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The 100 Miler Bucket List: Seeking Challenges

Posted by on Oct 9, 2012 | 13 Comments

Sometimes people ask why I run ultras. While there are a lot of reasons, the challenge is a major draw. Specifically, I love the challenges presented by 100 milers. Every race is wrought with potential problems that need to be solved on the fly.

Top of the foot hurts? Better re-lace my shoes.

Quads are starting to burn? I have to adjust my gait.

After 30 packets of Gu, I feel like I’m going to barf. Looks like I need to find another food source.

The more difficult the course, the greater the challenge. I’m more interested in running a perfect race than I am finishing in a particular time. For example, my Grindstone time was a rather pedestrian 29:06… but I feel like I did almost everything right. Every problem that popped up was fixed. As a result, I’m extraordinarily pleased with the finish. This is why I run these races.

This mindset has led to my “bucket list” of races I’d like to run. Gary Wang’s excellent website has a tool that ranks the difficulty of ultras. The results are based on relative finish times from people that have run a variety of races. While not perfect, it’s a pretty good measure of the difficulty of any given race. The calculator uses Western States as a baseline (100%). Races that are more difficult than WS have a higher percentage; easier races have a lower percentage.

My goal is to run all the races tougher than WS.

Why? Quite simply, they present the opportunity for the most interesting challenges. So… here is the current list and the relative difficulty percentage:

  • Barkley (270%)- invite only, Tennessee
  • 150 mile version of McNaughton (170%)-Vermont in May
  • Badwater (161%) note- this is an exception. I have no desire to run a 135 mile road race. 😉
  • Hardrock (159%)- Colorado in July
  • Susitna 100 (128%)- Alaska in February
  • H.U.R.T. 100 (128%)- Hawaii in January
  • Plain 100 (127%)- Washington
  • Grand Mesa (120%)- DNFed this year at about mile 60
  • Wasatch (119%)- Utah in September
  • Massanutten (115%)- Virginia in May
  • Bighorn 100 (112%)- finished
  • Bear 100 (112%)- Utah in September
  • Grindstone (111%)- finished
  • Superior (111%)- Minnesota in September; I’ll talk Christian Peterson into running this one with me. 🙂
  • Pine to Palm 100 (110%)- Oregon in September
  • Angeles Crest (109%)- Southern California in August
  • Tahoe Rim (109%)- Nevada in July; Paced Jesse Scott here.
  • Yellowstone-  Teton (107%)- Wyoming in October
  • Moab (107%)- Utah in March
  • Ozark Trail 100 (104%)- Missouri in November
  • Cascade Crest (104%)- Washington in August
  • Leadville (104%)- I’ll likely skip this one unless I was going for the Slam
  • Cactus Rose 100 (102%)- Texas

There are a few missing from the list, like Chimera (will run it this year), Oil Creek, Mogollon, Arrowhead, and the Brazil 135, but this is more or less my race bucket list.

What about everyone else? What’s on your bucket list? More importantly, why are those particular races on your bucket list? Share in the comments section!


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  1. Matt M
    October 11, 2012

    I’m glad to see Superior 100 on there. I think it’s a highly undervalued race. I ran the 25km last spring and volunteered at one of the AS’s at the fall series last month. The trail is both challenging and gorgeous. Hell, if Christian won’t run it with you, maybe I will. Also, I wanna see you do the Arrowhead in MN February with minimalist footwear. 😛

  2. Aaron R.
    October 11, 2012

    I must be missing it but where do you find the 100 mile ratings on

  3. Eric Granata
    October 10, 2012

    How about something in your home state! Have you thought about the Top of Michigan 100K. I am not to the point where I can run all of it by myself but we do it as a relay and have a blast. It runs from Gaylord to Mackinaw on the first Saturday in October, it may not be technical but it is a fun organized race! Good Luck with your list and great job at Grindstone, I enjoy the blog. GO LIONS!!!


  4. Rob Y
    October 10, 2012

    As far as my list?
    1. Spartathlon 153m, Athens to Sparta Greece. It’s the true, chronicled route that Phidippides followed as a messenger seeking the aid of the Spartans over 2500 years ago. Truly an epic event because not only do you have to deal with the heat, humidity and endless pavement but you only have 36 hours to complete it with strict cutoffs along the way! Typically only a 1/3 of the race field finishes. My wife was the only American to finish a couple years ago. TOUGH!

    2. Iditarod Trail Invitational: Begin with the 350 mile from Knik to McGrath Alaska and one day the full 1000 mile to Nome.

    3. Tor des Geants: a non-stop 200 mile trail race through the Italian Alps. Brutal!

    That’s my top three!

  5. chris
    October 9, 2012

    Great list. I love the Badwater and Barkley mentions!

    I would love to do the “original” McNaughton Park 150 miler (still in Pekin, IL), now renamed “Potawatomi” 150 miler.

  6. Jeremy Dougherty
    October 9, 2012

    Great list Jason! As the RD for the Mogollon Monster 100 I’m a bit biased but would put our race up there as a bit more challenging than many of these races. I have little to back this up with other than feedback from our first year entrants last week and my own experience on the course compared to others I’ve run. Here’s a few quotes:

    “I ran HURT, AC & Cascade Crest this year…this is harder than all of them.” -DNF at 79

    “Harder than Grand Mesa” – Eventual winner Jamil Coury

    “I thought Texas had rocks…this is crazy.” -2012 Hardrock finisher that DNF’d at 51.

    We had a 18 for 18 hundred mile runner DNF for his first time ever. Only 9 of 37 starters made the finish. Only those 9 continued on after mile 85.

    Obviously what is difficult for one person may be a stregnth for others. I’m certainly not saying it’s harder than HR100 or even any of the other races mentioned. But for those particular runners…it was for them. 106 miles, 23K of climbing, entire course at 5,300-8k, and the most technically challenging single track of any 100 out there. Yeah, I went there. 🙂

    2013 we’ll have a lot of the 1st year kinks worked out. Come check us out, sounds like your kind of race!

    • Jason
      October 10, 2012

      Jeremy- I was planning on Mogollon until Merrell sent me to the East Coast for several events in Sept./Oct., so I ran Grindstone instead. Shelly and I drove through the area several times last year… those ARE some serious trails.

      I’m already blocking out that date for next year. 😉

  7. Dave
    October 9, 2012

    Nice list.

    +1 on skipping Badwater – this one crosses the line from ultramarathon to ‘stunt’. You have to be a masochist or have the last name Ulrich to enjoy this race.

    Why no Leadville?

    If you do get into Barkley I’d suggest writing several race reports ahead of time, covering all possible contingencies. That way, Shelly will have something to post on your behalf after/if they find your body.

    • Rob Y
      October 9, 2012

      Badwater gets a lot hype but it really isn’t near as masochistic as it’s built up to be. While it used to be a stunt event it truly no longer is; it’s a race!

      Agree with skipping Leadville, that race has gone down the crapper!

      Barkley? Good luck with that! Every ultrarunner should attempt a loop there at least once in their careers. Even a loop is on the edge of most people’s abilities! Now think about doing multiple loops! Took me 13 years and six attempts to finally finish the measly little Fun Run… 3 loops!

      • Jason
        October 10, 2012

        I don’t know anyone that’s run Leadville that enjoyed the experience. It’s a lot of road running and ridiculously crowded. Grand Mesa is a far better race.

        My goal at Barkley, should I ever get there, would be to finish a lap. 🙂

  8. Rob Y
    October 9, 2012

    Why limit yourself to 100 mile events? As Karl Meltzer says, “…it’s not that far.” 🙂 Seriously if you widen your scope a bit both in terms of distance and locations you’ll see there are awesome opportunities all around the world. We’re talking bucket list right?

    Re: Badwater. I WAS with you on that one until I had the chance to crew for my wife there several years ago. Trust me this event is far more than a road race. Truth be told you hardly even think about it like that and it really didn’t beat me up near as bad as most trail 100s I’ve done. Seriously. I also looked at it as a personal challenge. My niche has long been on the trails and in cool to cold conditions; hated roads and heat. But therein lay the challenge! Take on a huge goal that is way outside your comfort zone on so many levels! I’m so glad I did and now I have a new appreciation for heat (i’m much tougher in it now) and think nothing about running long miles on the roads… Life changing!

    Take on a new challenge. Go further. There are numerous 200km plus events out there!

    • Jason
      October 10, 2012

      Rob, I have a few >hundos on the list… McNaughton, Arrowhead, Brazil. I’d like to do Trans-Alpine one of these days. A few friends may have convinced me to add the Potowatamie 150.

      I agree with the challenge of Badwater. I do LOVE the desert. It may be a few years off, though.

      • Rob Y
        October 10, 2012

        That’s exactly what drew me in. The Mojave desert is so incredibly beautiful! Yes Badwater is extremely difficult, uncomfortable and merciless but it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. While I doubt I’d do it again (remember it’s not really an event in my comfort zone) I would definitely go back to crew/pace. Love that area. The only real draw back is the exorbitant race fee and all the logistics involved but you’ve got to pay to play.