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Are 100 miles not enough anymore?

tor des geants runner

5k. 10k. 21k. 42k. 

Further?

50k. 50 miles. 100k. 100 miles.

Further? 

Why?


Running a marathon is an exceptional achievement and is worth annoying all your non-running friends about - sorry, but the anti-running TikTok trends won’t stop us. When you cross the finish line of a marathon, you feel a deep feeling of achievement and completeness. Months of training fit into the right place on race day. This is it for the majority of the people. They move on. For some, it is the beginning of the ultra rabbit hole. What if I can further? Will running longer give me more satisfaction?


At the end of the ultra rabbit hole, there is no Mad Hatter. There is a 100-mile course waiting for you. This is the queen distance of ultra running - or at least what they told us. Three decades of trail running history have solidified this distance as iconic and legendary. The media fed this niche of runners part of an already small niche of humans enough content to make them believe that running - just joking, it is mostly walking - this crazy amount of miles can be the pinnacle of your athletic career. All of this is part of human nature. We want to discover how far we can push ourselves before breaking. Most of these crazy people will feel accomplished by running one or a few 100 milers in a lifetime. But. What if at the end of the rabbit hole, there is another one? Well, there is. There is an even smaller niche within this niche of runners part of a small niche of humans. 


Across Europe and the US, there are only 129 events beyond 100 miles in 2024. Some say 129 is a lot, while others say not many. Something we can say for sure is that this number will grow. 200 miles - we will use this term to refer to any distance beyond 100 miles - are the new niche within trail and ultra running. The sport is experiencing explosive growth and this segment makes no exception. The excitement among runners and media is tangible and testified by the data. According to market research data, fans are generally more interested in longer distances. 200 miles were still outside fans’ spectrum until recently when Cocodona 250 became a moment in the trail running season. The race created its community of fans through its live stream and the content produced around the athletes. During this year's edition, 286 thousand people tuned into the Cocodona 250 live stream to watch athletes running, walking, sleeping, eating, going to the toilet, and doing anything else they need to do while covering 250 miles in Arizona. These numbers are outstanding compared to 95% of the trail running races at any distance. The Golden Trail Series totaled 650k views across their 8 races in 2022. You can argue that the length of Cocodona 205 surpasses all GTWS races combined, but the disproportion of marketing promotion and elite athletes involved is sizeable - at least for now. The duration of the event is what makes it appealing to the fans. Everything is diluted. Your daily life moves on, while the live stream plays in the back. One minute the YouTube chat discusses the best socks to run an ultra in the desert, and the minute after it goes off making jokes about drinking milk during an ultra. You can find your moments of fun, excitement, joy, or anything else you need during the event.




Cocodona has become the most coveted and talked about event among 200 milers. It is not the oldest or the one with the best scenery, but the media coverage, under the impulse of Aravaipa and its fans, elevated it to a prime event. Even though the event is only 5 years in, you can already find many YouTube videos with hundreds of thousands of views. Last year, Sally McRae documented her journey on three 200-milers, Cocodona, Lake Tahoe and Moab. The three videos totaled 2.1M views to date, each having more than 10x her channel average viewership. Trail running podcasts preview and cover the event or debate if 200 miles are the new 100 miles. All this - included in this article - nurtures the growth of 200 milers.


It is not just about the fans and some crazy humans that would run forever. Professional athletes are joining the party as well. Six pro athletes battled each other at Cocodona 250 this year - Arlen Glick and Jeff Browning among them. Francois D’Haene will run Tor des Geants this year. Courtney Dawaulter already ran a 200 miler in the past - of course. The presence of professional athletes in these races is the consequence of the increased media and fan interest. Their genuine curiosity of testing themselves on a new distance is supported by the brands that see the opportunity of having their athletes on the hot new thing. The more competition, the better. More pros will help 200 milers become more structured events and support the sport. Trail running at any level needs to incentivize competition at the highest level in any event. What if an event like The Speed Project would have teams of elite runners from each brand? How fast can the top 6 Nike athletes run from Los Angeles to Las Vegas on a relay?


So far we covered this trend using data and facts, but there is more to debug. Human nature pushes us to test our abilities to different degrees. Ultra runners are at the top of the spectrum - your friend who feels fulfilled by running a 5k is somewhere at the bottom. But, if you consider running any distance as solving a problem. The longer the distance the more complex the problem. The number of variables you need to consider and manage grows exponentially with the distance. Compared to 100 miles, 200 miles throw sleep into the equation: when and how long. Then, the other variables get harder to codify. Can you eat liquid food for 4 days straight? How much water do you need on a 20-mile stretch between aid stations? How should you tape your feet? And so on. This is the equivalent of solving a big puzzle and we all know the satisfaction of adding the last piece to complete it.


aaron wagner cocodona 250
Image: Aaron Wagner

We wrote a lot about how human nature embarks us into these ventures, but the impact of technology and compounded knowledge is often overlooked. The ongoing progress in materials, comfort, design, durability, food ingredients, supplements, training theories, and more raises the average runner's level in terms of fitness and skills. Running a marathon was a greater achievement 100 years ago than it is now. Technological progress plays in favor of accomplishing more, faster, and longer. Running 200 miles is easier than it has ever been, but it is the hardest it will ever be.


The unknown plays a big part in capturing attention span and driving runners into unexplored territories. 200 miles are the unknown right now. Many things still need to be unpacked by runners, coaches, race directors, and brands. The base knowledge is being created now. While shorter distances are adults, 200 milers are teenagers. Runners are gaining their first-hand experience on the distance. Coaches are optimizing and improving their training schedules. Courses are being changed to improve runners and crews’ experiences. Brands have these new distances on their radar and will develop ad hoc products soon. The knowledge is compounding and being shared.


The technological progress and the compounded knowledge, combined with the media attention will bring more new runners to skip the canonical steps of running distances - see the beginning of this article - and go straight to 200 miles. Starting from the fact that running 200 miles is not healthy for anyone, what impact does it have on a 17-year-old? Will people running 30k per week show up at a 200-mile start line? We already observed this trend in 100 miles, with runners going straight for the big prize of lapping the Mont Blanc as their first race in the distance. Is this the right way of doing things? No, it is not and you don’t have to. You don’t have to run 100 or 200 miles because it looks cool.

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