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Races ranked

Just for the heck of it, I thought it’d be neat to rate all the races I’ve done – very subjectively – according to a few criteria. Feel free to agree or disagree (but please say why) and comment  – or add your own races.

My ranking system:

Physical difficulty: how hard is this race in how much energy and effort does one have to expend to finish it? Though subjective, my ratings are – not surprisingly – fairly correlated with winning times, at least for races that had some top runners.
Finishing difficulty: how difficult is this race to finish in the allotted time? This really is the question – how much time do you have. Again, fairly correlated with overall finishing percentage, though some races have more rookies while others only allow seasoned runners.
Fun: how much fun is it overall? Very subjective. I like rugged crazy stuff, hanging with fun people, unusual adventures.
Scenery: how beautiful is it? This is of course highly subjective, but dings will be given for road sections, loops, etc.

The races are listed in the order in which I’ve done them – NOT in a ranking order. Scales are open-ended with 1 being the lowest. Of course everything is relative. Also it’s surprisingly difficult to keep rankings straight over so many races, so I might make some adjustments later …

Cascade Crest Classic

2005 course. My first, and of course that makes it special. It’s a “classic” with a large variety of different terrain, good challenges, overall a great mix of stuff. It’s a great race for a first 100, or to do at any time. Highly recommended.

Physical difficulty: 5
Around 20k ft climbing, minor elevation – difficult for sure. Some difficult trail sections, nothing too tedious though. I’m using this to set the scale for a moderately difficult hundred. From what people tell me it’s a bit harder than Western States, for reference.

Finishing difficulty: 5
32 hours is generous. Finishing rates hover around 70%

Scenery: 8
The Cascades are gorgeous, and you get great views, little road/civilization. Very beautiful. Some fire roads though.

Fun: 7
This race has been around, the aid stations have character, the course itself has a lot of special little treats: the trail from hell, the cross-country section”, the rope … and lots of good singletrack.


My second hundred – a very low-key event in a beautiful setting. The first year my race number was hand-written on the back of an old marathon race number!

Physical difficulty: 7
More climbing than CCC and higher elevation, variable weather, it’s colder at night – this race is by no means easy.

Finishing difficulty: 5
You have plenty of time, and good aid station support.

Scenery: 8
This one was difficult. While the views of the Wasatch mountains and the lake are incredible, there’s a lot of fire road, which takes a bit away from it. Somehow the 2005 course seemed more scenic to me, though the descent down to Bear Lake is nothing short of breathtaking (also because it’s hella steep). The fall colors make this a very special course as well.

Fun: 106
It’s a difficult race with some serious challenges – temps in the 20s at night, steep ascents and descents. I am very bummed Leland’s ledge – a crazy but fun cross-country section – is gone, which would have bumped the fun factor up +2. Point to point is awesome, but the organization at the finish means if you don’t have anyone pick you up, you wait for hours … though you get to chat with fellow racers! It was also my first date with Jill, which is a +100!!!

San Diego

2008 course. 2010+ is different.

Physical difficulty: 3
“Only” about 12k ft of climbing, good runnable trails, usually pretty predictable weather.

Finishing difficulty: 3
Plenty of time. Lots of rookies do this race, which explains the lower finisher rate.

Scenery: 5
The desert is sure beautiful, though not very mountainous and just comparing to Cascade Crest for example not quite as exciting. However, it IS remote. The original course up to ’06 had more interesting views of the desert as far as I recall.

Fun: 5
It’s got good friends and great aid stations. 2008 had two loops, which is a bit arduous, but the current course looks like a bit of a gordian knot to me, with some out and back, but overall less repetition, so it’s probably gonna be a 6 at least. The past few years the weather at the finish was so horrid (extremely windy) that no one stuck around, which was sort of a bummer.


I presume you may love it or hate it. But most people I know sort of hate it. Why? Goddamn rocks. Ironically it was probably one of the best races I’ve had, with a great group of runners which inspired me to a good performance. The people are as fun as the course is terrible. Somehow I’ve never had any desire to go back simply because the course is not good for the ankles and it’s a long way from the west coast.

Physical difficulty: 6
Not too much climbing, not at altitude. It can be hot, which makes this hard. The major issue in my view is the atrocious footing and the painfully sharp rocks. It’s really more tedious than hard, and if you resign yourself to walk the thing, it’s not all that bad.

Finishing difficulty: 5
36 hours makes up for anything but the possibility of injury. That said, even the famous Hans Dieter Weisshaar sprained his ankle quite badly the year I ran it.

Scenery: 2
Mostly in woods, and compared to the Cascades for example it’s just not as exciting. That’s not to say it’s not pretty.

Fun: 5
The aid station people are awesome. The runners are fun – a very different crowd from the west coast folks, especially Gary Knipling of course, quite the character! But those rocks … the running is tedious. It’s a 10 for the people and a 0 for the course. Sorry.

Tahoe Rim Trail

2007 course. The current course has added some significant climbing, making this harder. Parts of the course are deceptively runnable, making it oh so easy to feel like an old man at mile 50 … which is what happened to me.

Physical difficulty: 6
Even though the ’07 course didn’t have much climbing (I think less than 18k ft) and very runnable trails, the relatively high average elevation got to me – this was hard, and mile 50 felt like mile 80 to me. The current course is probably a bit harder.

Finishing difficulty: 5
The time limit was fairly generous, though recent finisher rates were below 60%, probably a combination of heat, altitude and some killer climbs and the oh so easy possibility to cut it short at mile 50.

Scenery: 8
It’s Tahoe, duh! Dings for two loops and some less scenic sections (like the red house loop), still it gets very high marks.

Fun: 5
The two loop format makes this hard, and the finish line didn’t invite any lingering though the pre-race setting was fun. It’s a great group of people, though and an awesome race.

Wasatch Front

Another classic. The tagline “the hardest race you’ll ever love” is not correct, but it’s a good race.

Physical difficulty: 9
There’s a LOT of climbing. Elevations are high enough to matter. Hot in the day, cold at night, variable weather.

Finishing difficulty: 5
The time limit seems sufficient. It’s hard but if you keep truckin .. just get out of Brighton store, the place people are most likely to drop, because it’s oh so cold outside and it’s oh so cozy in there. Get out!

Scenery: 8
Great views of the Wasatch mountains, it’s a gorgeous area. Point to point and remote.

Fun: 6
This race had a great finish area, where people could hang out and have fun! The race support is also awesome, of course – and it’s a beautiful and challenging course. What else would one want? No lottery, yeah.


One of my all-time favorites. I finally got my 500 mile jacket (with 560 official miles)!

Physical difficulty: 12 – While not at altitude, the very challenging footing, together with long darkness, lots of climbing and usual humid warm weather make this a significant effort. In a good run I am still slower here than I was at Wasatch when I was sick for a third of the race. In a good year, it’s maybe a 10, but in a bad year it’s more like a 14 – in slick conditions it can be a real struggle to finish.

Finishing difficulty: 16
This race is probably – along with Plain – THE hardest to finish (of the ones I’ve done). Depending on conditions, rates range from 50% down to 20%. There’s simply not enough time. Some say it’s the loops or the 100k option (which no longer exists) but this not the main reason – it can be very very hard.

Scenery: 8
While there are loops, it is a very unique course. The Hawaiian mountains are incredible and there’s no other hundred (I know of yet) in such a tropical environment. The night views are amazing. It’s simply so different from all the other mountainous races that I find it deserves a high ranking.

Fun: 10
The loops and out and back sections help here, you get to see everyone, it’s a very tight-knit group, it’s super-hard and you probably will be ridiculed, despite your feet looking like raw hamburgers. Sounds like fun to me!


My home course! It’s a wonderful little race set up by awesome people in one of the most awesome areas I know – the gorgeous Marin headlands.

Physical difficulty: 4
It’s got some killer climbs, but the trails are all quite easy. If there were rain, it would probably creep up, because those trails can become pretty nasty …

Finishing difficulty: 4
Fair amount of time to finish.

Scenery: 7
The only ding here is for the loops. The course omit gems like Stinson Beach and Mt. Tam, though those were inaccessible to races for a while and make organization a lot harder. But Pirate’s Cove, the Golden Gate, SF … pretty spectacular.

Fun: 10
Running with all my local friends? Can’t be beat.


After I finished CCC100, a guy named Tom Ripley was chatting with us and he mentioned I should do the Plain. “What’s that” I asked. He laughed “Just a little run with no aid and no course markings. Some years we have a finisher.”. “Haha” I said.
Now it ranks very close to the top of my list, only TDG can displace it because of scheduling. If I had to pick, White Mountains might be higher, but that’s a totally different challenge.

Physical difficulty: 12
There are a few things that make Plain hard. The course itself is moderately difficult – ~20k ft climbing, can be hot, some cold at night, mostly good trails except for some very rutted incredibly dusty moto trails. But having to haul all your food, carrying a lot of water makes this simply hard. There are no comfort foods, no hot soup. Also, the course is long by 6 or so miles. Course finding is easy, though unnerving as there are no reassurances except for SAR checkpoints every ~20 miles. Oh, and those guys will gladly let you walk the wrong way. They’ll just come looking for you …

Finishing difficulty: 15
Now that more people have done it, and more information is available, it’s somewhat easier to know where water is etc. But still, you have to have your act way more together than at a normally supported race – a small mistake can cost you your finish. Thus finishing rates are low, and it is a formidable challenge. The time it takes to gather water, haul your gear, and the fact the course is a bit long makes the 36 hours fairly tight.

Scenery: 10
There are some incredible views to be had, raging wild rivers, creeks, expansive views of the Cascades, and except for start/finish no house in sight. One minor paved section, though it seems like a road in the middle of nowhere.

Fun: 10
This is a wild adventure! You meet crazy folks, and the feeling of being out there on your own devices makes this race unlike any other. It may not be your cup of tea, but it’s mine. This kind of “oh shit, what did I sign up for” feeling … priceless!

Javelina Jundred

Usually my end of year run if I’m in decent injury-free running shape!

Physical difficulty: 2
This is a shortish loop with lots of aid, gentle if at times a little sandy trails, maybe 5k climbing altogether. The possible heat and complete lack of shade does make it a challenge though.

Finishing difficulty: 2
Even if the heat gets you, it’s not really hard to finish this in 30 hours – relatively speaking. Still, the course has a low finisher rate because there are a lot of rookies, and a lot of people go out too fast.

Scenery: 4
The loop gets a bit old, though the desert views are quite beautiful, and the night is thanks to cloudless skies a treat in itself.

Fun: 8
The “washing machine” format makes it extremely easy to keep track of all racers. If you have friends there, it’s a blast. The costume contest adds flavor to it, and everyone is very laid back. It’s pretty much a big party in the desert. Also you do get to witness some epic meltdowns in some of the runners, not that that’s in any way fun, you know.

Coyote 2 Moon

Warning: I’ve seen the RD of this race in a full-body cow costume on the course. Enter at your own risk!

Physical difficulty: 10
I think this is harder than Wasatch despite less climbing because you do two nights, and the weather is pretty crazy. It can be either hot in the day and freezing cold at night, or goddamn cold and rainy in the day and holy crap cold at night.

Finishing difficulty: 5-10
This is one of the fun parts of this race. The RD will put you in a start group that should make it equally hard for everyone. Depending on how lazy he thinks you are, you gotta haul! The second time I did it I was in a group that had a cut-off one hour less than my previous year’s finishing time.

Scenery: 7
The course is actually surprisingly beautiful. I thought I knew that general topography, but it’s definitely got some excellent hills with a surprising remoteness, and some very pretty valleys and canyons.

Fun: 9
This race IS all about fun. On the runner’s expense. You get bonus minutes for eating “paté” (aka catfood) or drinking Whisky or eating oysters. Being ill-tempered and whiny will get you boner minutes. It’s a really fun atmosphere, and you have a chance to meet up later in the race with other faster and slower racers due to the staggered start.


Ironically Hardrock was the first hundred I’ve ever heard of (from Chuck Wilson) and for a good reason it’s one of the most sought after races in Northern America. Of course that’s also the reason I only got in once for six applications – because people always want to go back.

Physical difficulty: 17
Wow I pulled that number out of nowhere, so let me explain: it’s got a lot of climbing. It’s got an average elevation of ~11k, and tops out at 14k ft. It’s steep. It has some rugged trails. It is very demanding.

Finishing difficulty: 7
Despite the fact it’s very difficult, and despite the most strict qualification – there’s simply a lot of time to finish this, and a lot of people can finish this who have no chance at HURT. You can hike this comfortably without issues. Course finding can be challenging and requires you to pay serious attention, the markers are sparse and not always obvious. Weather can be life-threatening as well.

Scenery: 20
It’s THAT beautiful. Just look at the pictures.

Fun: 14
Since people usually acclimate for a while in Silverton, it’s an event like few others. Participating in course marking or scouting with fellow runners makes it much more likely you have a great time with old and new friends. The whole race is quite the production.


Physical difficulty: 8
There isn’t all too much climbing, though mud and elevation make this quite challenging. It can also be quite hot during the day.

Finishing difficulty: 7
It seems like the time limit is reasonably generous, though often finisher rates are lacking – the combination of everything makes this harder than it should be looking at the stats alone.

Scenery: 15
You start out into an incredible canyon next to a raging wild river, this is simply an amazing area. Some people like this better than Hardrock even, though I love alpine views too much. Still, it left me in awe, and I would say it’s an absolute must-do race.

Fun: 10
Out and back is a fun format to meet your fellow runners at least once, great aid stations, excellent pre and post race activities. Really there’s nothing not to like.

Swan Crest

The Swan Crest is a very small race and probably will only get smaller, unfortunately. It’s wild and crazy. You have to carry bear spray. And watch a bear video.

Physical difficulty: 11
There are very few aid stations and there’s a lot of climbing – around 24k. Trails are partially very rugged – one section of avalanche debris was extremely challenging (though not usually part of the course), and one poorly maintained section kept me wondering if I was off-course.

Finishing difficulty: 11
Definitely this race is a post-graduate race. Even though there are aid stations, the course markings are very sparse without reassurance markers and overall this is a very rugged race. If you expect to be pampered, stay home. Some people expressed criticism about the organization, which I reject outright – I thought it was perfectly organized – and as advertised.

Scenery: 14
This area in Montana is very beautiful, with expansive views, trails on knife ridges, just amazing. Some road sections and the lack of a proper wild river (though the crossing of the Quintonkin added fun) puts this maybe a bit below Bighorn (sorry Danni!!!!) but not by much.

Fun: 110
I am very biased on this one. I met Jill there (+100, of course). I went with my best friend Steve, and we had a generally awesome time. The finish venue is great since we had cabins right at the finish.

Tor Des Geants

This is the big one (for now). 200 miles. 80000ft of climbing. 24 mountain passes. Everyone but you wears Hoka One One’s, and guess what, you wish you had them, too. Because your feet hurt. And yes, I got a pair now.

Physical difficulty: 50
This race is hard. Somehow adding those 10k ft of climbing per 100 miles compared to Hardrock makes it just all the much harder – even without the altitude (though it does hit 11000ft – with a low point of 1000ft on the course). I felt the first 100 miles were much more difficult than Hardrock. The second ones would have been more difficult on fresh legs. They’re extremely difficult on tired legs. Trails are mostly runnable, though rocky and some parts are scree and boulder fields that are fairly challenging.

Finishing difficulty: 15
Although the race is super-hard, there is ample time and great support. Injury is probably the biggest enemy, but the medics are the best I’ve seen in terms of foot care and such. Accordingly, it’s not necessarily the fitter people who are more likely to finish.

Scenery: 30
Call me biased, but the Mont Blanc Massif (and Alps in general) has some of the world’s most beautiful mountains outside the Himalayas. I think they’re much more rugged and crazy looking than the San Juans, and the variety on the course is actually fairly big – historic villages, lush valleys, rugged mountain passes.

Fun: 20
It’s hard to call this race “fun” because it’s in a way so epic. Being completely sleep-deprived (which I did on purpose) led to some interesting effects, the people are awesome, it’s long enough you really feel like you’re in a different world. The only downside is that I should have learned Italian, because most people don’t speak english. But because of that I got to spend hours with one of the world’s best pro climbers!


I had long been avoiding Susitna because I always thought I didn’t deal with cold very well and was afraid of frostbite and such. Turns out I was wrong – not only that, but I also got inexplicably hooked on winter racing. It’s hard to explain the fascination that an extremely remote trail on a frozen river somewhere in the wilderness at -20°F has, but I presume you either love it or hate it.

Physical difficulty: 14
My buddy Jamshid claims this race is so easy, but he’s full of crap on this one. Yes it’s basically flat. But consider this: you’re pulling 25-35lbs of crap on a sled. You’re running/walking on a surface that at best has the consistency of wet sand, often powdery. It’s very tiring, and very tough. Moreover, winter races have wildly varying conditions – it can be beautifully packed and easy (though I suspect it never is really that easy for runners) or – with fresh snow or a melt – a horrible postholing exercise. Also aid stations are 20 miles apart – so you gotta be prepared. Also if you have the opportunity to train a lot on snow, this is probably a bit easier than my ranking would suggest – but I found it to be quite slow going!

Finishing difficulty: 6
You got 48 hours, and that’s really quite a lot. But, you are more likely to develop issues, and if you get frostbite, you’re out (if you know what’s good for you). I did not factor into this the required learning curve – if you don’t have your gear properly set up, you really run a high risk of injury up to losing digits!

Scenery: 10
You may agree or disagree, but there’s something magical about a winter landscape. The Su gets some dings for too much snowmobile traffic and not enough hills to really take in the scenery. But it’s unlike anything I’ve seen.

Fun: 110
Another one of the +100s … Jill’s first 100 on foot 🙂 Even so, it’s a very curious prep because your gear is so much more complicated, which makes this a unique event – like a multiday stage race in some ways.

White Mountains

This might just be my favorite 100 miler!

A fairly new and very small winter hundred just north of Fairbanks. It’s very remote. Very very remote. Even though the are trails for public recreational use (all we saw were some dog mushers), Alaskans have a bit of a different notion of what “recreational” means.

Physical difficulty: 15
This race adds a few things to Susitna: steep climbs and overflow/glare ice! This race has substantially more climbing than Susitna, a lot of it on the last few miles. The trail conditions were generally worse which was due to some snow falling, and it’s likely that you have to deal with lots of icy overflow, some of it under some water. It’s a fairly serious undertaking.

Finishing difficulty: 5
The time limit of 60 hours is designed for really bad conditions – so under “normal” conditions, it’s far more than enough. Again, this does not factor in the incredible amount of preparation and learning you have to do before you should undertake anything like this.

Scenery: 15
It’s very hard to compare this with other mountainous races. This race has incredible views unlike anything you’ll see in a mountainous race, and there’s enough hills you actually get to see a lot of the surrounding areas. You have a good chance to see northern lights as well …

Fun: 11
This race is really family style – so much so, I stayed in the RD’s house along with some other racers. It’s a very tight knit group, and a great atmosphere.

4 comments to Races ranked

  • Nice list. It was fun to read. I’m not sure about the rankings. I know they were supposed to be subjective, but a +100 for any race you ran with Jill. Seriously? 🙂

    I can’t say I totally disagree with any of your rankings, but I think I like the desert at night a bit more than you and I might rank Massanutten even lower (if possible) in terms of scenery simply because you can’t actually enjoy it since you’re always staring at your feet.

  • Russ

    Beat I think you should try the Alaska Wilderness classic if you like hard races. Point to point no support and very little trail, or if you want a shorter one The Hot springs classic. It’s about 80 miles from Chena Hot springs to Circle hot springs, overland in a about the same area as where the White mountain 100 is held.

  • Beat

    Yep, Alaska Wilderness Classic & Ski Classic are on my radar 🙂 I wonder if one could do the Ski classic on snowshoes. That’d be pretty stupid, but quite epic, possibly.

  • Danni

    Let’s see, I’ve only finished Headlands 100 of those but have paced at Bear, Run most of Susitna (4/5 of it) and have run all of the Swan Crest trail at some point or another. Your assessments seem pretty fair. Bighorn has great scenery — I was in love. No shame in being a little below Bighorn.

    I can’t wait for Su 2012. I can’t wait I can’t wait I can’t wait.