AUA: March 21, 2002: 

Weather Forecast for the USA 50km Championship from two days out
(Thursday, March 21): Snow flurries and high winds today, with possible accumulation of up to 1 inch.

Very cold friday (below freezing all day), with 20mph winds.

Race day (Sat.): partly sunny, temperature in the 20's for the start, climbing to the low 40's.

The Strange story of the American 50K Road Record
(The American Ultrarunning Association is grateful to Nick Marshall,
pioneer American ultra historian, for much of the background information
in this article)


The easy part first.  The Women's American 50km Record is 3:13:51, set
by Janis Klecker in 1983.  It is a road mark, the Track version being
held by Ann Trason at 3:20:23

The record progress can be nicely traced back to 1976, when Penny DeMoss
ran what was probably a world best time of 3:48:27 in the very first USA
50km National Championship.  Following that, the record progressed as follows:

1978, Sue Krenn, 3:40:52
1979, Sandy Kiddy, 3:37:08
1980, Jan Arenz, 3:26:47
1981, Mary Bange, 3:23:31
1983, Linda Edgar, 3:21:27

Edgar's time was a world best, set in January in Seattle.  The following
December, in Tallahassee, Janis Klecker put the mark out of reach with
her still standing 3:13:51 (pace: 6:14/mile).

Now, what about the men?


One of the stranger stories of ultra recordkeeping is the perplexing
fact of Jeff Wall's 3:00:00, run in November 1982, sitting for over 20
years as the official American men's 50km Road Record.  Strange that no
one has bettered it on the roads in those 20 years.  But stranger still
that at least a dozen American men ran faster (some of them MUCH faster)
BEFORE that.

Before we explore that anomaly, let's set the "record" straight that
Barney Klecker holds what we can legitimately call the "absolute"
American record (i.e., either track or road), his 2:52:48 (pace:
5:33/mile) still unchallenged in its 22nd year as the official American
TRACK record.

Before we go any further, some bureaucratic and political history is in
order here.  From the late 70's through the mid-80's, the practice of
official road recordkeeping by the national governing body was in a
long, painful state of transition.  It wasn't until about 1983 that all
of the rules and standards (timing, course measurement, record
submission and review, verification, ratification) became established
and and codified in such a way that they could be understood and
followed uniformly throughout the country.  Some races from that era (e.g., the
Chicago event in which Barney Klecker set his still-standing American 50
mile record of 4:51:25 in 1980) were conducted and documented in line
with what the evolving requirements were at the time.  Many others were
not.  Or, if they were, the complete documentation never made it to the
governing body, which then could not officially ratify them based on
just verbal or press reports.

Now, this was the heyday of American distance racing.  EVERYONE was
faster back then, from 1 mile through 50 miles (hardly any Americans
raced 100km back then).  Most American ultras were held on the road or
track, and trail ultrarunning was a newly-emerging fringe phenomenon. 
So, a fair number of decent American marathoners moved up to road
ultras, and they brought their legspeed with them.

At the 50km distance, they led the world until the South Africans took
over in the late 80's.  It wasn't until the mid-80's that most American
road ultra directors had caught onto the fact that setting official
records required close attention to things like course certification,
recording of laptimes, multiple backup timing devices, etc.  But by that
time American male legspeed was in decline, and a mini golden era of the
sport had quietly come and gone.

So, at Pittsburgh this weekend (weather permitting) we may well see a
new "official" American road record.  Which would be great.  You gotta
start somewhere.  But hopefully it will be the beginning of a quest, not
the end of an attempt.

Now how about that mini golden era?  Here's a capsule summary of the
rich legacy our predecessors have left us....

1976: The inaugural AAU National 50km Championship in Sacramento. 
Course certified by the standards at that time (which were just a bit
more lenient than today's standards).  Chuck Smead, a sub-2:15
marathoner, goes through the marathon mark under 2:20, then hangs on for
a world best 2:50:46.  Still the fastest American 50km ever, by the watch.

1977: National AAU 50km Championship is held in New York's hilly Central
Park.  Fritz Mueller wins in 2:58:58.

1978: Ken Moffitt runs 2:58:46 on a hilly course at Las Posas Hills, CA.

5 months later: Mueller defends his national title at the U.S.
Championship in Brattleboro Vermont in 2:58:20.

1979: Back to Las Posas Hills: Bill McDermott runs 2:58:35.

5 months later: Back to Brattleboro for the National Championship.  The
greatest 50km in American history.  For perspective: Frank Bozanich (who
is still winning ultras today) runs 3:03 and barely makes the top 10! 
Just ahead of him is Ray Scannell (also still running ultras today), who
had led through 20 miles.  At the front: John Cederholm defeats Fritz
Mueller, 2:56:43 to 2:59:05.

1981: TAC/USA National Championship in Roseburg, OR: Richard Holloway
wins in 2:55:54.

5 months later: Barney Klecker runs 2:58:38 on a certified, uphill
course with a 20mph crosswind at Copper Harbor, Michigan.

1 month later: Charlie Trayer clocks a certified 50km split of 3:00:18
in the Two Bridges 36 miler in Washington, DC.

1 month later: Klecker runs his American Track Record 2:52:48 in Tucson.

1 month later: Klecker runs 2:57:13 on a certified road course in East
Peoria, IL.

1982: Tom Fleming (2:12 marathoner) runs his only ultra: 2:52:30 for
50km at Cedar Grove, NJ.

1 week later: Trayer wins TAC/USA National Championship in Washington,
DC in 2:59:36.

8 months later: Jeff Wall runs his still-standing official U.S. Road
Record 3:00:00 in San Francisco.  The first mark for which the governing
body receives full documentation necessary for recordkeeping.

On the very same day: In New York's hilly Central Park, Don Paul, who
ironically lives in San Francisco, runs 2:50:55.  Given the tighter
certification standards of the time (compared to Smead's 1976 mark of
2:50:46), Paul's is arguably the greatest 50km ever run by an American
to date.  The course measurement, lap-counting, and timing documentation
are insufficient.

2 weeks later: Twins Richard and Peter Dodd tie to win a 50km in
Madison, WI in 2:59:56.

2 weeks later: Barney Klecker runs 2:51:53 on a certified road course in
Wakulla Springs, FL.  Insufficient documentation for records.

1 year later (Dec. 1983): Janis Klecker runs her still standing American
Record 3:13:51 at Wakulla Springs.  Ahead of her, husband Barney runs
2:53:45.  Janis' mark has full documentation and is ratified as the
official U.S. road record.  For reasons still not clear today, Barney's
mark from the same event is not ratified.  Speculation is that Paul's
2:50:55 from the previous year had been widely publicized in the running
press as a new American Record, and Klecker was chasing that time, so
Barney's 2:53:45 might have been perceived by all (including himself) as
a non-record run and therefore full documentation was never completed.

In almost 20 years since then, no American male has broken 3:00:00 for
50km on a certified road course.

Postscript:  Smead, Paul, and Klecker were all marathoners in the 2:15 range.

The action begins Saturday, March 23, at 7:00AM Eastern time.
One or two live updates and immediate results will be posted on the website
of the American Ultrarunning Association at:

-Dan Brannen

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