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Ultrarunner vs. Tesla: Which One Can Go Longer Before Bonking?

Ultra-athlete Robbie Balenger aimed to see if he could run farther than a fully charged Tesla Model 3. The result was closer than you think.

robbie balenger
Photo courtesy of Ten Thousand

In a grueling race of man against machine, ultrarunner Robbie Balenger ran farther than a fully charged Tesla Model 3 could go on a full battery—a little over 242 miles. For three days, Balenger battled blistering 90-degree temperatures on a remote road located just outside of Austin, Texas. On April 14, he was able to keep his legs moving just beyond where his rival Tesla had finally bonked, covering the distance in 76 hours 54 minutes and 46 seconds, outlasting the depleted electric car by 100 feet.

On April 11, Balenger and the Tesla started moving together 250 miles outside of Austin. The car was driven at a median speed of 65 miles per hour for the duration of a full charge. Balenger’s goal was to follow the same route and cover the distance in 72 hours. In the end, he beat the distance set by the car by averaging 19 minutes and 4 seconds per mile. The challenge was sponsored by men’s activewear brand, Ten Thousand, as part of the company’s Feats of Strength series.

“Finishing this effort came with a huge sense of accomplishment and relief,” Balenger told Runner’s World. “In many ways this was the hardest effort I have ever taken on. I’m very proud of myself and the team around me that helped to assure its success.”

After completing the 242-mile challenge on Thursday, Balenger said the toughest part was pushing through the heat and humidity, which made it difficult to consume enough calories and ultimately caused him to have stomach cramps that almost derailed his effort on the first night. “We worked through it by trying to keep my core temperature down with ice filled Buffs, cold fluids, and short breaks on days two and three to escape the hottest temperatures of the day,” he said.

Balenger said he considered quitting on a few occasions, but he managed to press forward by keeping the “quit carrot just a little bit further ahead” in his mind.

“Every time I tell myself that I want to quit, the agreement with myself is that I have to first try to go just a little bit further, then reevaluate,” he said. “I continue egging myself on until things improve, which they always do.”

Beating the Tesla is Balenger's most recent achievement on the roads. In March 2021, he broke the record for running the most laps around New York’s Central Park in one day. The plant-based endurance athlete accomplished the feat by running the 6.1-mile park loop 16 times, completing almost 100 miles from 6:05 a.m. to 12:55 a.m., as reported by CNN. (The record was broken in April 2022.) In 2019, he ran 3,175 miles across the U.S. in just 75 days, a challenge that represented a greater life change after leaving a successful career in the restaurant industry.

Up next for Balenger will be the Three Peaks Challenge—a 450-mile effort that includes summiting the highest peaks in Wales, Scotland, and England this fall.

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