It was a big year for record-setting performances. Athletes went further, faster, and higher than ever before on trails, waves, rock faces, roads, and high school tracks. Here are ten of the most exciting times we redefined the human limit this year.
Herron, a 36-year-old ultrarunner from Oklahoma City, ran a record 162.9 miles in 24 hours during the Desert Solstice Invitational in Phoenix. On December 8, she completed 655.48 laps around a high school track to become the overall winner, beating second-place finisher Jacob Jackson of Loma Linda, California, by more than five miles.
On May 30, Honnold and Caldwell flew up the famed route on Yosemite’s El Capitan in just 2 hours, 10 minutes, and 15 seconds—nine minutes faster than the previous record set by Brad Gobright and Jim Reynolds. Less than a week later, they completed the route in 2:01:50. Two days after that, they climbed the route in just 1:58:07. For context, most parties take around three days to climb the route.
Karel Sabbe set a new record of 41 days, 7 hours, and 39 minutes for a supported hike of the Appalachian Trail. He beat Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy’s unsupported time of 45 days, 12 hours, and 15 minutes, set in 2017. The Belgian runner—who works as a dentist when he’s not setting FKTs—averaged 52.9 miles a day and completed the final 100 miles by running 40 hours straight. He finished three days faster than he had planned.
In July, Gilmore won her 29th World Surf League tour event—more than any other woman. After winning the overall title in December, she tied fellow Australian Layne Beachley for the most ever women’s world titles.
Nelson and Morrison became the first to successfully ski from the summit of Nepal’s Lhotse, one of the most prized high-altitude lines in the world, in September. After summiting the 27,940-foot Himalayan peak, they began their 7,000-foot descent by skiing the Lhotse Couloir, an iconic north-facing 2,000-foot line long coveted by ski mountaineers.
In late November, Swedish ultrarunner Ida Nilsson set the FKT on the Grand Canyon’s double-crossing classic: the rim-to-rim-to-rim. Nilsson’s time of 7 hours, 29 minutes, and 16 seconds bested Cat Bradley’s 2017 record by 23 minutes. Then, just five days later, relative newcomer to ultrarunning Taylor Nowlin beat Nilsson’s time by three minutes. The route encompasses 42 miles with some 10,000 feet of climbing and 10,000 feet of descents.
On May 16, Lhakpa Sherpa reached the summit of Mount Everest for the ninth time, breaking the record—her own record—for the most summits of the world’s tallest peak by a woman. The next-closest woman to the record is American Melissa Arnot Reid, who has climbed Everest six times. Note that Arnot Reid is a professional athlete, and Lhakpa Sherpa is a a single mom who works as a dishwasher at a Whole Foods in Connecticut.
At this year’s Berlin Marathon, Kipchoge, the 33-year-old reigning Olympic champion from Kenya, ran 2:01:39, slicing a stunning 78 seconds off the previous world record, by far the largest margin for more than half a century. As our Sweat Science columnist Alex Hutchinson put it, “He broke the marathon.”
After four failed attempts, 70-year-old amputee Xia Boyu summited Mount Everest, despite the Nepal Ministry of Tourism’s attempt to ban double amputees from the peak this year. When he was just 27, the Chinese man suffered severe frostbite on a failed Everest bid and lost both his feet; his legs were later amputated below the knees. In May, Xia finally stood on top of the world.
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Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Des Linden's 2018 Boston Marathon time. The story has been updated. Outside regrets the error.