Traits Of Successful First-Time 100-Mile Runners

AJW's TaproomEarlier this week, a friend of mine who is running the Western States 100 as his first 100 miler later this year asked me what personality traits are essential for success in 100-mile races. I found this thoughtful question quite interesting as there has been much written and discussed about successful training techniques and approaches to 100 milers, but less about what actual personal characteristics translate to successful 100-mile race debuts.

Over two decades in the sport, I have been around many first-time 100-mile runners. Some have been wildly successful in their first attempt at the distance while others have not, the latter requiring several tries before ‘getting it right.’ In my experience, the successful first timers have had three things in common: they have all been consistent, realistic, and cheerful. Let’s briefly consider each one.


It perhaps goes without saying that consistency in training and in life is, in general, a trait that engenders success. However, particularly with a first-time 100-mile runner, this is amplified. I have found that those people who tend to lead consistent and predictable lives, who are able to prioritize things so as to reduce variability, and are able to engage in deliberate, daily practice have the most likely chance of completing their first 100 miler successfully. As such, of the three traits, this is, in my view, the most important.

Being Realistic

Going into a 100 miler for the first time can be intimidating and scary. There is so much about it that is unknown and mysterious that setting realistic expectations is important. And, conversely, having an unrealistic viewpoint can be disastrous. The first timer must go into their event with their eyes wide open, with an understanding of their limits and a willingness to accept that things will go wrong out there. In fact, the most realistic expectation any first timer should accept is that, at some point in the experience, the misery will be so great that they’ll want to just quit. Then, because of their pragmatism, they’ll simply decide not to quit and forge on.

Having Fun

One of my all-time favorite bumper stickers is one that bears Ben and Jerry’s “if it’s not fun, why do it” slogan. And, given that long-distance running is, at least for most of us, an optional, leisure-time activity, I have always applied this adage to my running. When you look around 100-mile aid stations 24 hours and 75 miles into a race, it is often difficult to find runners who are still having fun. But there are some of them out there. Indeed, the capacity for fun is, in my view, limitless, and for those who are able to translate their adversity into fun, 100-mile success often follows. Running happy really can get you through those rough spots.

Indeed, there are other personality traits that lend themselves to first-time 100-mile success but these are my big three. So, if you are one of those folks getting ready to line up for your first attempt at the distance some time in the coming year, keep these traits in mind both as you build up to the race and, especially, as you embark on your journey. Those of you who can stay consistent, realistic, and fun will certainly get a lot out of the experience and likely, in the end, come back for more.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from long-time Taproom favorite Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California. Recently they jumped on the New England IPA bandwagon and produced a wonderful, drinkable, and affordable hazy IPA called Hazy Little Thing IPA. Advertised as “straight from the tanks and into the can,” Sierra Nevada has truly managed to create a fresh-tasting beer for the mass market. While it may not be able to compete head to head with the Triliums and the Tree Houses of the world yet, at half the price and with year-round, across-the-country availability, it’s a darn good start!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What traits do you think help runners successfully finish their first 100-mile race?
  • When you finished your first 100 miler, what did it take to make it happen?

There are 19 comments

  1. Avery Frantz

    I agree with AJW. When I tackled my first 100 (Keys 100), I think I had those traits. I may have hit some dark patches (especially around miles 55-65) but I kept a positive attitude and applied a consistent approach/plan that I created prior to the race. I did tons of research on what to expect, read race reports, chatted with anyone who had experience, and compared that to my current running capability. I trained as much as I could in the same conditions and tested all the gear and food I would use. By eliminating all the variables, I felt as sure as I could going into the race. I did have unexpected things come up to overcome but the positive mental attitude helped my adjust on the fly.

    Another key aspect that helped me was to create a realistic pacing chart that showed me how fast I’d like to maintain at various stages of the race and all the aid stations. I could easily refer to the chart so I didn’t have to think as the race progressed. I’ve found that the more fatigued I get, the harder math becomes. Another tip: laminate your pacing chart so water and sweat doesn’t destroy it.

      1. Avery Frantz

        It was awesome. The race director, Bob Becker, is incredible and very helpful–especially for newer runners or those attempting their first 100. He answered any question I could ask and was super friendly. The heat and humidity is extreme which is why the winner gets an entry to Badwater. However, if you just remember to pace yourself, keep the water flowing, and use ice as much as possible (neck bandana, arm sleeves, etc), you will be just fine. Best of luck and it’s a great race. I can’t wait to try it again.

        If you are interested in reading about it, check this out:

        1. Jack

          Outstanding finish!!!! Really enjoyed your race report and look forward to saying hello in person in 2019 if your running it. That picture of you and your family at the end is priceless.

  2. Steve Cunningham

    I think AJ is spot on, but would put the having fun part at the top of the list.

    I ran the San Diego 100 as my first (and only) 100 miler. I had the incredible benefit of training with my Hero’s; Scotty Mills, Tracy Moore, and Tommy Nielsen. This set a great foundation for consistency and expectations.

    But, what really kept me going strong through the night was the fun and adventure of being out there, and sharing it with great friends. My wife still comments on the smile on my face as I took off out of the 80 mile aid station, stoked to get back on the PCT and attempt to chase down the runner ahead of me, despite having just realized during a sock change that I had lost 8 of my toenails along the way.

    1. John Vanderpot

      Wouldn’t you know it, my first 100 was on the SD course, and you are certainly keeping some good company there with those 3 boys! I would add iron will and the absolute refusal to take no for an answer!


    2. Wade Blomgren

      Hammer, I remember that day well. You were kicking ass and chewing bubble gum with a smile, except you were clearly all out of bubble gum. People still talk about the ferocious “running happy” you and Lehnberg did that night.

  3. Andy M

    I also was fortunate enough to succeed in my first hundo in 2013, only to be followed by few demoralizing DNFs before stringing together a couple more successes. While consistency, realism, and fun are important ingredients to success at one’s inaugural 100, with all respect to Andy I would advocate for three other crucial traits: patience, stubbornness, and masochism :)

  4. nicole berg

    my first trail 100 is next weekend. i have already completed 103 miles during a 48 hour event to see how it feels to be “out there” for so many hours. i did get a chance to nap a few times during the 48 which won’t happen next week but it was the experience i needed to help give me confidence for giving it another try now on the trails. I’ve done all the training, i’ve practiced my plan over and over. now it’s time to execute. ROCKY RACCOON HERE I COME.

  5. Caper

    Fun is it…the moment this crazy past time of mine ceases to be fun I’m out. When I see people who are complaining or stressing I often wonder if I’d persist with that feeling. I’m not going to the Olympics, or being put on a cereal box, so this to me is therapy and fun. Don’t mistake hard effort and long days alone as being work and work alone…they are infact part of the fun. I want to be better because it means getting more enjoyment out of my fun time, but I could care less at this point if I ever race again, as long as I am out there running in the woods.

  6. Stephen

    For your first 100, Remind yourself that you have done that 50-miler or 100k. Then when you get to that uncharted territory of your 100-miler focus on getting to the next aid station. Do not dwell on the total remaining miles. Keep moving, do not sit or play the victim. You are strong. You will Finish! Your mind will power your body the last miles.

  7. Jean Coulter

    I like that these traits made the podium and agree. Another trait that I would add is a heart and mind combination that is open: open to the possibility, open to receive and utilize positive support, open to adjusting the plan. Sometimes, all the structure of training and planning can backfire when I hold on to it too tightly.

  8. Mark Houston

    Andy – sorry to be off-topic, but would you mind posting an update regarding how your hip is doing now 2+ years post surgery? A longer term report would be helpful for those of us considering exploring this option for an arthritic hip(s).

  9. Cooker

    Preparation, persistence and yes, fun. You get a massive endorphin and adrenaline kick by having a laugh with fellow runners and volunteers

  10. William Ramsey

    Been many years since I ran my first 100 miler and I totally agree with AJW. I would add “dog with a bone” persistence and a strong desire to be successful are also necessary traits. Folks that are willing to throw in the towel the minute that their 100 mile race becomes a difficult physical or mental challenge will not experience the same level of success as those willing to push through. My first 100 included totally shot quads from the 50,000 feet of elevation change and some huge blisters, but I simply refused to quit.

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