Next Level: Inside the 200-Mile Race Trend
Runners grind out the miles in the Tahoe 200 on on Sept. 8. Photo: Scott Rokis

Yes, you read that right: running 200-mile races is a growing trend in the U.S.

Five years ago, Candice Burt ran the Tahoe Rim Trail 100-miler and fell in love with the terrain and aura of the region.

Her experience sparked an idea. The longtime ultrarunner and race director decided to create a new trail race around Lake Tahoe.

“It turned out it was 200 miles,” she says. “So it wasn’t that I thought 200 was a thing, but because it was about 200 miles around Lake Tahoe, I made the Tahoe 200. And we got such an amazing response in terms of signup and interest that I realized there was more demand for this kind of an event.”

Keep in mind that the inaugural Tahoe 200 in 2014 had 40,200 feet of ascent and 40,200 feet of descent over a course that included 176 miles on singletrack trails, 21 miles on 4-wheel-drive roads and 8 miles on paved roads. But those numbers not only didn’t discourage runners, but instead seemed to encourage them. The next year, Burt and her company, Destination Trail, launched a second 200-miler, the point-to-point Bigfoot 200 in Washington near Mount St. Helens. This year she added a third in Moab, Utah, a 238-mile race held on a single-loop course.

“At some point I realized that 200 miles is a new distance and that I would help pioneer it in terms of the non-repetitive kind of courses,” she says. “We’re not doing 10-mile loops or anything like that, but just real adventure.”

Race director Candice Burt addresses runners in the Moab 200 in Utah in October. Photo: Scott Rokis

Burt certainly wasn’t the first to put on a race longer than 100 miles. The 205-mile Tor des Geants in the Italian Alps began in 2010, as did the Peak Ultra 200 in Vermont, where runners ran twenty 10-mile loops through the Green Mountains. That same year, the Fat Dog 120-miler began in Canada. Among others, the Badwater route through Death Valley to Whitney Portal is 135 miles and the famed Spartathlon in Greece is 153 miles. So, runners have long gone beyond 100 miles.

But in recent years, the pull of the nice, round number of 200 miles has spawned several races, including Burt’s (two of which are actually over 205, with the Moab race is roughly 238 miles). In 2015, the Born to Run 200 was created, over two 10-mile loops on a 4,000-acre ranch in Los Olivos, Calif. Also in 2015, the Colorado 200—a long, non-repetitive course through the Gunnison National Forest—launched.

Yet not all 200s have flourished. Peak stopped offering its 200 in 2016. The Colorado 200 was discontinued before this year’s race following two years of small fields and high costs. Born to Run’s race continues, but its largest finishing group has been 11.

Burt’s three races, however, started strong and have grown. This year, all three drew fields of 100-plus adventurous-minded runners.

The cost to enter isn’t cheap. The Moab race entry fee started at $795, but then increased to $950 and later $1,050 as race day drew closer. The opening registration fee for the 2018 Tahoe 200 will be $995 and will eventually climb to $1,195.

For that fee, runners get a pint glass, bumper sticker, duffel bag and a ticket to the award ceremony dinner. Finishers will also receive an artist-made belt buckle, finisher print, finisher glass and a meal at the finish line. Also included are 14 aid stations with hot food, sleeping quarters at five locations, a fully marked course and live updates during the race so friends, family and fans can follow along online.

“I was worried we would add Moab and we’d have barely anybody in Tahoe or Bigfoot,” Burt says. “But we noticed, I believe, that the distance is being accepted.”

Adding to the interest was the concept of a grand slam of 200s, which would be earned by anyone completing all three in one year. Fourteen runners did it.

“The triple crown was way more popular than I thought it was going to be,” she says.

Russ Reinbolt of La Jolla, Calif., runs near Echo Summit in the Tahoe 200 en route to a 19th-place finish in 76:32:40. Photo: Scott Rokis

READ MORE: An Intro to Ultrarunning

A new kind of challenge

A 200-mile race isn’t for everyone. Running for three to five days, battling sleep deprivation, arranging for friends and family to crew for so long and organizing the gear and food needed for such a long trek—over varying terrain and changing weather—are physical and logistical hurdles.

But for some, the opportunity to be a pioneer and take on a new, longer distance amid stunning scenery is enticing. It’s all about the adventure, even if that entails consuming more than 10,000 calories, barely sleeping and sometimes running for hours without seeing anyone else.

Longtime ultrarunner Luis Escobar, who ran the Tahoe 200 this year and puts on the Born to Run 200, sees doing a 200 as “another challenge, the next step in my progression as a distance runner.”

“I wouldn’t say I’ve exhausted the other distances, but I’ve done them so much,” says Escobar, 54, of Orcutt, Calif. When he did Tahoe, he did it his way, taking time out to sleep and take care of himself and finishing in 92 hours. That’s almost four days of arranging for food, water and other support all while trying to make constant “forward progress.”

But, he liked it and thinks others will try it.

“People are saying the 200 is the new 100, and I’m starting to believe that,” he says.

By 2014, Oklahoman Gia Madole already had run 50Ks and 50- and 100-milers over five states, so when she saw there would be a 200-mile race at Tahoe, she jumped at it.

“It’s the idea of doing something different that not a lot of other people have done,” she says. “A new experience. I wanted to see what it’s about.”

She fared well, finishing first among women and 10th overall in that first race three years ago, completing the 205.5-mile route in 75 hours and 56 minutes.

She enjoyed it so much she did the inaugural Bigfoot 200 in Washington the next year (first woman and fifth overall) and hopes to do the Tor des Geants in 2018.

In 2016, Roxanne Woodhouse of Weaverville, Calif., did the Tahoe 200 as “something monumental” to celebrate 10 years of ultrarunning after shattering her leg and ankle in a dirt-bike accident. Woodhouse, now 54, was first among women in 69 hours, 16 minutes and 9 seconds, but it was a struggle. She injured a knee 30 miles in, was in pain and hallucinated down the stretch from lack of sleep. She took months to recover. She enjoyed overcoming the challenge of it, but says she doesn’t think she’ll do another 200.

“I think I found my limit for me, and I’m best to stay with the 100-milers,” she says.

Burt says a 200 offers a new experience. With 100-hour cutoff times, sleep and aid stations and non-repetitive routes, she argues runners don’t have to push as hard as in 100-milers.

“They have time to do what they need to do for their body to finish the race,” she says. And, after seeing the interest in her three 200s, she believes the 200 distance will grow in popularity.

“It creates more of an adventure than any other distance,” she says.

Courtney Dauwalter of Golden, Colo., cruises along a red rock trail at the 238-mile Moab 200 in October en route to claiming the overall win by almost 10 hours in 57 hours, 52 minutes. Photo: Scott Rokis

READ MORE: Completing the Triple Crown of 200-mile Races

Doug Williams

Doug Williams is a freelance writer based in San Diego. He’s a former sports editor of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Runners grind out the miles in the Tahoe 200 on on Sept. 8. Photo: Scott Rokis