At some point, no matter how long our species persist living on earth, there will come a moment when a man or woman sets a running speed record that will never be broken. It may happen next year, it may happen in 500 years, or it may already have occurred and we simply don’t know it yet. But given the fact that our planet will, no matter what, eventually be destroyed by the very star that gives us life, there is a point at which someone will run the fastest known time that is never beaten.
For now, every few years new records are set on tracks, in marathons, in trail races, and in all manner of running competitions. As science continues to advance and an ever-larger body of knowledge is available, athletes are better able to train their bodies to peak ability, to refine their nutrition and hydration practices, and to make use of the latest and best running apparel and equipment to shave those precious minutes, seconds, or, depending on the event, milliseconds off run times.
Given all that, it is unlikely that the running speed records covered here will stand forever, but it’s also unlikely they will be broken any time soon.
Here are a few impressive and fascinating running records that will be hard to beat. And a few that are hard to beat and also hilarious. (Backward mile and Beer Mile, we’re looking at you.)
1The Men’s 100 Meter Sprint – Usain Bolt – 9.58 Seconds
Usain Bolt is roundly considered to be the fastest man alive; he holds fully half of the top 10 fastest 100-meter dash records, including the world’s fastest known time for the 100-meter sprint, the 9.58 second race Bolt ran on August 16th, 2009 at the IAAF World Championships held in Berlin. The record has now persisted for more than 11 years and given that Bolt himself also ran the next three fastest speeds, it is unlikely we will see his achievement eclipsed any time soon.
2The Women’s 100 Meter Sprint – Florence Griffith-Joyner – 10.49 Seconds
Florence Griffith-Joyner’s world record 100 meter dash time has stood since July 16, 1988. Thus it has now stood for more than 32 years. And the next fastest known time for a woman running the 100-meter race is a full 0.15 seconds slower, an amount of time that might matter little outside competitive sport (or docking a vehicle in space, perhaps) but is a huge gap in this context. Tragically, Griffith-Joyner died just over a decade later at only 38 years old, but her memory lives on in her amazing record.
3The Real Marathon Man – Ricardo Abad Martinez – 607 Consecutive Marathons
Legend has it that following the Battle of Marathon between Athens and Persia in the year 490 BCE, a runner ran nonstop from the place of the battle (Marathon) back to the city of Athens whereupon he declared “Victory!” to the people there gathered and then promptly died of exhaustion. The tale is an inaccurate conflation of historical events, but it did lead to the 26.2-mile marathon race now run regularly around the world. And no one runs marathons like Ricardo Abad Martinez, who completed his 607th marathon on in May of 2012. And that’s consecutive marathons, to be clear: he never once took a day off, and in fact, in some cases completed two 26.2-mile runs on the same day.
4Fastest Known Time on the Appalachian Trail – Karel Sabbe – 41 Days, 7 Hours, 39 Minutes
In 100-meter sprints, every tenth and even hundredth of a second counts. When it comes to a 2,190-mile race across multiple states, minutes will do to establish a record. Or in the case of Belgian ultrarunner (and dentist by trade) Karel Sabbe, days count, too. Because when Sabbe completed his record-setting run of the Appalachian Trail, frequently known simply as the AT, he beat the previous fastest known time (FKT in the lexicon of the sport) by more than four days. Granted, that time was set by Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy who completed his AT run unsupported, meaning he carried or stopped to retrieve all his gear and food on his own, while Sabbe was supported by a team, but still his feat is amazing and unlikely to be beaten any time soon.
5The Fastest Marathon Ever – Eliud Kipchoge – 2:01:39
Eliud Kipchoge’s 2018 two-hour, one-minute, and 39-second marathon record is not actually the fastest marathon time ever – in fact, it’s not even his fastest marathon ever run. He completed a 26.2-mile run in 2019 in one hour, 59 minutes, and 40 seconds, but because it was not on a “record eligible course,” the run did not officially count as a record. When Kipchoge set the current fastest marathon time in Berlin, he was likely near the limit of current human ability, averaging 4.38 seconds per mile, which means he was running at more than 13 miles per hour for most of his record-setting race.
6The Fastest Mile Ever – Hicham El Guerrouj – 3:43:13
Moroccan runner Hicham El Guerrouj is one of the most accomplished middle-distance runners of all time, holding more than half a dozen world records. The most notable of all, however, is his fastest mile ever run. On July 7th of 1999, El Guerrouj ran a mile in three minutes and 43.13 seconds, a record now untouched for more than 21 years. He ran that mile at an average speed of more than 16.15 miles per hour. El Guerrouj is one of only a few competitors to have won a gold medal in both the 1,500-meter race and grueling 5,000-meter race in the same Olympic games.
7Fastest Backward Mile Ever – Aaron Yoder – 5:54:25
With Hicham El Gurrouj’s fastest time ever for running a mile a record unlikely to break any time soon, other runners turned to other records. Like American Aaron Yoder, track coach at Bethany College on Lindsborg, Kansas, who is the current Guinness World Record holder for running a mile backward. Yoder ran his record-setting backward mile in November of 2015, completing the course in five minutes, 54.25 seconds. This means he ran a mile backward faster than most people can run it forward, as the six-minute mile is generally considered the benchmark for a good time.
8Fastest Time on the Longest Race – Ashprihanal Aalto – 40 Days, 9 Hours, 6 Minutes
The Self Transcendence Race is an unusual event, to say the least. Competitors have 52 days in which to complete at least 3,100 miles in order to complete the event, with running occurring between 6 a.m. and midnight. The race typically takes place on a “course” a little over a half-mile in length that wraps around a city block in Queens, New York. Runner must average nearly 60 miles daily as they strive to complete the world’s longest officially recognized race. In 2015, Finnish Runner Ashprihanal Aalto did a fair amount better than that, averaging 77.5 miles a day as he set the Self Transcendence Race record with a time of 40 days, nine hours, and six minutes. (And 21 seconds.)
9The Fastest Iron Man Finish Ever – Jan Frodeno – 7:35:39
An Iron Man triathlon is one of the hardest things a person can do. Or rather it is three of the hardest things all combined together. Thus holding a world record as the fastest Iron Man alive is quite a feat. That record was set in 2015 by German athlete Jan Frodero who completed his Iron Man events in seven hours, 35 minutes, and 39 seconds. He completed the 2.42-mile swim in just over 45 minutes, the 112-mile bike ride in four hours, eight minutes, and the full marathon in two hours and 38 minutes. (Also, he is an Olympiad and three-time Iron Man champ.)
10The Fastest Beer Mile On Record – Corey Bellemore – 4:24:4
Unfortunately for professional runner Corey Bellemore, his 4:24:4 fastest Beer Mile on record is not the official record for the fastest Beer Mile – which is an official thing – because he left more than 4.5-ounces of beer in one of his beers, while the rules dictate no more than four ounces left in the can or bottle. No matter, for he also holds the next fastest time for the Beer Mile, which was 4:33:6. The Beer Mile, in case you are wondering, is a glorious event wherein runners must consume four 12-ounce beers with an ABV not below 5% while in the process of running four laps around a standard track, AKA a mile. During Bellemore’s amazing but disqualified run, he likely would have broken the four-minute mark had he not had to stop for the beers.
11Fastest Empire State Building Run-Up – Paul Crake – 9 Minutes, 33 Seconds
Climbing 1,576 steps to ascend 1,050 feet is one way to do it. Riding an elevator up is another. The elevator ride from the lobby of the Empire State Building to the Observatory on the 86th floor takes about a minute without stops. In 2003, Aussie Paul Crake did it the hard way, setting an Empire State Building Run-Up competition record that has towered for nearly two decades, alighting on his last step in just nine minutes, 33 seconds. Most elite runners barely break 10 minutes.