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There aren’t many “Last One Standing” type races out there, and I don’t understand why.

For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, the idea is that runners start with a specific amount of time (generally an hour) to complete a particular distance (usually a loop between 3.5 and 4.5 miles). Runners who complete the distance within the specified time wait for that time period to end, then they do it again.

For example, a “last one standing” race beginning at 6:00 a.m. might have runners start by running a 4 mile loop. Then, at 7:00 a.m., those runners who completed the loop within that previous hour go out for another loop, again with the requirement that they complete the 4 mile loop within an hour (runners who didn’t finish the current loop within the hour are out of the race). Repeat the routine until there’s only one runner left.

The interesting (and compelling) feature of these types of races is that the pace required to perform well is likely to be much slower than in traditional races. It’s impossible for to build up a lead over other runners, since everyone starts the next lap at the beginning of the hour. Any significant “low point” during the race might spell the end of your day, because running the early laps quickly doesn’t allow you to build up a time cushion that you can draw upon later when you slow down. The advantage to finishing a lap quickly is that you get more time to rest before the next lap begins at the top of the hour — but once the next lap starts you’re at exactly the same point in the race as all the other remaining runners.

We trail and ultra runners are, arguably, an adventurous lot. But for all the different ways we’ve come up to challenge ourselves (and each other), there doesn’t seem to be a big following for the “last one standing” format. There are few that I managed to find that have had multiple runnings, but there also appears to be a number of one-and-done events. Some examples include:

I don’t think the “running laps” aspect of these races is necessarily a negative… standard ultra distance events and timed events that run loop courses (sometimes loops or a mile or shorter… or even on the track!) have large and loyal followings.

I suspect the lack of popularity might be due to the uncertain nature of these events. Not knowing exactly how long the race is going to go on for, and therefore not being able to plan on a certain level of effort, might simply be too foreign. Or perhaps not being able to compare a performance against other (more traditional) ultra-distances we’ve done before leaves us feeling empty. Or maybe it’s just the unfamiliarity with strategy; how much should you value getting a few extra minutes of rest at the end of a lap? If you try to run at an easy pace to save yourself for later, how close can you come to the lap cut-off time without missing it?

Does this type of race have any appeal to you? Or does it sound horrible?