Trail races at the 200-mile distance are gaining attention in the ultra trail running community in the United States. Just as 100 mile races have surpassed the marathon as a bucket list accomplishment for long distance runners, the emergence of 200 mile races is pushing the boundaries of endurance for athletes, race directors and fans.
While the most prominent ultra trail races remain 100 and 50 mile events, such as the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, JFK 50 Mile, and Leadville Trail 100 Run, this is changing as trail running athletes, brands, and media are showcasing 200 mile events. Events like the Bigfoot 200, Tahoe 200 and Moab 240 are gaining in popularity and even gaining attention for 200 mile races from mainstream media outlets like Runner’s World and even the New York Times.
One of the biggest names in ultrarunning, Courtney Dauwalter, made a name for herself by winning outright the 2017 Moab 240, a 240-mile foot race that traverses the desert and mountains of Southeast Utah. Dauwalter’s win landed her an appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast and led to a trail running documentary with over a million and a half views on YouTube. Her accomplishments on and off the trail are bringing attention to and legitimizing the 200-mile racing scene.
Dauwalter’s win also added to the discussion about how women may be better physically adapted to longer distance ultras than men. The “State of Ultra Running” study published in January 2020 by Run Repeat and the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) concluded that “Women are faster than men in distances over 195 miles.” CTS Ultrarunning head coach Jason Koop looked deeper than Run Repeat’s attention grabbing headline to render a more considered analysis writing, “What the data actually means is that after 195 miles the average pace of all women competing is better than the average pace of all the men competing.”
In addition to Dauwalter, other top names in the 200-mile racing scene such as David Goggins, Mike McKnight, and Catra Corbett have brought increased awareness to the distance, sharing their nutrition advice, training strategies and telling their stories in popular ultrarunning media publications. 200-mile racing is something ultra runners are becoming more curious about and is no longer the niche challenge it used to be.
Last month USATF Mountain Running Champion Allie McLaughlin and I traveled to Southeast Utah to attend the Moab 240 and learn about “angel pacing” – a unique form of pacing in ultrarunning competitions that we’d read about online. In addition, we were introduced to the unique race experience 200-mile racing provided competitors, race crews and organizers. The Moab 240 was unlike any other ultra distance race I’ve ever attended. In this article, I will provide my impressions as a first-time attendee at a 200-mile plus race and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about what makes this distance different from other ultras.
My Top Takeaway – Observe the Aid Stations
Some of the most interesting places to experience the Moab 240 are at the aid stations. Runners’ crews/pacers, aid station volunteers and medical/communication teams spent hours awaiting runners and tending to their needs by cooking meals, taping ankles, popping blisters, helping them change into new clothes/gear, and overall being there to support them through their mental and physical struggles. Expect to see and hear it at the aid stations. Emotions are raw and every runner or crew I talked with shared stories that demonstrated the intense amount of craziness you must be willing to subject yourself to when you involve yourself in this event in any way.
I was particularly struck by the dedication and flexibility of runners’ crews and pacers who were willing to spend hours awaiting their runners. Some waited casually, reading books, setting up their camper vans, cooking meals and relaxing. “My runner is coming in thirty minutes…or three and a half hours, not really sure,” said one runner’s crew chief. Others seemed to be constantly on edge, following aid station volunteers and communication team leaders and asking them repeatedly where their runners were and making sure every little thing would be ready when they arrived. I found myself fully immersed in the race action and was amazed how physically and mentally fatigued I felt by the end of the race. I can only imagine the fatigue the runners, their crews and race volunteers must feel afterwards!
Who participates in these races?
Crazy people! Some 200-mile races may have specific entry requirements, such as running a 50 or 100-mile race in the year before the event, but this is not always the case. The Moab 240 requires “Just a well developed sense of adventure and a bit of crazy. No race requirements.” according to race director Candice Burt. The Moab 240 does not allow runners under the age of 18 to compete.
Runners should be prepared for some of the most extreme mental and physical challenges they have ever encountered in trail racing. As stated in the 2020 Moab 240 pre-race guidebook, “Runners often experience hallucinations and sleep deprivation. Extreme weather in the canyons (heat) and in the mountains (cold, snow, high winds) is normal. In a few cases, participants must go over 20 miles between full aid stations and carry important recommended gear and water. Much of the terrain is rugged and remote. Participants will need to know how to navigate and read a map for safety reasons.”
During the race, I talked to several participants to get a sense of their experience level with ultrarunning. I met runners of all types and abilities. One runner had never run further than a marathon (26.2 miles) and another had already completed seven 200-mile races. Some came from road running backgrounds and others trail running. Experience is not everything, but certainly being prepared to push yourself to your mental and physical limits is essential.
How do you train for a 200-mile race?
After talking to several participants at the Moab 240, it seems there is not yet a clear strategy for 200-mile training. The distance is still new to the ultrarunning community and I would expect to see in the coming years more articles and coaches advice on how to train for 200-mile plus races. On the topic of how to train for a 200-mile race, David Roche, respected trail running coach for SWAP Adventure Team, said in an article published in Trail Runner Magazine, “No one is sure. Or better yet, there are many different ways you can train for 200 miles, and what works for one athlete may be on another planet from what works for another.” Some of Roche’s tips for 200-mile training in an article he wrote for Trail Runner Magazine. At the Moab 240, several common training threads for participants I talked to included night runs, multi-day hiking trips, and perhaps most importantly testing different in-race nutrition strategies to see what foods digest easily while running.
How do you recover from running 200 miles?
Similarly to training for a 200-mile race, recovery is anybody’s guess. At this time there is not much research on effective recovery strategies, but certain top athletes have developed specific recovery techniques.The 2019 Triple Crown of 200s winner, Mike McKnight, shares with us how he has been able to recover from these races and stay injury free. For reference, the Triple Crown of 200s involves running three 200 mile races, the Tahoe 200, the Bigfoot 200 and Moab 240 in the span of just three months. McKnight said about his recovery methods, “I ran the Triple Crown in 2017 and felt sluggish, then felt great in 2019. The main difference between the two years was diet. In 2017, I ate terribly the first week after each race, mostly fried, processed junk. In 2019, I ate clean, plenty of protein from beef, green veggies and some fruits, and avoided processed and sugary foods. I experienced hardly any inflammation between the races in 2019, which made it so I was able to show up on race day ready to run.” McKnight also said strength work played a large role in his success in 2019, “Strength training helped me leading into each of the three races. I would do lateral band walks, hip/mobility work, wall sits, and air squats to strengthen major muscle groups and avoid common running injuries such as IT band syndrome.”
How long does it take to run 200 miles?
The cutoff time for the Moab 240 is 112 hours. The winning time is usually around 60 hours, with the majority of runners finishing somewhere between 80 to 100 hours. The overall record for the Moab 240 was set by Courtney Dauwalter in 2017, with a time of 57:55:13.
What are 200-mile aid stations like?
Aid stations at the Moab 240 were some of the most equipped stations I’ve ever seen in an ultra race. There are the usual aid station nutrition items, such as gels, electrolyte drinks, and energy chews as well as a wide selection of “real food,” including burgers, soups, bacon, eggs, quesadillas and wraps. Most aid stations had medical teams and satellite phone communication. There were sixteen total stations, four of which included “Sleep Stations” that were equipped with cots for runners to rest on.
Do runners sleep during 200-mile races?
For most runners (even elites), yes! Nearly every runner sleeps at least several hours during the course of the race. At the Moab 240, there were four “Sleep Stations” provided at miles 71.3, 121.6, 167.3, and 201.4. Athletes seemed to have different strategies on how long, frequent or where they would sleep. Some runners preferred to run in cooler weather and purposefully ran during the night and slept during the day when it was warmer. Michele Graglia, winner of the 2020 Moab 240, did not sleep at all!
What kind of gear is needed for a 200-mile race?
The Moab 240 had mandatory gear requirements. See the list below. There were mandatory gear checks at specific waypoints throughout the race. Athletes could have been disqualified or penalized for not carrying mandatory gear. This year’s race included hot temperatures at nearly 90 degrees in the desert as well as snow and below-freezing temperatures during the night, which made having the right gear essential to participants’ safety.
- Device with GPX track of the race course on it (can be a phone) – charged and operable the entire event. To keep batteries charged many participants use battery packs in drop bags.
- Cell Phone
- Jacket with a hood
- Gloves and hat. Hat can be replaced by a neck gaiter
- Long pants
- Insulation layer long sleeve shirt
- Space blanket OR Emergency Bivy sack
- Headlamp and extra batteries
- 500 extra calories (not to be consumed unless emergency)
- SPOT GPS tracking devices were also mandatory and all participants rented these devices on race morning
Do participants run all 200 miles?
“Running” is a relative term when it comes to 200-mile racing. Because of the rough terrain, tough climbs and overall demanding physical toll of running so far, most runners will spend a large amount of time walking or “power walking” as opposed to running. However, leaders of the Moab 240 still average nearly 5 miles per hour, which is quite fast considering that much of the terrain is mountainous.
Is a 200-mile race the same as a stage race?
No. Stage racing involves stopping the clock after each stage and keeping track of runners cumulative times for each stage. The Moab 240 is one continuous run that takes even the fastest runners several days to complete. After the gun fires, the race clock never stops until the 112-hour cutoff.