The Most Difficult Run…IN THE WORLD! A Trail Runner’s Rating Guide by J.R. Atwood

The Endurables, Trail Review

One of the difficult — and appealing — things about trail running versus road running is the near-impossibility of comparing various routes and races of equal distances.

In 2004, Scott Jurek set the course record in the Western States 100 ultramarathon with a time of 15 hours and 36 minutes. The course record for the Wasatch 100 was set in 2005 by Karl Meltzer with a time of 19 hours and 45 minutes which was broken in ’07 by Kyle Skaggs with a time of 19:35. In 2008, Kyle Skaggs broke Scott Jurek’s course record at the Hardrock 100 by almost 3 hours with a time of 23 hours and 23 minutes. So in three different 100 mile races, the course records vary by almost 8 hours!

In contrast, the difference in the course records among the Boston and New York City marathon is 21 seconds; adding the London marathon to the mix, the difference in course records is less than two minutes.


Lest people think us crazy trail runners are simply looking to enjoy nature, let me disabuse you of this notion. We are a competitive type, too. We just mask our ambition under stained and tattered “Running Is Life” t-shirts.

Until now, though, there has not been a real good way to measure, rate, and compare trail runs. A winning trail marathon time could be sub-three hours, or closer to four. What to do? Thanks to Jim, lead coach of The Endurables, we now have a reliable trail rating system.

Simply create a ratio of accumulated ascent/descent divided by distance.

Easy as pie to measure the not-so-easy. The need for this kind of system came from a trail run we recently did that can only be described as epic. It was a 28-mile route. The first 9 miles had 3,800 feet of climbing. After 15 miles, we had climbed 6,700 feet. At the end of the run — finally! — we had ascended and descended over 23,000 feet. Holy cow!

To say this 28-mile run was tiring is the understatement of the year. It was utterly exhausting, even demoralizing at some points. As a consolation prize, Coach Jim said it was certainly one of the most difficult runs we would ever run and one of the most difficult anyone in the world would ever run. Just how difficult? Drumroll, please…

Utilizing Coach Jim’s trail rating system, our 28-miler had a difficulty rating of 821. (!) No organized run, even those that brand themselves as the hardest or most difficult in the world, comes close to matching its difficulty. (Additionally, Coach Jim looked at the cut off times for each race and converted them to a 28 mile distance. I ran this beast of a training run in 5 hours and 15 minutes.)

Hardrock 100 – Rating: 679 Cut Off: 13:25Diablo 50 – Rating: 535 Cut Off: 8:58Wasatch 100 – Rating: 523 Cut Off: 10:04Angels Crest 100 Rating: 483 Cut Off: 9:20

Western States 100 Rating: 400 Cut Off: 8:25

As for the Boston Marathon and the legendary Heartbreak Hill? It registers as a speedbump. It’s difficult rating is a pedestrian 98.

If interested in tackling this brutal, epic 28-mile run, contact The Endurables for a map. Good luck. Pack a lunch. And a GPS cell phone. Write down some personal affirmations and reasons you love trail running. When your spirit is broken, break-out these items. Eat some food. Find some motivation to keep going. And if you can’t will yourself to push on and up, call a helicopter to get you home and into a La-Z-Boy.

Run With It!
J.R. Atwood

J.R. Attwood is  an avid trail runner and a doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley with research interests in the fields of human development and social psychology.  More writting can be found at his blog, Playthink.

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