Best Debut 100 Mile Effort of the Year?

Running a great 100 mile race is a difficult task. You need to dial in the training and then nail the nutrition, strategy, and psychological aspects during the race. That makes running a great debut 100 miler all the more spectacular. Below are a couple guys and gals, who busted on to the 100 miler scene in a big way with their debut effort at the distance in 2008. In connection with this post, iRunFar ran a poll to determine who its readers thought had the Best 100 Mile Debut of 2008. While the voting closely resembled that of American Idol at times, after all the voting was done readers chose Kevin Sullivan and his second place finish at the Vermont 100 last July as the best 100 mile debut of 2008. Having witnessed Kevin’s race from the trail, I can personally attest that he earned this recognition. Congrats and well done, Sully!

Keep reading to see the poll results and hear about each of the nominees.

Below are a few of the outstanding debut 100 mile performances of 2008. They are in chronological order.

Adam Casseday – MMT 100 (3rd)
Adam CassedayUnless you frequent the hills of West Virginia or know someone who does, you probably hadn’t heard of Adam Casseday before 2008. Who are we kidding, you probably still haven’t heard of Adam Casseday. We suspect he’s OK with that, but want to give his debut 100 mile performance at the Massanutten 100 its due recognition. After all, he finished but 40 minutes behind Todd Walker and Keith Knipling, who pushed each other throughout a day-long epic battle for the win. Both Todd and Keith have raced many a 100 miler and have combined for a baker’s dozen of MMT finishes. We can think of few 100 mile courses that put a first time runner at such a large disadvantage as MMT does. All this makes Adam’s performance on the Virginia rocks all the more impressive. For more on Adam’s race, read his 2008 MMT race report.

Kevin Sullivan – Vermont 100 (2d)
Kevin SullivanKevin Sullivan was already on the ultrarunning radar when he toed the line for the Vermont 100 in July. How can you not be when you’ve previously pressed Leigh Schmitt for 50k? At Vermont, Sullivan showed he can also hang with big dogs of ultrarunning for longer distances. I watched this race go down from the front lines and saw Sully battling ultamarathon veterans Andy Jones-Wilkins and Glen Redpath stride for stride at mile 70. At mile 90 Kevin was still breathing down eventual winner, Andy Jones-Wilkins’s neck, and finshed in in 16:15 – less then 8 minutes behind Andy in what AJW considered his best race of the year. (AJW’s race report) After the race, I joked with Andy, who I paced, that I had whiplash from looking back for Kevin so often.

Devon Crosby-Helms – Vermont 100 (1st)
Devon Crosby-HelmsWhile Sullivan had a great runner-up debut performance in Vermont, a woman making her 100 mile debut went and won the race. Devon Crosby-Helms has established herself as one of the best women’s ultramarathoners in the country over the past two years, so it’s little surprise that she excelled at her first attempt at 100 miles. Devon covered the VT100 course in just 18 hours and 31 minutes. Folks, to put that in perspective, she ran 11 minute miles for more than three quarters of a day. Read her race report to see how she did it. (As crazy as it sounds, DCH’s VT100 might not even be her best run of the year – she blazed an 8:01 100k to place 15th at the 100k World Championships!)

Andrew Skurka – Leadville 100 (2d)
Andrew SkurkaThere’s no doubt that Andrew Skurka can go long. After all, Skurka hiked almost 7,000 miles in completing the Great Western Loop between April and November 2007 and traversed Iceland (550 miles) just weeks before the Leadville 100. The only question going into Leadville was whether Skurka could run. His race day performance, second place behind only Duncan Callahan in 18:17, clearly answered that question in the affirmative. Skurka can run! Read Skurka’s LT100 race report.

Chris Gardner – Superior Sawtooth 100 (1st)
Not Chris GardnerWe can’t say we know much about either the Superior Sawtooth 100 (though we hear great things) or Chris Gardner. However, the two made quite a pair this past September when Gardner won the race by nearly two hours. This marks the second year in a row that the men’s Sawtooth winner was making his 100 mile debut, as Wynn Davis did the same thing last year. You hear that all you 100 mile virgins out there? Get thee to Sawtooth in Minnesota or Wisconsin or Canada… which ever state it’s in and nab yourself a win while cutting your 100 mile teeth. Oh, and congrats to Chris for nearly breaking Sean Andrish’s course record on the current 100% trail course. (It’s been that way since 2001.)

Derrick Spafford – Haliburton Forest (1st) [Added 1/5]
Derrick SpaffordWe don’t even need to wait for readers’ comments to add Spaff to the list. Derrick ran 18:42 to win the Haliburton Forest 100. In fact, he won by almost an hour. If you want to find out about this Canadian worked his trail magic, go over to his blog and read his race report. iRunFar has to give special recognition to Spaff for all the insightful comments he leaves regarding La Sportiva shoes as well as winter running.

Yassine Diboun – Iroquois Trails 100 (1st)
Yassine DibounYassine is a speedster who ran his debut at the inaugural Iroquois Trails 100 like a veteran. Rather than smoke all the competition early in the race, he set a steady tempo on his local trails. When his closet challenger dropped just after halfway, Diboun closed the deal in 21 hours and change. In the end, he won the race by more than two hours! We look forward to seeing Yassine race against stronger competition at a 100 miler in 2009.

Kelly Wilson – Iroquois Trails 100 (1st)
Kelly WilsonKelly Wilson made it a rookie sweep at the Iroquois Trails 100 when she was the woman to cross the line. That said, given the lack of competition for Kelly (only three other women finished the race), it is Kelly’s time that is more impressive. She finished in a little over 24 hours (24:38) or just 3 hours behind speedy Yassine. (Read her race report.) We can assure you that the Iroquois Trails 100 course is no joke – just read iRunFar’s IT100 race preview. We’d say that she had a secret weapon in her corner in the person of tough-as-nails ultra veteran Jack Pilla, but a quick count shows she had more 100 mile victories in 2008 than he did. ;-)

Dave Johnston – Cactus Rose 100 (1st) [Added 1/5]
Not Dave JohnsonDave Johnston came all the way down from Alaska to win the Cactus Rose 100. Winning Cactus Rose might be especially difficult for a first timer as its entirely self supported. It’s our understanding that Dave played it smart and took the lead around mile 80. Oh, did we forget to mention he set a course record while he was out there? Well, he did. Nice work Dave.

There are 21 comments

  1. Sara Montgomery

    La Sportiva runner Derrick Spafford topped off a fantastic 2008 with a win at the Haliburton 100 in 18:42. He went into it extremely well-prepared physically, mentally, nutritionally and logistically, and turned in an amazing debut performance. See his race report at

  2. Michael Valliant

    Skurka had run one marathon and one 50 miler, the 50 being not too far before Leadville. To go from relatively no distance or trail racing to 2nd at Leadville on your first 100 attempt, that's one helluva debut. Skurka gets my vote.

  3. Trail Goat

    Thanks for the leads Sara and Geoff. Anyone got a photo of Dave Johnston? I did the best I could… it's better than a moose or a bear photo, right?

  4. Trail Goat

    I've got to nominate another best debut 100 – that of Jim Cavanugh of Arlington, Virginia at the Vermont 100. I don't care that he was 147th or he finished less than half an hour under the cutoffs in 29:30:18… he did it all the age of 66. Running the final 30 miles with him (completely randomly) was one of the running highlights of my year!

  5. WynnMan

    Chris Gardner's performance at Superior Sawtooth 100miler. I did this one last year and was able to win as my debut, but Chris was locked in for this race and living on the Superior Hiking Trail with all that training of insane roots, rocks and steep ascents proved fruitful. If anyone is looking for a tough challenge I can assure you you'll find it at Superior Sawtooth 100. One of the toughest in the country.

  6. Anonymous

    Yassine Diboun is my big brother and i'm so proud to see him on your site. Although his debut 100 miler is quite impressive, the journey to this point of his life is even more. I vote Yassine the best 100 miler because i've witnessed his amazing upward spiral to the ranks of blissfull glory. Love you Yaz!!

  7. Buzz

    To not have a significant problem at one's first 100 is unusual. To win it is highly unusual, and to so in 18:40 is amazing! So good job Derrick (and everyone else).Andy Skurka really got it done too. I did the Sierra High Route with him in July – – and can vouch for his claim to have hardly run leading up to Leadville. We did the SHR in 8 days, flew back to Boulder the next, then he flew to Iceland 2 days after that and hiked across the entire country! Then he flew back and knocked down Leadville in 18:17 (while not really knowing what he was doing).Note that he used hiking poles. As anyone who has done the UTMB can attest, poles are very under utilized in NA.

  8. Trail Goat

    Yassine's younger sibling,You're now in the running for the best debut comment on iRunFar! ;-) Yassine is great and it was a pleasure to meet him last year.Buzz, Thanks for the insight into Skurka's race. Do you know if used them the entire way or only in certain sections? I'd love them on Hope Pass and Powerline, but they'd just be in the way for most of a course like Leadville. I know that this past fall, I seriously considered using poles at the Iroquois Trails 100, where I could easily take or stash them at the common aid station. I think many runners would benefit from using them for at least limited parts of 100s, where they are allowed. The Grand Teton 100 would be another good example, as a runner could pick up poles for only the Fred's Mountain section and leave them at the base aid station for the next go around.I need to get me some trekking poles.

  9. Meredith

    Great blog post!! Such good debuts this year.Jen Van Allen, in my running group, had her debut 24 hour this year and won it (20in24 in Philly) and won ultracentric 24 hour, so if there was a 24 hour category, she would ROCK IT!

  10. WynnMan

    if only people more people knew how tough Superior Sawtooth is. Larry took over the race 3 years ago and the course is even harder than before. 100% singletrack of steep climbs, rocks, and a total bastinado~ of roots on your feet.You will be mentally fried after this one, but gosh what a beautiful race, the raw beauty of that trail is bliss.

  11. WynnMan

    I should mention that I think more people are seeing how sweet the Superior course is. If you build it, they will come. The race has been around quite awhile, but now it's the best it has ever been.

  12. Erica

    I want to second yassine's brother's nomination. I am Yassine's fiance and I was part of his crew (team yassine :-) for the 100 miler. One of the things that makes Yassine's debut impressive is his attitude. Not only does he treat each runner (at every race) as if they are elite class, his enthusiasm is infectious. Each time he would come into the crew stop he would tell us all how amazing WE WERE…how great a job WE WERE DOING…He was laughing up until 86 miles…and then he just kept pushing with a little help from his friends.Yassine makes me a better person and inspires me to put one foot in front of the other – in EVERYTHING that I do. In his running I see the true expression of his spirit and the best the sport of ultra running has to offer.

  13. Anonymous

    Can't say enough great things about my friend Yassine. He has had quite a journey through life thus far and acomplished many amazing tasks on and off the trail. Yassine deserves all the best that life has to offer. I vote Yassine #1. Ben Denver,CO

  14. mom

    I vote for Yassine! All of your accomplishments in life are so impressive. You are a role model to me and so many others. I love you!

  15. Anonymous

    yassine owes it all to me! i tought him how to run away from the cops when we were younger.j/k congrats with all your success.-your brother from another mother

  16. Kevin Rules

    Kevin Sullivan is my hero. I dont see how you can not rate someone who placed himself in the elite on his first race as the best performance of the year. He is the best, hands down.

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