On November 5, before the leaves had fallen from the Cottonwood that line my favorite trail in Boulder, Colorado, before they had turned orange and yellow, before snow covered the landscape day after day I set out on an open-ended challenge to do as many consecutive 50ks as possible. Little did I know at that time that I did not have a limit, that my body would not break, but that it would breakthrough.
Early on I struggled with a lot of injuries and pain but my mind never once in those first 100 days wanted to quit. I didn't falter. I wanted to continue, with all my heart. In the midst of extreme shin pain that was so bad I couldn't put on a sock without agony, I asked my friend Adam, "Do you think I'd be able to use crutches or do you think that is not allowed for Guinness World Records?" It wasn't a joke, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to even walk. We decided it would not be allowed and if I got to that point I would have to quit.
As the pain came on slowly, so did it leave. Just barely less pain at first, enough that I allowed myself to hope that I could eventually be pain free. Once that pain was gone though, other pain came. It was as if pain would just move around and settle somewhere in my right leg. I wanted to finish the streak and set a world record on my own terms, without injury, but I wasn't sure if it was possible.
"How did you keep going when you wanted to stop?" People asked me those first 100 days of the world record runs. "I never wanted to stop," I answered.
As the HURT 100 mile race approached in January, my body became stronger and I only had lingering achilles and pelvis pain, both which were manageable. After the race and some serious post-race soreness from the intense climbs and descents, I had my fastest month yet in February, just as I was hitting 100 days. The second set of 100 days was to be much harder mentally as I entered a nearly 100 days of doldrums and a mental jail cell. The doldrums were as if I was a sailboat in the middle of the sea with no wind. I couldn't see the land, I was adrift and day after day it seems as though progress yielded nothing. Every day I still had to start anew with another 50k. The runs felt long and boring and many days I struggled with fatigue.
Yet, every day I found beauty in the struggle. Suffering is not without beauty.
Not a day went by when I didn't slather my feet in Aquaphor, pull on my compression socks, fold them down to my ankles, pull on a pair of bright Nike Alphafly all while sipping coffee to head out the door for 200 days in a row. For no less than an entire 50k run. Whether it was a Monday, Saturday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or I was flying to Hawaii to race the HURT 100. I ran. Often I'd get up very early so as to finish early enough to celebrate the holiday or special occasion, or to catch a plane on my way to Hawaii, or to conquer the snow or sub zero temps.
Photo by Mikey Brown at the finish of the HURT 100 (day 72 ultramarathon)
On May 23, 2023 after over 6.5 months of running a daily 50k/32 miles I finally hit my mark of 200 days-- a record that beat the previous world record by 177 days. I didn't want to just get a world record, which I could've easily done and completed before the latest world record was event started (I was 40 days in when the current record of 23 days began, previous to that it was 22 days). No, setting a world record was second to my real goal. I wanted to truly test my own capabilities and set the record at a number that I believed showed both the wonderful insanity of ultra runners but also the ability we have to continue on despite anything the world, weather, and our bodies and minds toss at us. I wanted to enter the storm, revel in it, be conquered and conquer in return. I wanted all the feelings and experiences.
When I say insanity, I mean it in all the best ways. I respect, no, I deeply admire those who disregard societal norms in order to set their own bar. Or who throw away the bar and show that above a bar is a sky and above that a whole universe of possibility. Can you see that the sky is infinite? It just metamorphosis into something else as you go out farther and farther!
Day 200 marked my final 50k for the world record. 200 has a deep meaning to me. It's the distance that I have popularized in my business with Destination Trail having created the first three non-repetitive 200 milers in the USA. Before the Tahoe 200 in 2014, 200s were not really considered a standard distance in ultra running. But there was a hunger for them, a hunger for races that went beyond 100 miles. There were certainly races that went beyond 100 miles but you didn't see elite runners getting famous doing them (Courtney D on Joe Rogan talking about my Moab 240) or 200 milers with lottery entry processes because they are so popular. I could talk about this for quite some time, but suffice to say that 200 was the distance that I am known for and that has defined my life for the past 10 years. It is a very special number.
Race directing the Tahoe 200 last year. Photo Jason Peters
What was particularly hard about stopping at 200 was that I felt really good. I had no injuries and I knew that physically I could continue. For how long? I think a very long time. However, back when I decided to go beyond 100 ultras in 100 days, I promised my family that I'd stop at 200. I promised my witnesses (for the Guinness Record) and my friends that. I promised my employees that. It was becoming increasingly important for me to get back to many of the tasks that I put aside during the streak.
I continued to work every day while running an ultra, but I was not able to work on the development side of my business and several events were sitting in an unfinished phase the entire time. I'm excited to complete them and offer them to the world but event creation is extremely time consuming and would require me to work on it more than full time. I'm sure no explanation is really needed to let you know why I needed to put more of my focus on my work after 200 days of ultras.
Putting on spikes during the world record in Boulder, Colorado. Photo Adam Eckberg
Juggling life, work and running was the norm during the run streak, but it often felt like a few balls were being dropped at any given time. I'd finish my run, throw a massive pot of water on the stove on boil, chop onions and sauté them. Sit down briefly to remove my shoes and socks and put on a pair of crocs (my feet expanded so much none of my old shoes fit after a couple months, overall my shoe size expanded over a full size!). I'd throw on a puffy jacket as my core temp plummeted, wash my hands jump back into stirring the onions while added ground beef and spices while eating brie and cheese on plantain chips and sipping a bubbly glass of Topo Chico water.
I've learned that to achieve something big one must juggle more balls that most people think is possible. A normal comment during my world record attempt was that I must "not work" or "not have kids". Both of which I do - I do work and I do have teenagers (full time!). There was distain from those that thought I just ran all the time "get a job!" and those who thought I must not have a family "If I didn't have kids I could do that too." Disbelief: "No way she's actually running that much." And disgust, "This is mental illness." It began with "You're going to ruin your knees!" Which quickly turned into "You're going to ruin your whole body!" To: "You're going to DROP DEAD!" (Actual comments) I was called a frostbitten anorexic and told "well, maybe someone finds that attractive." All the while I was also met with enough disbelief that people would accuse me of making up the whole thing. We set all kinds of limits on ourselves, don't we? We make all kinds of assumptions about those achieving unusual feats around us, don't we?
These assumptions limit us. And herein lies a secret for you: Be curious, not critical. Those who condemn and criticize won't realize their own potential. These comments don't bother me or concern me. Heck, they aren't about me. They are about the limitations within other people. You have to recognize that others are going to have all kinds of opinions about you if you share yourself with the world and are doing something insane. Back to that word I love so much. Insanity that expands human potential is actually the most sane thing we humans do.
I'd planned to just cut and paste the "Day 200 post" for this but I began writing and wanted to reflect today, not day 200. Day 200 was still the whirlwind of the world record. The big, heavy and intense emotions of saying goodbye to my insanity for a bit. Goodbye to a daily exploration of my limits. At some point, yes, you must take break and rest to find the next insanity.
My teenage daughters holding the makeshift finish tape for day 200 as I completed the final 50k of the world record. Photo Jess Greene
It wouldn't be right to close this post without thanking the thousands of people who inspired me before, during and after this record. I was stunned by the support from both within the trail and ultrarunning community and outside of it. In fact, I found more support from those outside the world I've lived in for so long than I did from inside of it. The encouragement and inspiration I gained daily from all of you who watched, read and commented on my posts is massive. I had so much fun sharing long posts about each day, my emotional and physical state and the beauty and hardship. Without you it not only wouldn't have been as fun to share, but I don't think I would have written so much. I have hundreds of pages in my notes -- much more than instagram would let me share in a caption. It is a gift to have written every single day although it was very difficult many days as I'd be writing at 9pm, 10pm or even at midnight when I just wanted to relax or sleep.
Hats off to you, thank you ❤️🔥
What's next: This summer I will try to get into a 100miler, if not I may choose an FKT route to test my fitness. Next year I am going to tackle a trans-con and run across the USA!