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The Allure of the 100 Miler: 12 Reasons it Should be on Your Bucket List

Posted by on Jul 30, 2012 | 10 Comments

Ah, the 100 miler. It’s a distance unlike any other. Over the last two months or so, I’ve had the opportunity to run or crew/pace for three separate hundos. I ran the Bighorn 100, had a front-row seat to Jesse Scott’s first 100 mile finish at Tahoe Rim, and ran a little under 2/3 of the Grand Mesa 100 with Shelly and Jesse.

During that time, I’ve been reacquainted with the magic of this distance. Any race distance has appealing points, but there’s something different about the 100 miler. There’s something magical, almost mystical about the distance.

Why?

Here are a few of the reasons this distance has such a special place in my heart, and the reasons why I believe anyone that can run a hundred should run a hundred at some point in their lives:

There’s Seemingly No Good Reason to Run a Hundred Miles

“Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being — a call that asks who they are …”
– David Blaikie

Counter-intuitive, isn’t it? Why would we do something that has no utilitarian value? Oh sure, some people will claim the ability to run a 100 miles will come in handy in the event of a zombie apocalypse, but who are we kidding? The zombies would find us eventually.

The hundo isn’t about developing a logically useful skill. It’s about the inward journey that can only be completed when confronted with a seemingly insurmountable task riddled with unpredictable challenges. Hundreds tax you physically and mentally in a way that is impossible to replicate in our daily lives. Having the courage to face these obstacles is reason enough to make the journey.

100’s compared to other distances

“The 10-K is a race. The marathon is an experience. The ultra is an adventure.”
– Bryan Hacker

Every race distance has unique characteristics and challenges, but the number of challenges increases exponentially with distance. A 100 meter race is simply asudden, short burst of power. Theoretically you don’t even have to breathe. In a half marathon, you may have to worry about hydration. a marathon may introduce chafing and blistering… perhaps the need to eat a little bit. A fifty miler introduces run/walk strategies, electrolytes, and serious pain. The hundred amplifies all of these problems and introduces sleep deprivation, serious low points, and a host of other unpleasant variables.

In short, the 100 introduces far more variables than any other shorter distance. That makes the experience a truly unique experience.

Cheap Therapy

“Despite what seems like the extraordinary nature of these events, in the end, they make you even more human.
– Joel McNamara

When I first started running ultras, I was experiencing a lot of personal issues. Lots of dark moments. While ultras didn’t solve the problems, they definitely helped me build the fundamental skills to have confidence to face my issues and take corrective measures.

All ultras have some ability to strip away the protective layers. The longer the distance, the more layers are removed. The hundo effectively strips away all of our layers. The end stages of a 100 miler reveal your most primal, visceral self. The shedding of protective barriers is done as a survival mechanism. The freeing from those barriers is a transformative experience. You begin to see your true self in a way that is often surprising if not a little shocking.

Furthermore, surviving the experience often gives you the strength and confidence to face any demons that may be lurking below. The experience of being surrounded by darkness, cold, hungry, tired, in pain, and potentially lost somewhere in the mountains at 3;30 am has the effect of years of psychotherapy. and the coffee at aid stations is usally far better that that found in your therapist’s waiting room.

Required Physical Skills, Lifelong Pursuit

“If you have the physical ability to run a slow mile, you have the physical ability to run 100 miles.”
-Jason Robillard

Yes, running a 100 is extraordinarily difficult. Yes, it does take a ton of training and preparation. Yes, you are more than capable of doing it.

If you spend any time at all around 100 mile races, you’ll see the people finishing come in all shapes and sizes. The lesson- anyone that can run can run a hundred. We sometimes take this for granted as the non-ultrarunners assume we have some special athletic prowess. Most of us are mediocre athletes at best. The required skills are minimal. Everything else is developed through training.

Along the same lines, running 100’s can be a lifelong pursuit. It’s not uncommon to see people in their 60’s, 70’s, even 80’s running hundos. As the theory goes, we were born to run. Play it smart and it becomes a lifelong pursuit.

And yes, I did use my own quote. :-)

The Danger and Joy of Finding Your Limits

“The only way to define your limits is by going beyond them.”
– Arthur Clarke

Most of us like to think we push our limits. In reality, we’re acutely aware of our limits and push close to our limits. We rarely do anything that has a high degree of failure.

Hundreds fix that.

No matter how experienced you are, no matter how well your training prepares you, no matter how “easy” the course, running a hundred miles has a pretty high failure rate. There’s a good probability you’ll find your limits, which will cause you to fail.

Many people can’t handle that. I know more than a few talented runners that would never dare run a race they might DNF. Those that have the courage to face the potential for failure have the opportunity to find their true limits. Doing so is both exhilarating and demoralizing. You find your limits, which gives you the raw data you need to get better next time. You also must face the uncomfortable fact that there’s something you can’t do. Both cause you to grow as a person.

My first DNF at the Burning River 100 in 2008 was crushing. Since then, I also DNFed the Grindstone 100 and just this last weekend, the Grand Mesa 100. All sucked because it forced me to admit failure. All were awesome because I learned great lessons about myself and my abilities,physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Intrinsic Rewards of the 100 Miler

“A man must love a thing very much if he not only practices it without any hope of fame and money, but even practices it without any hope of doing it well.”
– G. K. Chesterton

“There’s no tangible reward in anything I do, certainly not in running Western States. It’s just an interesting challenge.”
– Tim Twietmeyer

During the Grand Mesa 100, Jesse and I were talking about the motivation to run ultras. We agreed that the initial motivation was mostly extrinsic. For me, it was really cool to say “I just ran X” where “X” = some crazy-ass distance. I liked the awe-struck reactions.

As time passed, the motivation became much more intrinsic. There’s something inside that years for the experience, and I care less and less about other people’s reactions or other extrinsic motivations. Nothing feeds that internal drive like the experience of a 100 miler. It partially fuels my need for adventure, some weird masochism, and my joy of problem-solving.

Problem-Solving Practice

“It all comes down to knowing how to handle situations that are thrown at you in an ultra.”
– Kevin Setnes

“When you run there are no mistakes, only lessons. The art and science of ultrarunning is a process of trial, error and experimentation. The failed experiments are as much a part of the process as the combination that ultimately works.”
– Keith Pippin

Hundreds cause problems. A LOT of problems. You face a litany of issues like dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, glycogen depletion, chafing, blisters, blunt-force injuries caused by falling, hypothermia, hyperthermia, animal encounters, getting lost, altitude sickness, rain, snow, wind, nausea, diarrhea, cramping, swelling, insect bites, and pain in places that aren’t supposed to hurt. Some problems pop up in training. Most do not.

Ultimately it comes down to the inability to replicate the 100 mile experience in training. You face things for the first time. I’ve run seven 100 milers to date. I still encounter problems I’ve never experienced before. If you like problem-solving, you’ll love 100s.

Developing Faith in Your Abilities

“Self-conquest is the greatest of victories.”
– Plato

“When we walk to the edge of all the light we have and take the step into the darkness of the unknown, we must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for us to stand on, or we will be taught to fly.”
– Patrick Overton

Most people have a serious problem trusting their own ability to navigate life. They require others to help make decisions by soliciting advice or seeking validation. Hundreds force you to rely on your own instincts and abilities. Finishing a hundred requires you to silence frequent bouts of self-doubt. This teach you that you really can accomplish far more than you thought possible.

Battle Against Yourself

“The people that I have met are not foolish; they are aware of how tired and cold and hungry and frightened and hurting and discouraged and disoriented and how possibly injured they will become. They know they will face great physical, mental, emotional, and possibly spiritual challenges as they make their way to the finish. This is what they are racing against. This is their challenge. This is what I admire.”
– Carolyn Erdman

We are often our own worst critic. We allow self-doubt to keep us from taking risks, playing it safe, and ultimately chasing our dreams.

There are times in hundreds where you will want to quit. No matter how much “willpower’ you think you have, you’ll rationalize quitting. The ultimate challenge of the 100 miler is learning to acknowledge that voice, accept why it is saying what it is saying, and have the faith to ignore it. Sometimes it’s relatively easy. Sometimes it’s impossible.

If you fight this battle enough, you begin to master it. You begin to learn how to silence that voice, no matter how loud it barks. Once you do that, it becomes easy to silence that voice in other aspects of your life.

Lifelong Teacher

“Each time you run you will receive lessons. You have enrolled in the school of ultrarunning. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant and stupid. What you think makes no difference; the lessons will be presented until they are learned.”
– Keith Pippin

Hundreds have a unique way of teaching lessons. You’ll face problems. You’re forced to solve the problem. If you learn the lesson, you will be more successful in the future. If not, the lesson will present itself again. And again. And again. it will keep occurring until you learn to solve it. Hundreds teach you to pay attention to problems before they get severe. Act early; find a solution. Be proactive if you can. If you fail to learn, you’ll be punished without mercy.

Lots of Hotties

“Trails with high passes and girls with nice asses.”
– Doug Freese

Okay, not all of the reasons are deep. There’s lots of eye candy in ultras, regardless of the gender you like to ogle.

Silencing the Doubters

“The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.”
– Bagehot

There will always be people around us that have no faith in our abilities. These people are dangerous. They control us in a sick, twisted, subversive way. They often hide behind a facade of “realistic expectations.” They will give lists of reasons why you cannot do great things. Their lists may be logical. They may even be persuasive.

And they’re complete bullshit.

Running a hundred miles has a unique effect on the doubters that surround us. Try telling someone that runs that far they can’t do something. Anything. It’s impossible.

Running 100s does wonders to convince yourself that you’re capable of far more than you think. It also does wonders to convince others of the same.

Conclusion

 There you go. Here are 12 reasons you should aspire to run at least one hundred miler at some point in your life. Go ahead, start planning. I promise it will be a life-changing experience.

Most of the quotes in this post came from Stan Jensen’s excellent run100s.com site.  Check it out!

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10 Comments

  1. Lynette
    August 1, 2012

    Right with ya, Rob Y. “A hundred miles is just the start!”

    There is something about running through the night after being up all day…and the possibility of contemplating doing that twice in something like Hardrock.

  2. Monday, Aug 1 | UltraRunnerPodcast.com
    July 31, 2012

    […] ran. Malcolm Gladwell talks about doping. Krissy Moehl porn video. Well, you know what I mean. Twelve Reasons a Hundred Miler Should Be on Your Bucket List. URP Team Member Tara Barragan reports from Alaska […]

  3. Barefoot Josh
    July 31, 2012

    You’ve convinced me. Hundos are too scary: http://www.barefootjosh.com/?p=3197

  4. Bill Saunders
    July 31, 2012

    Jason, this article on running 100s is pretty inspiring.

    Have thought about writing a book on how to train for/run 100s?

  5. Ben W
    July 30, 2012

    So what’s the couch to 100mile timeline?

    I’ve just started running at 40 and run a 14min. mile on average. Slow and steady. The 100 interests me in a way that a marathon does not. It’s something outlandishly impossible, and therefore seems like something to work towards.

    Is this something I could do in ten years of training? or five? Or is a timeline for 100 miles so idiosyncratic that you would prefer not to speculate?

  6. Rob Y
    July 30, 2012

    Right on! I too used to think running a 100 miles was the ultimate ultramarathoning experience. However, for me, it’s just like any other distance race that it eventually loses it’s novelty and appeal over time. The 100 mile distance no longer scares me. This point was brought home to me after speed-hiking the 335 mile Pinhoti trail a couple of years ago in just over 6 days. That experience forever changed me as I feel less and less desire to do another 100 mile event. Been there, done that A LOT of times.

    My point is don’t limit yourself to even the 100 mile distance. There is nothing magical about 3.1, 13.1, 26.2, 100.0 or 135.0. It’s just more and more mileage and more time on the feet requiring more and more patience, strength and resolve. There are indeed no limits.

    Did you know there are many events longer than a hundred miles? There are events >200km+ to multi-days+ that are contested on the roads and trails. If that’s not enough or you don’t like “events” get creative and plan your own adventure; there are tons of long trails out there in the U.S. and the rest of the world just itching to be explored!

    A hundred miles is just the start! :)