When Patrick Sweeney set a new Guinness World Record for the Greatest Distance Run On Sand in 24 Hours at the Hermosa 24 ultramarathon in 2011, he was essentially racing against the clock. This year, though, his stiffest competition won’t come from a timepiece, but a field of experienced marathon runners who will challenge the Manhattan Beach native for their own spot in the record books.
The top challenger is Co-Race Director Christian Burke, 45, who will attempt to retake the world record he set in 2010 when he ran 83.04 miles in the deep sand as a means to raise funds for the schools of Hermosa Beach. Sweeney, 33, completed 87.36 miles to break Burke’s record last year.
In 2010, when Hermosa Beach schools faced a budget shortfall of $670,000, Burke wondered how he could make a difference. He was already volunteering as a physical education teacher at Hermosa Valley School where his daughter Halle was a student, but felt compelled to do more.
Already a well known endurance athlete, Burke came up with the idea of attempting a Guinness World Record and termed it the Hermosa 24. The event raised nearly $20,000 while his record-breaking run was covered by every local television station. In the weeks that followed, Burke decided he could create a yearly event that not only he, but anyone could run, adding a team relay division and inviting other solo runners to compete while raising money for local children.
Overseeing such a huge project prevented Burke from competing last year, but his one-year hiatus has created a highly anticipated showdown between Burke and Sweeney when the two friends sprint off the starting line at the Hermosa Beach Pier come high noon on Saturday.
“I wanted to compete last year, but it was much more important for the race to succeed in order to help the kids,” Burke said. “I realized that I needed a key group of people – a special force that included quality, not quantity – in order to keep this event going. My co-race director Mike Naylor has been huge. His dedication has allowed me to compete again this year.”
Although still a homeowner in Hermosa Beach, Burke has been living in Spain since August 2011 while 7th-grader Halle attended the American School of Barcelona. Christian said he has been training hard in the soft sand and competing in various distance races in Europe.
“I feel great and I’m coming to take back my record,” Burke exclaimed. “I’ve had no alcohol or caffeine, so I’m taking this seriously.”
When Burke showed up at the Manhattan Beach Pier early Saturday morning to run in the Manhattan Beach 5K, there was no evidence of jet lag after spending 15 hours on a plane the previous day during his trip from Spain to Hermosa Beach.
He and Sweeney used the race as a tune-up for next weekend’s ultramarathon. Sweeney, known for running barefoot or in Luna sandals, won the 5K with a time of 17 minutes, 59 seconds but was a bit more subdued when the two got together after the race to discuss other events they have recently competed in, fellow runners and, of course, the Hermosa 24.
Unlike a preview of a boxing match, there was little smack talking between these heavyweights of distance running.
“I feel decent,” Sweeney said in a low-key manner. “I’m up for any challenge. I recently ran an ultramarathon and blew out one of my Luna sandals. I adapted and finished running the race in one sandal and one barefoot.”
Burke seemed a little more confident.
“You look a little thin,” Burke said while pinching about a half inch of his stomach which appeared to be only skin. “I’ve got my energy saved up. I’m ready.”
Burke admitted that watching his record taken from him last year was bittersweet.
“It was sad to see it go, but it went to a well-deserving athlete for whom I have tremendous respect, but I do want my record back,” Burke said. “This year, as the event continues to grow and attracts a field of inspiring athletes, it will be more challenging than ever. I look forward to channeling the energy of the kids to fuel me to victory again.”
Sweeney expects to improve on his record-setting performance a year ago.
“I think it will be easier for me this year because I know what’s in store,” Sweeney said. “Right now, I’m in a Catch-22 situation. I feel like I should be training more, but I feel so good that I’m being a little cautious.”
Sweeney recently won the Born to Run 50K trail run in Los Olivos near Santa Barbara with a time of 4 hours, 2 minutes. Training with another run in sand between the Hermosa and Manhattan piers, Sweeney set a new course record by nearly a minute at the GI Joe Summer Pier-to-Pier run posting a time of 19 minutes, 36 seconds.
The Hermosa 24 course runs in the soft sand to the Manhattan Beach Pier and back, making one 3.46-mile lap. Solo runners may compete in the ultramarathon for an entry fee of $100. Team rates for the relay range from $80/runner for a two-person team to $30/runner for a 10-person team.
A one-lap (3.46 miles) sprint competition will also be held with a $20 entry fee per attempt. A $100 prize will be awarded to the runner who holds the fastest time at the end of the 24-hour event.
“Anyone can run in the one-lap competition as many times as they want,” Burke explained. “If they don’t like their time in the first attempt, they can go home and rest, come back, and give it another try as long as it’s in the 24-hour time frame.”
Proceeds from the one-lap competition benefit the 100 Mile Club, an organization involving many local schools that provides students the opportunity to run or walk 100 miles at school during a single school year and is committed to improving school readiness to learn, creating better educational outcomes, building self-esteem and overall improved health in the lives of children.
Burke and Sweeney aren’t the only record holders competing in this year’s edition of the Hermosa 24. The field includes the male and female Guinness World Record holders for Most Marathons Run in a Calendar Year.
Larry Macon, a 67-year-old trial attorney from San Antonio, Texas set the record in 2008 by completing 105 marathons and is attempting to break the record for the fourth consecutive year after running 113 in 2011.
Yolanda Holder, 54, of Corona holds the women’s record with 106 marathons completed in 2010. Nicknamed “Walking Diva,” Holder is an accomplished power walker whose technique may be a detriment in the soft sand.
“Deep sand takes so much energy out of you, acting like a shock absorber,” Burke explained. “You need to have complete efficiency of motion, moving forward quickly with more flat-footed strides so there is more surface area to puff off of. Moving heel-to-toe is not the best way to go through soft sand.”
Holder said she doesn’t expect to break the 24-hour record but has another goal in mind.
“I am on a quest to break my record of 106 marathons,” Holder said. “The Hermosa 24 will be marathon No. 50 of the year.”
Ed Ettinghausen, 49, of Murrieta has competed against Burke and Sweeney in the past and recently completed seven 100-mile runs in seven weeks. He has completed over 200 marathons, more than 50 ultras and 28 races of 100 or more miles. He owns the Guinness World Record for most marathons in a 365-day period with 135, setting the record while competing in Skechers running shoes.
“I have spoken with Patrick about the Hermosa 24 a few times, and it sounded like a lot of fun,” said Ettinghausen, also known as “The Jester” for his racing attire of a colorful jester hat, skirt and tights. “Plus, I needed one final “long run” before the Badwater 135 Ultramarathon on July 16 and the Hermosa 24 fit the bill perfectly.”
“Ed’s no speedster but I believe he is capable of breaking my record,” Sweeney admitted. “His experience can prove valuable and anything can happen in an endurance race like this.”
Ettinghausen has run in six 24-hour races completing over 100 miles each time, including 117 miles at a 24-hour race in Riverside in May. However, he realizes the deep sand of Hermosa Beach will be a new challenge.
“I’ve never done a 24 race in soft sand — which I know is a completely different beast — so I have no reference point/past experience to relate to and therefore have no way to know how many miles I can do on that terrain,” Ettinghausen said. “All I can do is give it my best shot and see what happens. My goal is to shoot for 80 miles. If I can get more than that, great. If I can get 90 and break the record, even better. Both Christian and Patrick are very strong/fast runners. Definitely I have my work cut out for me.”
Ettinghausen said in 2011 he broke the Guinness World Record for Most Marathons in 365 Days with 135. The Hermosa 24 will be one of three marathons he will run during the weekend.
“A friend of mine is putting on a series of seven marathons in seven days for a group of about 25 hard-core marathoners beginning on Wednesday.” Ettinghausen said. “So on Saturday, I’ll do a marathon in the morning, go straight to the Hermosa 24, attempt 80-90 miles, and then as soon as that race is finished at noon on Sunday, go straight out to do a late start marathon. If all goes according to plan, I’ll do 130-140 miles in 36 to 40 hours. It should be doable, as I did 135 miles in 31 hours at last years Badwater 135 in the middle of Death Valley in 120 degree temperature.
“With these high-mileage events, there are so many things that can go wrong, that you’ve got to be conservative in the goal setting arena. I’ve learned that you can’t come into these with too much confidence, lest the ultra gods kick you in the gut and teach you a lesson or two. I’ve experienced my share of lessons.”
Pushing the field will be Jim Simpson, 70, of Huntington Beach, who has run more than 900 marathons and is on a quest to reach 1,000 by the end of 2013, and Eric Sullivan, a 31-year-old extreme athlete fro Gunnison, Colorado.
Sullivan is an Ironman triathlete and skier who set the world record for the most human-powered vertical feet in a single day by completing 34 laps of the 1,504-foot vertical course during the 24 Hours of Sunlight uphill ski racing event in Colorado. The distance was the equivalent of climbing a total of 51,068 feet—comparable to climbing from the base camp of Mt. Everest to the summit two and a half times.
“Eric is one of the most hardcore, gnarliest dudes on the planet,” Burke said. “He’s the type of competitor who can blow out a calf, look down and say ‘Oh, wow,” tape it up and continue on.”
Last year’s Hermosa 24 runner-up returns to take another shot at the record. Alex Mendoza, 16, of Rolling Hills Estates completed 60.48 miles in 2011 and the Peninsula High School cross country and track athlete is expected to give the older competitors a run for their money.
“Experience helps in a race like this,” Burke said. “Middle age mentality feeds well into this event but I expect Alex to be phenomenal this year. He’s stronger, more mature and a runner to look out for.”
Burke said solo entries have jumped from 10 to more than 25 but he would like to see more relay teams involved. Mickey’s Winners won the relay division last year completing 131.04 miles in the 24 hour period.
“I couldn’t imagine a new solo record not being set this year,” Burke said. “In fact, I guarantee it. I may not win, but the winner will set a new record and I feel 100 miles if very doable.”
For more information regarding the race or to make a donation, visit www.Hermosa24.com.