Friday, November 2, 2007

So You Want to Run a Fast 100?

I’m happy to see some renewed interest in running fast 100s lately (along with the equally interesting “let’s find the hardest, gnarliest course out there” school of thought). While one of the neat things about trail running is that each course is so different, and even each year on the same course is so different due to weather and other variables, there is something to be said for nice round numbers, like a sub 3:30 50K, sub 6:00 50 miler, or in the case of trail 100s, the yet to be done sub 13:00.

As the number of trail 100s explodes (I think now over 40 in North America), there is still a short list of possible candidates for a sub 13:00 effort (or for whatever your speed goal is). Based on current course records, the fastest 100s are:

Rocky Raccoon – 13:16, and 2nd fastest is 13:17 (not in same year)
Vermont – 14:05 (way easier course than the current one)
Heartland – 14:26
Umstead 14:38 (slightly easier course than the current course)
Javelina – 15:25
Rio Delago – 15:31
San Diego – 15:48 (does it change every year?)
Arkansas Traveler – 15:52

While this is a good place to start, obviously you have to look at other factors such as age of the race, who has run it, and the course itself. Some factors to consider:

Course footing
Time of year
Total elevation gain/loss
Low/High point of course
Ease of getting your stuff (crew/aid station/drop bags)
Wild cards (crowded conditions, other hazards)

Here is my own subjective ranking of the fastest courses with special attention to the ones I’ve run (either the race or on the course itself).

1. Rocky Racoon - by far the quickest course I've seen, and weather is generally not much of a factor. However, less daylight in Feb. Nice smooth trail that is protected by trees. There are some roots however but overall nice running. Loop course makes aid easy, but at 20 miles you’ll have to carry something. 5700 total climb. Another bonus is you can wait till the last minute to sign up. High and Low points on course only 105 feet apart. Every good runner I know who has done Rocky set their PR at Rocky.

Tie 2. Javelina - super fast course unless you'd prefer no technical running at all. There is about 1 mile per 15 mile loop that is a bit technical,and another several miles on smooth single track per loop. I ran a 50K on this trail in 3:11:55 so obviously it couldn't be too difficult. Not sure ofthe amount of climbing here, but I think it is about 7000 feet total. Weather was hot this year, but not always super hot in late Oct. Aid every 5 miles.

Tie 2. Heartland - Probably easier than Javelina if just looking at profile, but the wind is pretty much a given, and the dirt roads tend to have alot of sharp little flint rocks. 6200 feet of total climb, and the high and low points are about 500 feet apart. I think that some climbing is good so you aren't just using the exact same stride the whole way. Most of the climbing is in the middle 50 miles. Wildcard – lots of cattle and cattle guards to cross over. If you have super large feet, subtract 5 minutes from time. If you have small feet, better be careful crossing them!

4. Umstead - About the same amount of climbing as Heartland, but the hills tend to be shorter and steeper (the downhills then being the problem). The footing is great except for the first and last .75 miles of each loop. Weather is often humid/hot. 12.5 mile loop seems to be just about the right distance.

I haven’t personally run on any of the other courses except Vermont, which is not a candidate for fastest anymore. From what I’ve heard, I’d probably put Arkansas Traveler at #5 and it is crap shoot after that. I’d love to see not just one person, but several runners go after a fast time at the same race. While time trials are great, the real excitement is when people are racing to fast times.

As for me, I’d love to do Rocky this year, but I may be ready to curl up and hibernate for awhile after ATY. I do plan to do a fast 100 sometime in 2008, and it will be one of the 4 listed above.

What is Needed to Break 13:00?

While I think anybody who has a shot at breaking 13:00 would need the capability to run a marathon in the low 2:30s, I think the more important thing is to be efficient at goal pace, which would be about 7:45. While the stories are endless of 2:20 marathoners who used to go to WS100 and blow up (this is when Levi Strauss was offering 5000 bucks for the winner in the early 80s). I think any of them could have won the race if they did some slower running, but you can’t expect to train 100 miles a week at 5:00 - 6:00 pace and then run for 18 hours at 9:00 pace without practicing it a bit. They also didn’t have any history with eating/drinking on the run or with mixing walking into their runs.

Now let's get out there and put up a 12:xx!


crowther said...

Like you, I've love to do Rocky Raccoon, but it's probably coming up too fast for me to prepare properly. And all of the other courses might be an hour or more slower than that, so ... not a lot of great options. I'm tempted to go do a 12-hour race instead; if I can log 95 or so miles, then I'll have proven (to myself, anyway) that I can run a good fast 100.

Vermont is also a possibility for me, but only because I'm from Vermont. My primary goal there would be to win, not to run a particular time.

Anton said...

It's definitely possible at Rocky. When I ran 13:32 there last year it was a long long ways away from a great race for me. I had only 5-6 weeks of training beforehand (had mono all of fall 2006), the trails were really muddy and sloppy, and I stupidly followed Jorge's 7-flat pace the first 13 miles which clearly came back to bite me after 60 miles. We'll see what happens this year...

AJW said...


I think Rocky's the place to do it. Javelina could be fast but the heat variable and the fact that it is a measured 101.8 miles makes it difficult. A few years back after Garcia did a fast Rocky they measured it at 97 miles. That was a bummer. Now, it's a pure 100.0 (Joe Prusaitis is a perfectionist) and I think in conditions like 2006 when Jorge ran 13:16 there and I tagged along in a pedestrian 14:57 someone like you, Tony, Greg or some other fast guy could get that sub-13. The mud has to be low and the weather needs to be good but it could be done.

Just my 2 cents. And, of course, I am biased toward the 100's anyway.


Paul DeWitt said...

AJW - interesting; so did Clifton and Jorge run the same course? If it was 3 miles different, clearly Jorge's time is much superior.

AJW said...

Clifton's course was shorter. The 2nd out and back was shorter and therefore the entire course was. Jorge's time was clearly better all things considered.

Of course, Vermont has been short for 20 years and until they got around to measuring it (Spring 2007) they just called it a 100. Truth is, this was the first year it was a pure 100 miler. Morton's "record" was over a 96 mile course and Leigh's new "record" was over 97 tougher miles (made tougher by the new start/finish venue and the increase in single-track). Anyone who can go sub-15 there now deserves all the praise in the world.

Of course, who's to say those wheel's are accurate?


Shane Jones said...

Good stuff! You really brought some excitement to Heartland this year. It would definitely be cool to see a group of speedsters duking it out down there.

Gundy said...

Good info......I'm planning to do Rocky Raccoon here in 08', and it's nice to get some perspective on where on the time scale I should be shooting for relative to my current fitness level/abilities. Like AJW, I did Javelina and at over 100 degrees in certain pockets, it can definitely keep times down if you haven't trained for that kind of heat.