Traits Of Successful First-Time 100-Mile Runners

AJW writes about three qualities he sees in successful first-time 100-mile runners.

By on January 26, 2018 | 19 comments

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?
Andy Jones-Wilkins
Andy Jones-Wilkins finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.