I started this ranking a couple years ago. No race is exactly the same and since everyone looks for something different when choosing races, I thought I would give you my ranks in various categories. Two flat hundreds (Long Haul, Pine Creek) get added to the lists this year. I’m excluding NJ One Day as that was a 24 hour event.

Disclaimer: These are my own personal opinions based on how I remember them over the past 5 years.  Please note that your mind does weird things late in these races so it’s quite possible my memories weren’t very reliable even immediately upon completing each one.  Also, the Cloudsplitter and Burning River courses have changes since I ran them so my rankings are based on what I experienced.

Beginner Friendly

  1. Long Haul – 10 loops and 3 times through the central hub on each.
  2. Pine Creek – double out and back on a rail trail.
  3. C&O Canal – Only 1 hill and impossible to get lost*.
  4. Umstead – Eight loops of the least technical trails on the east coast.
  5. NJ Ultra Fest – 20 loops makes logistics easy offset by lot of hills.
  6. Oil Creek – Three loops, more vertical and technical terrain than the previous two.
  7. Burning River – Point-to-point course in late July.
  8. Old Dominion / Cloudsplitter – 28 hour cutoff = 25k feet vertical gain.
  9. Olde 96er – Self-supported nature trumps a flat course and 36 hour cutoff.
  10. Bighorn – 18k feet at altitude.
  11. Eastern States / Massanutten – lots of hills + humid PA/VA heat + stupid technical trails.

* Please see Disclaimer above if you manage to get lost.

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Open section of C&O Canal towpath about 4 miles out from Manidokan.  Just because the trail is easy, doesn’t mean it’s easy though.

Best One and Done 100

I learned a long time ago that not everyone is like me so there are probably people reading this who have no interest in running more than 1 hundred.  It’s on their bucket list to accomplish, but don’t plan to make a habit of doing them.  If you only want to do it once, then you want the race most likely to assure you a finish.

  1. Pine Creek – September weather makes for perfect running.
  2. Long Haul – Loop format makes it easier to quit and Florida temperatures can feel extra hot if you’re from up north.
  3. C&O Canal – Typical April weather (40 degrees and rain) almost moves this down the list despite very flat terrain.
  4. Oil Creek – Quite a bit of hills, but a 32 hour cutoff is more than most races.
  5. Umstead / NJ Ultra Fest  / Burning River – All give you the option to drop down and “finish” a shorter race.  Extremely unhelpful at 2am.
  6. Old Dominion / Eastern States / Bighorn / Cloudsplitter / MMT / Olde 96er

Logistic Friendly

Running a hundred miles requires a ridiculous amount of logistics.  As you go along, you’ll need additional clothing (shirts, jackets, gloves, shoes), food, lights, medicine, anti-chafing agent, blister kit, caffeine . . . The list just goes on an on in addition to seeing your crew and picking up a pacer.  Some races, just based on their layout, make it easier to get the stuff you need when you need it.  Doesn’t mean you can’t finish a race towards the bottom of this list.  It just means you need to give aid stations/drop bags much more thought.

  1. NJ Ultra Fest – Never more than 3 miles from the start/finish.
  2. Long Haul – Multiple passes through the hub in each of the 10 loops.
  3. Umstead – Since you pass the start/finish every 12.5 miles, you’re never all that far away from whatever you may want since there are no size restrictions on your gear.  Drop off a foot locker if that’s what you need.
  4. C&O Canal / Pine Creek – Out and back format and plenty of aid stations.
  5. Oil Creek – Early October date means you’ll likely need a wider range of clothing options available.
  6. Old Dominion – Lots of crew access, but some of the full aid stations are a decent distance apart.
  7. Cloudsplitter – Crew access to the first aid station is a little hairy, however out-and-back format makes it a little easier than those below.  Couple of the aid stations are 9 miles apart so you need to be very prepared through here.
  8. Bighorn – Out and back format and variable mountain weather requires some more thought.
  9. Burning River – Point-to-point course.
  10. ES100 / MMT – If the one giant loop doesn’t make things hard enough, you’ll need stuff for 30+ hours.
  11. Olde 96er – No aid stations, no support.
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Typical section of Umstead’s trail. You can totally shut your mind off while running this course and don’t have to worry about tripping over something.

Race Organization

Even though I’m ranking these here, none of these were poorly run races.  Logistically, these are very difficult events to put together and all the RDs did a good job.

  1. Umstead – Very long standing race means they ironed out all their issues 10-15 years ago.
  2. ES100 / Oil Creek / NJ Ultra Fest / Bighorn / MMT / Long Haul / Pine Creek
  3. OD100 / Burning River – Dinged a smidgeon for some very small issues.
  4. Cloudsplitter / C&O Canal – Newer and/or smaller races that didn’t seem quite as polished as the others.
  5. Olde 96er – Very much a Fatass type feel.

Scenic

  1. Bighorn – Drop dead gorgeous.
  2. OD100 – Mile for mile, second prettiest course I’ve run.
  3. Cloudsplitter – Had the several of best overlooks of any race, however spread a bit apart.
  4. Oil Creek – Oil derricks and a nice suspension bridge.
  5. ES100 – Several of the more scenic overlooks around the halfway point require you to be fairly fast to see them in daylight.
  6. MMT – Nice mountain run.
  7. Pine Creek – Very pretty run next to the water.
  8. Umstead – Dropped a spot as more loops = less variety.
  9. Long Haul – Even more loops.
  10. Burning River – Lot of metropolitan parks and varied scenery.
  11. NJ Ultra Fest – The wooded trails are nice, but generic.
  12. C&O Canal – The towpath will get a little boring after a while.
  13. Olde 96er – All road through Ohio.
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Cloudsplitter’s views were stunning as far as the eye could see.

Swag

Most ultra runners won’t admit to doing a race for the stuff, but it’s still nice to get.

  1. ES100 – Osprey backpack, socks, shirt, hat and a rain jacket for finishing; all with the ES100 logo on them.  Far too many reminders if you don’t finish.  Not quite enough if you do.
  2. NJ Ultra Fest – Very nice rain jacket for all entrants.
  3. Cloudsplitter – Not only do you get a shiny buckle the size of your shoe, but you also get a finisher’s medal that is twice the size.
  4. Umstead – Shirt, hanky, poncho all with a map of the course on them.
  5. Oil Creek – Nano spikes as door prize.
  6. Burning River – Shirt, buff, and poster.
  7. OD100 – Canvas duffle bag was the nicest finisher prize of them all.
  8. Pine Creek – Shirt and buff with nice mug for finishing.
  9. Bighorn / MMT / Long Haul – Shirt.
  10. C&O Canal – No shirt option when I ran it though I hear they’ve increased what they’re giving out now.
  11. Olde 96er – Does a handmade personalized bib count?

Hardest

  1. Bighorn – This wouldn’t be as high if it wasn’t for the altitude.
  2. ES100 – 33% finisher rate my first year, 65% in 2017.
  3. MMT – Similar course profile to ES100 though typically not as warm
  4. Olde 96er – Typically about 50% finisher rate.
  5. NJ Ultra Fest – Typically less than 50% finisher rate on current course.
  6. Cloudsplitter – Luckily, they give you 40 hours to finish.
  7. Oil Creek – Just edges out OD100 as more technical trails and vertical gain.
  8. Old Dominion – Lot of country roads that will let you make up time. . . if you can still run them.
  9. Burning River – This feels too low a ranking, but all the races above this are definitely harder.
  10. Umstead
  11. Long Haul – Couple sections a little sandy.
  12. C&O Canal
  13. Pine Creek

Intangibles

  1. OD100 – Second oldest 100, little red book.  This race is all about family.
  2. Olde 96er – There’s just something about running 100 miles completely on your own.
  3. ES100 – Yes, it’s that hard.
  4. MMT – Long history.
  5. Umstead – Just like I’ll always think of family when I think of OD100, this race is all about community.
  6. Bighorn – Mountains will take your breath away.
  7. Pine Creek – I don’t know what it was, but something just sets this race slightly above the next group. Guess it’s a really intangible intangible.
  8. Cloudsplitter / C&O Canal / Oil Creek / Burning River / Long Haul
  9. NJ Ultra Fest – Like running a 100 miles in your neighborhood park.

Twenty years from now this is the race you will regret not having run

  1. Old Dominion
  2. Eastern States
  3. Bighorn
  4. MMT
  5. Oil Creek
  6. Umstead
  7. Burning River
  8. Cloudsplitter
  9. Pine Creek
  10. Long Haul
  11. C&O Canal
  12. NJ Ultra Fest
  13. Olde 96er

Not ranked

I’ve decided not to rank any of the races based on volunteer support or aid station fare as none seemed to standout from any other.  If these are vital to you, then I apologize that I wasn’t of much assistance.

My favorite races

For years I resisted ranking my races. I always thought of them as my children and you’re not supposed to play favorites. They’re all equally hard and I wouldn’t trade any of them for anything. Yadda yadda yadda. It’s all complete bunk. Of course I have a favorite. Why else would I keep going back to ES100 year after year?

I will say this though. I am happy to have lined up for each of these races and I would recommend each and every one of them to anyone looking to race 100 miles. This ranking is obviously extremely subjective and a large portion of it is based on how I performed that day.

  1. Eastern States – A beautiful and hard course, which broke me physically and mentally. . . and yet I was still able to finish. I now go back every year to relive that accomplishment.
  2. Old Dominion – Really 1a instead of #2. I love the course profile (trails, roads) and the old school feel of the race. I experienced my highest highs and lowest lows here and got my buckle by 15 minutes (only give to sub-24 hour finishers). I need to get back.
  3. Oil Creek – You never forget your first.
  4. Olde 96er – What’s harder than running 100 miles? Running 100 miles with no aid stations, crew, or support of any kind. Probably my best executed race outside going off course for a couple miles.
  5. MMT – Very hot the year I ran and the last hill is just ridiculous.
  6. Pine Creek – How is my 100 mile PR this far down the list?!?!?!
  7. NJ Ultra Fest – While the course may be a little generic, this was one of my better executed races.
  8. Cloudsplitter – Pretty course.
  9. Umstead – Poor weather the year I ran, but one of my better performances.
  10. Bighorn – This would be a top 3 race if I hadn’t DNFed at the turnaround. Stupid altitude.
  11. Burning River – I liked the varied course profile, but not my best run race.
  12. Long Haul – Pushed too hard early and paid the price.
  13. C&O Canal – DNFed my first attempt and poorly executed second go.

Hopefully, the pandemic will run it’s course at some point and I’ll be able to add a couple more races to the lists next year.

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