I’ve done six different 100s over the past couple years.  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.

Disclaimer: These are my own personal opinions based on how I remember them over the past 2 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.

Beginner Friendly
  1. C&O Canal – Only 1 hill and impossible to get lost*.
  2. Umstead – Eight loops of the least technical trails on the east coast.
  3. Oil Creek – Three loops, more vertical and technical terrain than the previous two.
  4. Old Dominion / Cloudsplitter – 28 hour cutoff = 25k vertical gain.
  5. Eastern States – I would rank this one lower, but I’ve only done six so far.

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

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.
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. 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.
  2. C&O Canal – Out and back format and plenty of aid stations.
  3. Oil Creek – Early October date means you’ll likely need a wider range of clothing options available.
  4. Old Dominion – Lots of crew access, but some of the full aid stations are a decent distance apart.
  5. Cloudsplitter – Crew access to the first aid station is a little hairy, however out-and-back format makes it a little easier than ES100.  Couple of the aid stations are 9 miles apart so you need to be very prepared through here.
  6. ES100 – If the one giant loop doesn’t make things hard enough, you’ll need stuff for 30+ hours.
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
  3. OD100 – Dinged a little as the website is a little sparse with some details.
  4. Cloudsplitter / C&O Canal – Newer and/or smaller races that didn’t seem quite as polished as the others.
Scenic
  1. OD100 – Mile for mile, prettiest course I’ve run.
  2. Cloudsplitter – Had the several of best overlooks of any race, however spread a bit apart.
  3. Oil Creek – Oil derricks and a nice suspension bridge.
  4. Umstead – Dropped a spot as more loops = less variety.
  5. ES100 – I was not in a good enough mental place for much of the race to notice the surroundings.  This might get moved up next month.
  6. C&O Canal – The towpath will get a little boring after a while.
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. 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.
  3. Umstead – Shirt, hanky, poncho all with a map of the course on them.
  4. Oil Creek – Nano spikes as door prize.
  5. OD100 – Canvas duffle bag was the nicest finisher prize of them all.
  6. C&O Canal – No shirt option when I ran it though I hear they’ve increased what they’re giving out now.
Hardest
  1. ES100 – 33% finisher rates.
  2. Cloudsplitter – Luckily, they give you 40 hours to finish.
  3. Oil Creek – Just edges out OD100 as more technical trails and vertical gain.
  4. Old Dominion – Lot of country roads that will let you make up time. . . if you can still run them.
  5. Umstead
  6. C&O Canal
Intangibles
  1. OD100 – Second oldest 100, little red book.  This race is all about family.
  2. ES100 – Yes, it’s that hard.
  3. Umstead – Just like I’ll always think of family when I think of OD100, this race is all about community.
  4. Cloudsplitter / C&O Canal / Oil Creek
Twenty years from now this is the race you will regret not having run
  1. Old Dominion
  2. Eastern States
  3. Oil Creek
  4. Umstead
  5. Cloudsplitter
  6. C&O Canal
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.

Race that meant the most to me
  1. Oil Creek / C&O Canal / Eastern States / Cloudsplitter / Umstead / Old Dominion

How do you choose your favorite child?  Each race was different as noted by the above ranks.  The races have different courses, are held at different times of year, and each has something different to offer.  And I did relatively better and worse at several of them.  They were all unique experiences partially because they are all different from each other, but also because I was a different person/runner when I did each of them.  I wouldn’t trade any one race for another (even my DNF if you can believe that).  Would I recommend one race over another?  Yes, I think I would, but I would have different recommendations for different people depending on where they are physically/mentally, what they’ve done, and what they’re looking for.  If you’re considering one or several of these races, then I hope this has been helpful to you.

What else do you consider when picking a 100-mile race?

2 thoughts on “My 100-Miler Ranks”

  1. Great list and great blog Philip! Definitely add MMT and Grindstone to your list. Two amazing races that are dialed in. MMT is a personal favorite of mine as it exceeds all other races I have done. I really enjoyed your race report for ES last year and amazed anyone finished with that heat. I’ll see you at the starting line on the 12th!

    1. Bryan,

      Thanks for the comment. MMT and Grindstone are both on my list for next year. Enjoy your taper!

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