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  3. 2023: The Year in Racing
Photo credits: Natalie Wong/IG @beyond_theroad_ (left); Alexis Berg (right)

Across distances and terrains, 2023 reminded us in dramatic fashion that limits are made to be tested and records are made to be broken. Professional and amateur runners defied expectations as world records fell, super shoes again took center stage, and one intrepid marathoner came tantalizingly close to capturing the sport’s Holy Grail. Here we celebrate standout moments from a year that showcased the power and potential of the human spirit.

Try to keep up, boys: Female ultrarunners dominated the headlines in 2023. Dominika Stelmach of Poland got the year off to a fast start, setting a new women’s 12-hour world record of 94.841 miles (152.633 km) at the Spartanion in Israel, while Miho Nakata of Japan closed the year with a 24-hour world record of 167.996 miles (270.363 km) at the IAU 24-Hour World Championships in Taiwan. And in March, the indefatigable Camille Herron set a new women’s 48-hour world record—and an overall American record—by completing 270.505 miles (435.336 km) at the Sri Chinmoy 48-Hour Festival in Australia.

Trading places: American marathon record holder Emily Sisson picked up where she left off in 2022, finishing second at the Houston Half Marathon in a time of 1:06:52 and smashing her own American record by 19 seconds. Less than six months later, Keira D’Amato (above) bested Sisson’s performance at the Gold Coast Half in Australia, winning in a new American record time of 1:06:39. The storyline was an ironic twist between frenemies, as Sisson had eclipsed D’Amato’s American marathon record by 43 seconds at the 2022 Chicago Marathon, finishing second in a time of 2:18:29.

Mission Improbable: For the first time since 2012 and only the second time in its 37-year history, the cruel & unusual Barkley Marathons saw three finishers reach its infamous yellow gate; the last of the three, Karel Sabbe of Belgium, finished with less than 6½ minutes to spare in the 60-hour time limit.

Putting his best foot backward: Think running 26.2 miles is hard? Try doing it in reverse like French runner Guillaume de Lustrac, who set the world record (on a bet, naturally) by running the Drôme Marathon backward in a time of 3:25:24, a 7:50/mile pace.

Heads up, Energizer Bunny: Coming off an unratified world-record performance at the 100 km distance (6:05:41) in 2022, Aleksandr “Sania” Sorokin of Lithuania revisited the record books on a certified loop course in his home town of Vilnius, where he covered 100 km (62.2 miles) in 6:05:35, a staggering 5:53/mile pace. The former overweight smoker currently holds seven world records on the road and track including 100 km, 100 miles, 6 hours, 12 hours, and 24 hours.

A show of good great Faith: Faith Kipyegon of Kenya enjoyed a summer for the ages, setting world records at 1500 meters (3:49.11) and 5000 meters (14:05.20) before winning the Monaco Diamond League mile in a world-record time of 4:07.64, becoming the first woman to run a sub-4:10 mile and shattering Sifan Hassan’s previous mark (set on the same track in 2019) by nearly five seconds. The event was the fastest women’s mile in history, as Kipyegon paced six other competitors to national records including American Nikki Hiltz (4:16.35).

Going nowhere, fast: Louisiana native Jarrett LeBlanc, a diagnostic cardiac sonographer and former all-conference distance runner at McNeese State University, broke the treadmill half marathon world record in a time of 1:02:50 (a 4:47/mile pace) while raising money for children with congenital heart disease.

The need for speed: Americans Noah Lyles and Sha’Carri Richardson claimed the titles of fastest man alive and fastest woman alive, respectively, after each won gold in the 100m at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest. Richardson was also named to the Forbes “30 Under 30” sports list for 2024.

In a league of her own: American ultrarunner Courtney Dauwalter (above) enjoyed a historically dominant summer, becoming the first person to win the Western States 100, Hardrock 100, and Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) not only in the same calendar year, but in a span of ten weeks. Along the way, she set course records at both Western States and Hardrock.

💯 is the new 13.1: Battling torrential rain at the Great North Run in the United Kingdom, World War II veteran Bill Cooksey at age 102 became the oldest person to complete a half marathon, finishing in 5 hours 41 minutes and sharing the spotlight with Sir Mo Farah in the four-time Olympic gold medalist’s last competitive race.

Where no (wo)man has gone before: Tigst Assefa of Ethiopia shocked the running world, winning the Berlin Marathon in a world record time of 2:11:53 to demolish the previous mark of 2:14:04—set by Brigid Kosgei of Kenya at the 2019 Chicago Marathon—by more than two minutes.

Chasing the Holy Grail: Kelvin Kiptum of Kenya became the first person to break 2 hours 1 minute in a sanctioned marathon as he blitzed the field at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, winning in 2:00:35 and outrunning fellow countryman Eliud Kipchoge’s world record time of 2:01:09 set last year in Berlin. The jaw-dropping performance brought the world record within striking distance of two hours, the sport’s Holy Grail. Said Kiptum after the race, “A world record was not on my mind today.”

Feeling loopy FTW: Backyard ultra king Harvey Lewis (U.S.) continued to push the limits of human endurance, defending his crown at the Big’s Backyard Ultra World Championship by completing 450 miles in 108 hours, a world-record performance that surpassed his previous mark of 354.16 miles in 85 hours set in 2021.

26.2 miles of inspiration: Athletes with intellectual disabilities captured the spotlight in 2023. In March Alex Roca, who has cerebral palsy, became the first person with a 76 percent disability to complete the marathon distance at the Barcelona Marathon. And in November, Kayleigh Williamson of Austin, TX and RaceRaves member Daniel Chaplin of Mountain Brook, AL became two of the first individuals with Down syndrome to finish the world’s largest marathon at the TCS New York City Marathon.

The niftiest 50: One month after qualifying for the 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, Charlie Lawrence of Boulder, Colorado broke the world record for the 50-mile distance, winning the Tunnel Hill 50 in 4:48:21 to eclipse the previous mark of 4:50:08 set in 2019 by Jim Walmsley.

Good on ya, mate! Rounding out the racing year was big news for Six Star hopefuls, as the Sydney Marathon 🇦🇺 officially met all the criteria for stage one assessment and now moves on to the second stage of the candidacy process in its bid to become the newest member of the prestigious Abbott World Marathon Majors.

👉 Thanks for reading and for all your support of RaceRaves in 2023. Here’s to a happy, healthy 2024 filled with gratifying miles and personal bests in everything you do! 💙🧡

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Author: Mike Sohaskey

Mike Sohaskey, Co-founder of RaceRaves

Mike Sohaskey is the co-founder of RaceRaves, the premier online reviews community for runners to share their race experiences and find their next challenge. Mike honed his creative and critical thinking skills as a research scientist, earning a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology from Stanford. He’s also completed over 100 races — including 50+ marathons and ultras — in locations ranging from Antarctica to Zimbabwe.

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