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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, November 08, 2002

Ultra fast Ultra fast (November 08, 2002)

Stanford grad Alex Tilson hopes his world record for 50K reinvigorates American speed-based ultra road running

by Keith Peters

He has ridden a bicycle to the Arctic Circle and back, ridden across the continental U.S. multiple times, and once pedaled from Istanbul to Mongolia.

Alex Tilson is a doer. If there's a challenge out there, he'll do it. The longer, the better.

That's why Tilson, 32, was at Stanford Stadium last weekend. He challenged himself to break records in a 50K race --- the Silicon Valley Speedster Ultra Classic -- engineered to be the fastest ultramarathon in America.

"The race was designed to fill a void in the American ultra-running scene," said Tilson. "There are some astounding trail runs, and plenty of solid road runs. There are some great track runs, but we could find no road race that would allow me to run to my potential."

So, Tilson got together with some friends and officials to set up an event that would be measured and timed correctly, leaving no doubt if a record was set.

Tilson not only set one record, but two, as he ran the one-kilometer loop (.621 miles) 50 times around Stanford Stadium in two hours, 51 minutes, 48 seconds last Saturday. Pending ratification, the time is a World and American 50K road record.

Tilson ran 37 of his 50 laps within two seconds of his goal pace, averaging 5:31 per mile over the 31.05-mile course.

"I worked very hard to maintain consistent pacing throughout the race," Tilson said. "It is the most efficient way to run. I am proud that my half-marathon split (1:12:10) was exactly half of my marathon split (2:24:21)."

Tilson's time broke the official American 50K record of 3:00:00, set in 1982 by Jeff Wall. The official world 50K road record is 2:55:45, set by Shane Downes in 1995, and the official U.S. 50K track record is 2:52:47 by Barney Klecker in 1981.

There are, however, some faster unofficial races that were run but never ratified for record purposes. Chuck Smead ran 2:50:46 on the road in 1976 and Thompson Magawana was timed in 2:43:38 for 50K during the Two Oceans Marathon in 1988 in Durban, South Africa.

Tilson, who holds an engineering degree from Stanford and who lives in Burlingame, said the goal of last Saturday's race was to make such record-setting official and popular once again.

"Record setting is always good for sport," he said. "I hope that this reinvigorates American speed-based ultra running. I hope that someone now rises up to trounce that pesky unofficial 50K road record and then moves on to run in the mid-to-low 2:40s. With the right people, the right focus, and the right race, it can happen.

"America doesn't need more prizes and t-shirts, but I do believe that it is lacking for the rebirth of fast ultramarathons, properly and officially run."

Tilson said he had been organizing and training for this race for a year.

"I ran my first ultramarathon last November," he said. "It went fairly well, but I knew that I could get in much better shape and that I could organize a much faster race. I ramped up my mileage very slowly this year, which helped me to avoid injuries. My average training run is now over 16 miles -- it seems to have paid off."

Race chair Glenn Carpenter said: "We were very lucky to have the skills of some of the best race volunteers in the business. Course certifier Tom Knight has certified over one hundred courses --- he spent an enormous amount of time dialing-in this course. His effort was pivotal because multiple record attempts at this distance have been plagued by inaccurate and unverifiable courses; Tom virtually eliminated that risk.

" USATF certified timers Bob Rauch and Bob Workman also worked very hard to ensure that the timing was done exactly by- the-book, that all the laps were counted properly, and that all of the splits were recorded to protocol. This attention to detail should guarantee that the effort stands where other efforts have been bedeviled at the time of ratification."

The race conditions proved to be perfect --- 40 degrees at the start (6 a.m.) and 55 degrees at the finish. Stanford media guide designer Don Hogue and Scott Nicholas (a 2:18 marathoner) provided the only pacing in the race that Tilson finished alone.

"Stanford was a natural choice for the race location," said Tilson. "The stadium offers a closed-course loop layout that is perfect for runners, volunteers, and fans. Fans loved being able to watch the entire race from one vantage point. Having one common start, finish, and kilometer split point allowed for real focus and execution on the part of the volunteers.

"In spirit Stanford it is the very heart of Silicon Valley, a region born on generating innovative product. Additionally, it is clearly the focus of the American distance running rebirth. Between the post-collegiate Nike Farm Team successes, Stanford's track and cross country titles, the Olympians the programs have spawned, the astounding spring night meets, and the recent National Championships, clearly this place has magic in the air."


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