A Do-It-Yourself 100-Mile Run

AJW's TaproomLast weekend, I ran 100 miles across Shenandoah National Park to celebrate my 50th birthday. It was the first time I had run 100 miles on my own and not as part of an organized event. It was quite fun and got me thinking about the whole idea of a do-it-yourself 100-mile run. While many of us are enamored, rightfully so, with some of the iconic races in our sport, there is something elegantly simple about just going out there and banging out 100 miles on your own. As I’ve reflected on the experience, I’ve thought about the three key components of a successful DIY 100 miler. So, for those of you who might want to try one of these yourself, here is my advice with a little reporting from my experience sprinkled in:

1. Pick a course that has meaning to you.

Choosing a course for your 100 miler should be the first thing you do. In my case, I chose a point-to-point course as I’ve always liked those and I chose a location near my home. I wanted to run on the Appalachian Trail (AT) as it has emotional meaning to me and I wanted to run through a national park to raise awareness for the plight of our federal lands. As a result of all of those factors, the 105-mile stretch of the AT through Shenandoah National Park seemed perfect. It also had ample places at which my crew could see and support me as well as a nice variety of terrain. Whatever you do, pick a course that will have some emotional significance to you as that will add value to the experience.

2. Identify a strong crew and pacer.

After you’ve figured out the course, it is imperative to dial in a strong crew and pacer. While you may be tempted to do the entire 100 miler solo, it is much more fun with a pacer. For my run, I recruited my good friend Bryon Powell to fly out from Utah and to run the final 54 or so miles with me. It’s good to have someone with whom you are compatible as well as someone who can, without a doubt, cover the necessary distance. For crew, I had my wife Shelly and sons Logan and Tully. Since they have crewed me for just about every 100 miler I have ever run, they were well equipped for the task and actually looking forward to doing so without all of the hubbub and distraction of an actual race. That, and they were able to enjoy a beautiful weekend in a national park.

3. Schedule it during the right time of year.

After lining up one’s crew and pacer and dialing in the course, it’s time to schedule your hundred. In many ways, this is the trickiest part because you have to consider weather, daylight, what else is going on in the area in which you plan to run, and the potential for any sort of event (wildfire, hurricane, and more) that could thwart your run. I chose late September in Virginia first because it was my 50th birthday weekend but also because it is a time of year where the humidity is a bit less than normal, the threat of rain not quite as significant as the spring or summer, and the daylight hours are about equal to the nighttime hours. For these reasons, it proved, in my case, to be the ideal time of year for this particular run.

All in all, I loved my first experience with a DIY 100-mile run and look forward to doing it again sometime. It is certainly different than an actual race and it is as much a mental test as it is a physical one, but at the end of the day, I remain every bit as satisfied with this 100-mile finish as I do about any of my other previous 34.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company 2017 HoptimumThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Taproom favorite Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in California. Their annual Hoptimum release just crossed my palate as part of my birthday celebration and was just outstanding. This Triple IPA is quite strong at 9.6% but does not taste at all boozy. Rather, it goes down smooth and fruity with just a touch of caramel at the end. Well worth the modestly high price tag of 12 bucks a six pack.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you run a DIY 100 miler or something similar before? What did you do and what was the motivation behind it?
  • What were some of the key factors that helped you get done running that many miles outside of the racing environment?

There are 17 comments

  1. Cup

    Been thinking of doing the same thing, either over in Shenandoah or in Smoky Mountain NP. Sounds great and you can control all aspects of the challenge yourself. Well done.

  2. Karsten

    I have Ideas for two self-supported 100 km runs. The advantage over 100 mi (besides just being shorter ;-) is in my eyes that you can complete them at daylight.
    Great kind of celebrating your birthday. Congratulations :-)

  3. Graniterunner

    Hi Andy!!
    Gratulations to your 50er and your 100er :-)
    I am an Austrian Ultrarunner (back of the pack) and plan to do the so called “Wachauer Welterbesteig”, a 175k (7200m elevation gain) Long distance hiking path next Aprile or May. Thanks for your thoughts, they are great as they always are. This project grows in my mind now for years and it is time to do this, with all the fear that comes along with my project; but I myself am growing with my adventure and there is a power of that “welterbesteig (world heritage), that i cannot stop. Its growing and growing, whispering to me to do that and not to wait. My father passed away this summer and i did not run that much but somehow that told me that life is so short and you have to live your dreams (also a bit you have to get through your fear….)
    So training and planning has already started….
    Happy birthday AJW and thanks for all your thoughts and runs!!!!!!!
    Graniterunner from Austria

  4. Sean

    The Wonderland Trail circumnavigates Mt Rainier in 93 miles. I ran it solo/unsupported in the fall of 2011. About 5-6 hours into it, I came upon a backcountry ranger. She asked me where I started and where I was finishing. When I gave the same answer to both parts of the question, it took her a few seconds to understand my meaning, and when she did, she was not amused, and let me know this. I thanked her for sharing her thoughts and happily went on my way.

    Sometime in the middle of the night, I distinctly remember looking out over a sea of all different colored wildflowers, lit up perfectly by an incredibly bright full moon; it was pretty magical.

    Those 93 miles and 33 hours worth of running, hiking, walking, and bivvying remain the coolest adventure run I’ve ever done.

  5. Lora Zagnoli

    It was the best run ever.
    For my own sanity I had to complete a decently run 100 miles before I turned 50. (The reasons for previous disastrous 100 milers is a story to be told at a different time.) I chose one of my favorite courses-the Bulldog 50K go-around in Malibu Canyon, California. The 50K itself consists of 2 laps so I ran 6+, totally and carefully measuring all the out-and- backs tacked on at the beginning and end. It also helped that my aid station was parked outside the park boundaries giving me .8 miles between laps.
    It was the best run ever.
    I was super fortunate to have my daughter Reesa close by the entire time. She ran laps 1,4, and 6 with me and either huddled under blankets (it was seriously 19 degrees over night!) or went for coffee during the breaks. Four other friends came out to run part of or an entire lap, sacrificing a night’s sleep to keep me company in the scary darkness. Time-28:42.
    It was the best run ever.

  6. William

    A buddy and I diid a DIY 50 miler here in SW NM this past spring on the CDT (Black Range) ended up back at my house. What a great stress free day it was! Have had thoughts of doing my 1st 100 miler next year. I know how you felt!!! Happy 50th!!!!!

  7. Dave Krupski

    I absolutely LOVE “DIY” 100s. I’ve done 3 so far . . . the Daytona 100 and Lighthouse 100 courses. (I’m the RD for both, and every year, two weeks before the actual races, I run the course myself to make sure everything is perfect).

    I’ve run some pretty amazing official races in my life, like the 175-mi UMS in Italy, Spartathlon in Greece, and Badwater in CA (and had some better than average results), but I absolutely cherish my DIY 100s at Daytona and Lighthouse. It’s just really cool when there are no time or race pressures, and it’s just you and the distance…

  8. Jimmy D

    Congrats on pulling it off. The point-to-point is a real draw for me as well. It’s difficult out here to find trails that long which are run-able, but maybe its worth combining some roads to connect various jeep roads and Oahu trails. Mahalo for the inspiration. Jimmy

  9. Richard Senelly

    Great reminder. Thank you. So, as we begin to leave one 100-miler season behind and start to prepare for the next, selection lotteries will ensue.and there will be heard the sound of griping and gnashing of teeth from some of those who didn’t get picked. The truth is that while organized 100-milers are definitely ultra-attractive if not downright fun, the very same courses that will be run without the rejects are there every day and can be run free of cost! I have personally enjoyed WS, AC, and Hardrock on their respective race days, as well as lots of other races. I have also loved my solo runs, and impromptu runs with friends, whether of short or long duration. I may have loved them more as they have been anonymous and always full of adventure. Incidentally, I won every one of the solos….

  10. Charles C

    What an awesome way to celebrate your 50th. I love this idea so much I am going to do this. I am already planning…I am so amped right now!!

  11. David

    Thanks for this topic, Andy. I regularly run long runs just on my own.
    It is my way of exploring new areas and regions. Even though I haven’t run a 100miler yet, I run distance over 100k quite frequently. At a certain point of my running career I realized that, as you mentioned, it is more convenient to pick your own route and timing. The disadvantage of any race is that you need to follow a given format. There are an exact date and a time, and even the course can’t be adjusted based on some external conditions – for some reason, you might, for example, need to shortcut/extend the run.
    When running on my own, I usually plan the course first and then wait for an appropriate weather forecast. I do not have any crew or pacer. On the other hand, it is not that necessary here in Europe. It is rather rare running longer than six hours without bumping into some settlement or a mountain chalet.
    And as for the beer: I was wondering if there is an ultrarunner who doesn’t like beer… So far I haven’t met any. At least here in the Czech Republic, home of Pilsner Urquell and Budweiser :-)

  12. Eric

    What a perfect way to celebrate your birthday! Two years ago my friend and I wanted to run a 50k together but couldn’t find one that fit both our schedules. After hearing about Mike Foote and Mike Wolfe’s Crown Traverse we were inspired to just make our own. We picked a place that we had always wanted to run (White Pass to Chinook Pass on the PCT in Washington) and made a weekend of it. After completing it the first year we vowed to do it every year. We ran the same trail again this year but backwards and are looking for a new location for next year with a goal of recruiting one more person to join us (Want to come run with us in Washington next summer???).

    Don’t get me wrong I love the race day atmosphere and the feeling of towing the line with hundreds of like minded individuals but there is something special about removing all the spectacle and getting back to our humble trail runnings roots.

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