What Could Possibly Go Wrong in a 100-Miler?

Ultramarathon mindset coach Susan Donnelly deals with things that go wrong in 100-mile and 200-mile races

Short answer: More than you'd imagine.

Long answer: Where to start...?

Years ago, the engineer in me, in the long miles of some 100, came up with a kind of elegant answer. It's a general formula of all the variables that must go right, or at least well enough - all at the same time - for you to finish a 100-miler. 

The version I've written here isn't the full story. You could easily take each variable on the left side of the equation and break it down into its own, extensively detailed sub-equation. The bullets I’ve listed under each variable are only a fraction of the things that could go right or wrong. For example, think about all the things that can go wrong with training. Or a single shoe. 

It’s a wonder there aren’t more mega lottery winners than 100-mile finishers.

The formula is:

Y + P + C + H + F + N + T + Z + W + R + G + I + D  = COF (Chances of Finishing)


Y = You

  • Physical training

  • Mindset training

  • Day of race mindset

  • Day of race health

  • Experience

  • Sleep

  • Goals

  • Pacing plan

P = Pacer

  • Experience level

  • Mindset

  • Sleep

  • Health

  • Ability

  • Focus

C = Crew

  • Experience level

  • Ability

  • Logistics

  • Focus

H = Hydration

  • Enough

  • Enough with you

  • Electrolytes

F = Fuel

  • Enough food

  • Right/good/stomachable food

N = Navigation

  • How well the course is marked

  • How well you follow the markings

T = Time

  • Starting on time

  • Making aid station cutoffs

  • Finishing before cutoff

Z = Course

  • Altitude (too much, not enough, how it’s distributed on the course)

  • Water crossings

  • Severe conditions

  • Too/not enough technical footing, like rocks and roots

  • Configuration (loops, point-to-point, one loops, etc)

  • Racing for time or distance? How much?

W = Weather

  • Heat

  • Cold

  • Wind

  • Rain

  • Thunderstorm

  • Flood

  • Fire

  • Blizzard

R = Race Organization

  • Aid station problems

  • Finish line problems

G = Gear 

  • Defective

  • Broken

  • Not enough

  • Not up to the task

  • Wrong choice

  • Didn’t know you needed (until you did)

  • Forgotten

  • Lost

  • Given away

  • Stolen

I = Injuries

  • Pre-existing

  • Newly acquired

D = Drop bags

  • What’s in them

  • Where you put them

If you’ve finished a 100, pat yourself on the back. You undoubtedly faced problems with more than one of these variables, and conquered. Well done!

If you haven’t finished a 100 yet, here’s a snapshot of what you’re facing - but don’t freak out. You’ll notice there are actually far more 100-mile finishers in the world than mega lottery winners. You can do it!

So my challenge to you 100-milers and 100-milers-to-be is to make sure you've lined up everything you need for all likely problems - and then some. 

You only get one chance at this race, this year, with all your training, with these people, in these circumstances, so make it count.

You can’t control all these variables but you can know what they are and do your best to plan for them.

If you want an expert pacer who's seen all kinds of crazy, you-wouldn’t-believe-it things go wrong and still finished over 100 of these (me!) help you cross the finish line, or help planning for all these variables before your own race, or practical tips you can use on race day, check out DON’T GO HOME WITHOUT A BUCKLE. It’s made to help you finish in spite of the variables.

And share this with anyone else who's planning to run a 100 this year or is thinking about one in the future.

Until next week,

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PS - Email me if you have a question about DON'T GO HOME WIThOUT A BUCKLE or want to see if your race date is available. If you know me, you know my schedule will start to fill, so don't wait!

PPS - The photo above is actually from the last half of the Bigfoot 200 but it captures the feeling posed by the title the best.