Choosing that 100 miler race!

By: Gary Robbins

I think it’s important to get something out of the way right off the hop here. You do not NEED to do a 100 miler if it’s not your jam. 50 km races are absolutely ultramarathons. I “just” ran a 10km race a few years ago, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever trained for and done. Longer distance does not equal more impressive. Running fast is hard, no matter the distance in front of you. With that out of the way I’ve been asked to write about the top three 100 milers I’ve run. First, the list: 

  1.       HURT 100, Hawaii (2010, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2020)
  2.       Cascade Crest Classic, Washington State (2014, 2021)
  3.       UTMF, Japan (2013, 2014, 2015)

Notice a theme here? I went back to each of these races multiple times. 

I’ve always gravitated towards races that have a strong sense of community in their very DNA. Each of these races provided me with a special connection to the area that I would never have attained or experienced on my own. 

HURT: Hawaii in January is an easy sell for those of us in the Pacific Northwest. Cheap non-stop flights and you’re on the beach six hours later. The icing on the cake however was the sense of a home turf advantage once I set foot on the course. The gnarly, rooty terrain underfoot matched perfectly with my training grounds on Vancouver’s North Shore. You run across Tantalus Ridge in the race, and we have the Tantalus Range up in Squamish. Both areas have their famous North Shore, Hawaii for surfing, and North Van for mountain biking. All in all, it’s about as home field as you can get while doing a race that involves flights. 

Cascade Crest Classic: Truly a local race, CCC happens just down the street from the Greater Vancouver area in Easton, WA. The benefits of not having to tackle a time change cannot be overstated. When pursuing your first hundred miler you want to eliminate as many additional stresses as possible, and when you can do a quick road trip and arrive at your destination that afternoon, that’s about as home field advantage as you can get. 

UTMF: honestly, who doesn’t want to go to Japan and run around an iconic mountain like Mt. Fuji? Japanese culture simply has to be experienced to be believed. I would say with a high level of confidence that no other foreign country’s citizens go out of their way to make travelers feel as welcomed and safe as Japanese people do. The cost of travel is reasonable, and from a jetlag perspective studies have shown that going east to west is less stressful on the body than the other way. In fact, we struggled more with jetlag on our return to Vancouver than upon our arrival in Japan! 

There’s a lot to consider when choosing your first, or your next, 100 mile pursuit, not the least of which is the ever growing regularity of the dreaded race lottery. I suggest beginning by identifying what you are most looking for in a race, and what your own personal strengths and weaknesses are. Do you crave technical terrain and big climbs and descents, or do you prefer cruisy singletrack where you can get lost in the rhythm of your stride? Are you an experienced traveler at home in a foreign culture, or do you prefer no language barrier and no strange foods to be weary of? 

Here's a great referencegreat reference that lists the almost 300 North American 100 mile races. Yes, you read that right, and no, that is not a typo! 

Diving deeper into choosing a race, here’s a few more tips to narrow down your choices:

  • Identify the fastest and average times. How long might this race actually take you? Are you going to be challenging sub-24 hours, or preparing for over 36 hours, because these are very different stress loads to consider.
  • Is the terrain in line with your skillset? Fast and flowy, steep and technical, or somewhere in between? It can be ill advised to sign up for a super technical course if that’s not something you can also replicate in your own training. 
  • How big a factor are travel stresses. Can you get there quickly or is it going to take two days and an overnight flight? How many time zones are you crossing? General rule of thumb is one full day per time zone to adjust going west to east, and ¾ of a day going east to west.
  • What is the history of the race? Is the race established and run by a professional organization, or are they first timer race directors? It takes a few years to really dial things in on the back end as an RD. First year races should be approached with caution if it’s going to be your biggest goal of the year. 
  • Do some research as to other people’s experiences in these races and read race reports. Do they come highly recommended, or do they have a history of flagging issues and a sub-par finish experience?
  • Commit and make it happen! Once you’ve done your analysis and chosen your race, it’s time to commit to it and start focusing on putting in the training to be successful in your pursuit. 

Need a coach to help get you there? That’s what we’re here for! Reach out at any time via coaching@ridgelineathletics.com

Linda Barton Robbins top three recommended 100s (she’s run more than I have):

  1. IMTUF 
  2. Cascade Crest 
  3. WAM (*insert crying emoji*)
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