open 50km world record as well!
8. Yiannis Kouros 48 Hour Distance World Record of 294.2 miles (473km)
Honestly, this was a tough performance to wrap our heads around. Generally, our ranking system is heavily biased towards events that have (1) a relatively large and competitive field size, and/or (2) a long history of a classic route or standard event distance.
This being said, the legendary endurance of Yiannis Kouros (who holds many records, including the course record at the “Spartathlon” ultramarathon in Greece) caught our eye again, specifically his astonishing record for most distance covered in two days. His 24-hour distance record performance of course is already listed above as second on our list!
9. Francois D’Haene 2017 UTMB Win (19:01)
Over the years, the traditional UTMB route has been altered by stormy weather conditions. In 2017, the course was re-routed due to rainy and cold weather and it was said to be “only” about 166.9km long, with slightly less climbing and less technical trail sections than the “traditional” 171km route.
With this in mind, Francois D’Haene’s finishing time of 19:01 cannott be officially considered the UTMB course record. However, the quality of the field in the Men’s 2017 UTMB was probably the most competitive trail-ultra field ever assembled in the history of the sport. D’Haene’s dominating win and margin of victory over runners like Kilian Jornet, Tim Tollefson, Xavier Thevenard, Jim Walmsley, and Pau Capell (to name a few) was astonishing!
Traditional course or not, this performance deserves to be one of the greatest ultra-mountain-trail races of all time in our book.
10. Jim Walmsley Western States 100 CR (14:09)
In the US, the Western States 100 is to trail ultras what the Boston Marathon is to all marathons. The net-downhill, iconic point-to-point route is often considered the “super bowl” of trail-ultra running because of its history and prestige. Blistering heat, which can soar to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.3 Celsius) during parts of the race, is often a challenge.
In the 2019 edition of the race, weather conditions were cooler than normal. Jim Walmsley, who already lowered the course record down to 14:30 the year before, took advantage of these conditions and seemingly time-trialed a mind-bending 14:09. His margin of victory on the day was 17 minutes (second place was Jared Hazen, who also broke the course record time from Walmsley’s run in 2018).
Zack Beavin CR at Strolling Jim 40 (3:55:44)
Hayden Hawks JFK 50 CR (5:18:40)
Kilian Jornet Hardrock CR of 22:41 (clockwise)
Nao Kazami 100km World Record of 6:09:14