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During my running career thus far, I have started 66 100-milers on 21 different courses including two fixed-time race courses where I reached 100 miles.  In all, as of 2014 I’ve finished 59 100s. I thought it would be interesting to average my finish times on each course and sort them from slowest to fastest.  The resulting list is sorted roughly from toughest course to easiest for me.  Others may sort this list differently, perhaps because they have more or less difficulty with heat, cold, climbs, or altitude. This is MY ordered list. I’m not analyzing finish rate, or how fast the winners finish, I’m analyzing how tough they are to me personally as an older guy and the features of a course that make them tough for me. No, I haven’t attempted Barkley or Hardrock yet so they aren’t in the list. For each, I’ll give a brief review of the course.

1. Mogollon Monster

 

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
35:11:00 1 35:11:00 19th

Mogollon Monster 100 runs below and on top of the Mogollon Rim in central Arizona.  It is a newer race and I ran it in its second year. The Mogollon Rim rises about 2,000 feet for a span of 200 miles across Arizona and into New Mexico.  The course runs on sections of the Highline Trail shared by the very tough Zane Grey 50-mile race.  I’ve run and finished Zane Grey 50 four times and after that fourth time vowed that I wouldn’t return because it hammers me.  But I was up for a tough challenge. I believe this was the toughest 100-mile course I have run.   The distance is actually 106 miles raising the toughness factor.  The climbs were grueling.  During the night I experienced hypothermia and during the day heat exhaustion. But I pulled out of it and finished.  The toughest part was the last ten miles.  At about mile 95 there is the worst gut-wrenching climb followed by the roughest, nastiest, rocky, long descent.  The finishing rate was only about 50%. When I finished, I vowed never to return.  However, six months later, in my masochist attitude, I started to consider returning.

2. Plain

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
32:01:30 2 31:45:00 5th

The Plain 100 is one of the toughest 100-mile races in the country, in the Cascade Mountains of Washington.  It is very tough for these reasons: 1. The race is actually about 106 miles.  2. There are no course markings.  Racers must use maps, directions, and navigation skills. 3. There are no aid stations, it is a self-supported race.  4. The trail conditions can be very challenging because of dust that permeates shoes and socks.  5. There are three massive climbs (and descents) of nearly 5,000 feet and a total of 21,000 feet elevation gain. 6. Usually it gets pretty hot. 7. It has had a very high DNF rate. Before I ran it there were only 18 finishes in the first nine years of the race, a stunning 15% success rate. The course consists of mostly well-maintained single-track motorcycle trails. There are also some stretches of dirt road and one 3-mile section of pavement.   The care put into the motorcycle trails by a biking club is impressive.  Switchbacks are reinforced with a lattice of concrete covered with dirt.  There are many miles of V-shaped trails which are tough on the feet and legs.  Most runners do not finish in their first attempt.  I was the very first runner to finish twice in my first two attempts.  I love the challenging course and the adventure running format.

3. H.U.R.T

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
DNF mile 73 0 67.5 – 22:53 25th

H.U.R.T. 100 is held in Hawaii, above Waikiki. I ran this race very early in my ultarunning career and was in over my head.  I didn’t finish this race. The course is a 20-mile loop, with out-and-backs to two of the three aid stations.  Between each aid station would be a serious mountain climb and descent.  So each loop would have three difficult climbs.  For 100 miles, you need to complete five loops.  There are roots.  Not just a root or two, but hundreds in a just a short stretch of trail.  They looked like a spider web covering the trail.   When I made the mistake of stepping on a root, my foot would always slip.   I kept making the same mistake until my brain finally got the message:  “Don’t step on the roots.”    The strategy was to dodge the roots, step in-between them.  Stepping on rocks was also a dangerous exercise.  They were almost as slippery as the roots.  Avoiding mud was a silly strategy and I quickly concluded not to worry about the mud.  For most of the course you are buried in the tropic forest but the beauty is outstanding. This is a very difficult course because it is tough to get in a good running rhythm.

4. Wasatch Front

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
30:39:14 4 28:28:47 48th

The Wasatch Front 100 in Utah is well-known, one of the four races in the Grand Slam of ultrarunning.  The race is a hometown course, typical of the rugged trails in the Wasatch Mountains.  I know the trails well but have not yet had a good race at Wasatch.  It normally gets pretty hot in the afternoon which affects me poorly and by nightfall I have always have had a rough time for at least several hours, sometimes through the entire night, caused by the shift to cold weather and effects of altitude.  Because of my rough times there, it isn’t among my favorites, but I sure love to run with so many local friends. Despite my challenges, I have always finished. But I actually have more fun either pacing or running up on the course during the night greeting and helping friends.  On experience is fun to remember.  One year at about mile 20, my mentor, Phil Lowry (see the mentor chapter) was catching up to me and I could hear him coming.  I hid behind a tree, jumped out and screamed at him when he came by, and he pretty much peed his pants.  We then had fun running many miles together before he pulled ahead for good.

5.The Bear

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
29:48:35 7 26:30:45 27th

The Bear 100 runs in Utah and finishes in Idaho at Bear Lake.  It started as an Idaho loop course in the early years and now is a point-to-point course.  I’ve written up many details of this race in the chapter: Streaking the Bear.  This is among my top favorite races and courses.

6. Bighorn

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
29:09:36 7 26:45:31 25th

This races warns to be extremely challenging due to the rugged terrain of the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. The course is an out and back with elevation gains of 18,300 feet.   The course features three major climbs and runs in and out of forests and fields full of wildflowers.  As for its beauty, I believe it is probably one of the most scenic 100-miler in the country.  It features a late-morning start and three other race distances that all converge to finish around the same time the next day. Each year course conditions are totally different depending on the snow pack from the previous winter.  One year my feet were wet for about 70 straight miles.  On another year the course had to be changed because of deep snow still on the course.  I love the challenges but this course usually can beat up your feet.  The last five miles are always hot and exposed on a dirt road back into town, but it can be run very fast if you still have energy. During one year, I blasted down the last huge climb with great speed and finished very strong, passing my mentor, Phil Lowry with about 50 yards to go after he had been ahead of me by several miles for most of the race.  On another year, I broke my hand at about mile 30 from a fall but still made it to the finish.  This is among my favorite 100s.

7. Bryce

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
29:51:05 1 29:51:05 49th

Bryce 100 is a new 100-mile race held on the next major ridge line to the west of Bryce Canyon National Park.  While the race is not held in the national park, along the way runners are able to view many similar rock formations and run a few miles through hoodoos. It runs above and below what are called the Sunset Cliffs that face to the west. Much of the course is above 9,000 feet, so altitude is a major factor why it is tough on me.  In recent years the altitude has been shutting down my stomach during the night as I get chilled.  During the night you are up on the rim high and it also gets cold. The course is deceptively tough but the beauty is first-class.  I ran this race in its first year.  My finish time was a bit of an outlier because I had a rough time at night due to the altitude and actually quit for more than an hour and then took my time finishing.  I reached the 50-mile turn-around at 12:04.  I believe on a good day a more typical finish time for me would be 26-27 hours. Here is a video I made to preview much of the Bryce 100 course.

8. Grand Mesa 100

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
DNF – 66 0 DNF – 66

Grand Mesa 100, in Colorado is a relatively new race.  It runs on a high plateau above 10,000 feet.  The course layout is very confusing and many runners made wrong turns.  Course marking were rough or vandalized. At mile 43, we descended down 5,000 feet in nine miles, off the Mesa.   I had looked forward to this section but the trail was terrible.  It reminded me of the rugged Uintas, but far worse.  Most of it was a series of boulder-ridden stream beds.  As I reached lower, the vegetation turned to scrub oak and it extended into the trail scratching the legs badly.  That section wasn’t very fun and wipes you out.  I didn’t finish this race because at about mile 55 the skies opened and it poured rain for the next nine hours straight.  I didn’t come prepared with the right clothes and quit at mile 66.  I rank this race pretty tough because of the high altitude and the high probability of poor weather.  The course on top of the mesa can be pretty fast in places.   I’ll be returning to get even with this race.

9. Virgil Crest

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
32:42:34 1 32:42:34 17th

The Virgil Crest 100 runs above the town of Virgil, New York, through the Greek Peak ski resort, where I used to ski in the 1980s.  This was my third mountain 100-mile race in the four weeks.  While this should be listed #2 in toughness for me according to my finish time, it was an outlier because I had pretty severe heat exhaustion during the last ten miles that cost me about three hours.  The heat and humility slammed me on the second morning.  I just had a bad race, but I loved the course.  The course is a 50-mile out-and-back course with a tough mountain loop thrown in the middle, taking you up to the top of the ski mountain, not just once but four times during the 50-mile out-and-back. In all during the entire 100 miles, there were 20 significant climbs for nearly 20,000 feet of climbing along the entire way.  Most of the course runs through beautiful green forest, some of it is almost dark enough for a flashlight during the day.  The trails are soft and fast.  I ran the first 50-mile out-and-back in 12:48 on a rain-soaked course.  On a good day, I believe a 26-hour finish would be more typical for me.  But the heat and humidity make this a pretty tough race for me.

10. Cascade Crest

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
28:50:07 3 27:40:20 47th

Cascade Crest 100-mile Endurance Run is held in the Cascade Mountains near Snoqualmie Summit just an hour from Seattle Washington.  This is among my top favorite races and courses. The theme for the run is “Tall Trees, Tough Trails.”  The trees are amazing, there are long climbs, but the trails aren’t too technical.  There is plenty of single-track and weather has always been pretty ideal.  I have yet to have a really good race there and I know I can run it faster, but I’ve always had a wonderful time despite my challenges. I grew up in Washington, and while in high school could be found each Saturday in the winter on the ski slopes at the resorts of Snoqualmie Pass.  One very cool feature is a two-mile run through an old train tunnel in the middle of the night.

11. Tahoe Rim

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
27:06:40 5 25:43:00 18th

Now in my list we start reaching the “easier” 100-milers for me.  The Tahoe Rim Trail 100 is held in the mountains on the north-east side of beautiful blue Lake Tahoe.  The course is laid out on state park and state forest land, climbing ridges overlooking beautiful Lake Tahoe and various reservoirs. Much of it runs on the remarkable Tahoe Rim trail. The surface is mostly very runnable, soft single track.  There is about 19,500 feet of climbs, aided by many switchbacks.  Most of the course runs between 7-9,000 feet elevation.   This race has a low finisher rate because it is a 50-mile loop course that is run twice.  Many runners take the easy way out and quit after the first loop.  A feature added after the first few years, is a tough climb up a ski resort black diamond slope.  In 2009 the race was the 100-mile National Championships. I was the Grand Masters (age 50 and over) Champion and received a bunch of nice awards. I was also was only the second person to finish the race five times and earn the 500-mile belt.

12. Leadville

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
26:15:46 1 26:15:46 60th

Leadville 100 in Colorado is one of the classic races in the Grand Slam of ultrarunning.  I ran it when the field wasn’t as big, before it gained fame through the book “Born to Run.”  The course is actually pretty easy, with lots of dirt roads and fast trails.  It does feature two monster climbs up above 13,000 feet over Hope Pass.  But if you have trained for altitude, this race is one of the faster ones.  The altitude is what makes it harder and the cutoff times can be very challenging for slower runners. I ran it very well in 2007, pretty early in my ultrarunning career.  But since the race was sold to a corporation, quality has decreased and the field has exploded with ill-prepared runners making it crowded. It has lost any remote mountain feel.  I may not return.

13. Vermont

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
25:18:19 1 25:18:19 79th

Vermont 100 is also one of the classic races in the Grand Slam of ultrarunning.  The race is run near Woodstock, Vermont, and runs up and down beautiful rolling hills by gorgeous ranches and farms and through a few small rural towns.  The course is a huge loop, laid out in a “shamrock” formation, consisting of 70% dirt or jeep roads with the rest on forest trails (there are a couple miles of pavement). The course both climbs and descends about 15,000 feet.  Many of the dirt roads are very hard and feel like pavement.  The wooded trails are wonderful, soft and technical at times. An endurance horse ride is conducted pretty much on the same course, at the same time.  The course is fast and could be run the entire way.  However, I had great difficulty because of the heat and humidity.  During the night I had to rest along the trail and I remember a couple runners coming by me who asked, “Should we check his pulse?”  I ran this race early in my ultrarunning career and haven’t returned because of heat.

14. Rocky Raccoon

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
24:41:04 5 21:07:58 42nd

Rocky Raccoon 100 in Texas is the site of my first 100-mile finish so it has a special place in my heart. The course runs in Huntsville Stake Park, north of Houston, Texas. The 20-mile course runs all over the park, making its way around Lake Raven. The loop is run five times to reach 100 miles. The course had been changed in recent years to eliminate two out-and-backs, replacing them with more forest single-track. I really enjoy the new course much better. Most of the course runs through forest on a nice soft surface but there are lots of roots in places.  This is a fast course and I’ve believed I could break 20 hours on it, but haven’t quite made it.  In 2012, I didn’t realize that I came into the race with a tibia stress fracture and during the entire race my bone kept cracking more.  I finished very slowly, over 28 hours and then couldn’t run for six months.

15. Moab

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
24:07:17 2 23:33:33 1st

The Moab 100 course in Utah is laid out on the Monitor and Merrimac Loop, a popular trail for mountain bikers. The 5.37-mile course is a loop with an out-and-back tail, like a lollipop. The route goes clockwise around the loop on odd laps and counter-clockwise on even laps. It first passes by the ruins of the historic Halfway Stagecoach Station. It then ascends up and down over a small ridge via a rutted jeep trail with scattered rocks. With huge Courthouse rock on the left and gigantic Mill-Courthouse Mesa on the right, the route crosses through several deep sandy washes and then climbs up a slickrock ramp to the base of the Mesa. The views along the way are terrific. It is a fast course but the slickrock sections really pound on tired legs.  The field is usually on the small side and services provided are minimal for the entrance fee.  I won the race in 2008.

16. Javelina

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
23:46:59 1 23:46:59 35th

This desert 100-mile race is run in McDowell Mountain Park near Fountain Hills, Arizona.   The course is a loop format that runs on the 15.5-mile Pemberton Trail.   It consists of six loops in alternating directions and then you run a shorter loop to bring the distance up to 101.4 miles.  I reached 100 miles on the course at about 23:25.  This is a fast course if the weather is nice and not too hot.  The heat eventually slammed me and I wasted at least an hour in the final stages but still finished well.  Because it is a loop course, the finishing rate is low and many runners take the easy way out and go home with a 100K buckle. Out of the 250 starters that year, only 125 finished.  The race is usually held near Halloween and under a nearly full moon, so many run it in amusing costumes.

17. Salt Flats

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
22:32:58 2 21:36:36 2nd

Salt Flats 100 starts and runs on the famed Bonneville Salt Flats Speedway. It is a newer race and is very unique. After the speedway, the course then runs along the foothills of various “islands” above the salt and up and over five significant passes.  There are some views that are amazing.  There is a very tough ten-mile stretch across mud flats that can be very tiring and slow. This is an “easier” 100, but not a flat run.  It has a very generous cutoff time, so is great for first-timers or slower runners.  In 2013 I finished in less than 24 hours just 5 days after running 107 miles at a fixed-time race.

18. Buffalo Run

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
21:57:57 3 20:27:00 3rd

The Buffalo Run, held on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake, started as a 25K and 50K race.  Later a 50-mile race was added.  In 2010, race director Jim Skaggs gave me permission to test out a possible 100 distance by running the 50-mile course twice.  I started the evening before the main race, used a crew during the night, and then used the 50-mile aid stations during the day.  I was the first person to run 100 miles on the island.  The next year the 100-mile race became official.  The course is fast but depending on the weather, the night can be brutally cold, especially if there is a wind.  But so far each year the weather has cooperated.  One of these years it will be an epic cold-weather run.  In 2011 I can brag that I came in 3rd while Karl Meltzer came in 2nd.  No, it wasn’t a battle to the finish.  He came in several hours before I did.

19. Pony Express Trail

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
23:53:17 7 20:53:02 1st

The Pony Express Trail 100 is held on the historic Pony Express Trail in western Utah.  I am the founder and the race director.  I ordered this race easier in the list as far as toughness, but I ran this race several times very early in my ultrarunning career so had slower times then.  Breaking 20 hours on this course has been well within my reach.  I described this race in great detail in the chapter: Birth of the Pony Express Trail Run. I believe this course is likely the fastest all-dirt point-to-point 100-mile race in the country.

20. Across the Years

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
22:00:19 4 19:40:00 1st

Across the Years a fixed-time race in Arizona, but I reached the 100-mile distance each year I ran there.  The first year I ran the 24-hour race.  I next ran the 48-hour race for three years, and this past year ran the 72-hour race.  The race used to be held at Nardini Manor, in Buckeye, Arizona, west of Phoenix.  We would do loops around the property on a nice soft surface.  In 2010 I won the 48-hour race with 187 miles.  The following year the race was moved to Camelback Park, the spring training baseball facility in Glendale, Arizona.  The course changed to a hard dirt surface with some pavement.  In 2011 I reached the 100-mile mark faster, but at the 150-mile mark I experienced bad leg pain which turned out to be a stress fracture.  I limped to a 2nd place finish with 175 miles.  For those two years, my 24-hour split would have won the 24-hour race.

21. Northcoast

Average time Finishes Best Time Place
21:48:00 1 21:48:00 5th

North Coast 24-hour is one of the premier 24-hour events in the country.  It is held at a park in Cleveland, Ohio, on the shore of Lake Erie, on a 100% paved trail. The track is a 0.9 mile track and has a gentle hill going up on one side of the course. The hill really never bothered me, and was a welcome change.  But the wind was another matter. A fierce wind came off Lake Erie nearly the entire race, so each loop you had both a headwind and a tailwind to deal with.  During the night I even took shelter for a while in a porto-potty.  Later I became so cold that I had to rest for about 45-minutes in my car.  But I still reached 100 miles and in 24 hours reached 107.7 miles, finishing very strong.

Next: Mount Timpanogos – Hill Training