The Biggest Misconception About Finishing a 100-Mile Race

Susan Donnelly winning overall at Double Top 100 Mile Race.

“When I finish a 100-mile race, I will be ___”

How would you answer (besides “really, really tired”)?

When I was going for my first 100-mile finish, I would have said, “A real ultrarunner.” 

I was curious and needed to satisfy that curiosity, but finishing a 100-miler? I imagined I’d be confident. I’d know. I’d be this wiser, enlightened version of me. 

With any big goal, there’s usually an underlying assumption like this that attaining it will transform us.

That the moment we get the thing - cross the finish line, get the promotion, get married, or graduate - life be different and more importantly…we will be different.


And we can feel better about ourselves.

Twenty plus years after my first 100, I’m happy to say that’s a big, fat myth. 

When you buy into the assumption that, “When I finish this race, I can feel good about myself,” you have to cross the finish line - or else.

One of the main flaws with this assumption, and there are many, is that finishing isn’t even entirely in your control. It depends on lots external things, like the race director's decisions, how well the course is marked, and even the weather, to all go in your favor. At the same time.

So it only partly reflects how good you are…yet you’re depending on it to feel good about yourself. 

Crazy, right?

The happy truth is that it’s not crossing the finish line that matters.

What matters is all the work you did to get to the finish line.

Every moment for the weeks and months of training that you opened the door and went for a run, despite little sleep, crappy weather, parent guilt, or an exhausting job.

All the times you doubted yourself, asked “who am I to do this,” were afraid you’d fail in front of people and be embarrassed and disappoint them, but stuck with it anyway. 

All the times you chose you. 

All the times you believed in you. 

I might not have fully grasped this at my first 100, but by the time I finished my 100th, I had it down. I loved finishing that day but wasn’t expecting it to be perfect or transform me. The real power rested in all the miles I’d run and all the trust I’d built in myself over the past 20 years - infinitely more powerful than one fantastic but fleeting moment. 

The biggest misconception about finishing a 100-mile race is that it's the finish that matters. Sure, it's hard but the true payoff is bigger than the finish time or the buckle.

It’s making the commitment to yourself to pursue the goal.

It’s honoring that commitment over all the weeks and months it’s inconvenient and downright hard to do.

It’s honoring that commitment during the race, every single time your mind whispers, “Quit.”

It’s deeper than the single moment you cross the finish line.

It’s you.

All that work is something to be proud of. You did that!

So the next time you answer that question above, I hope you say, “I’m proud of all the work and all the believing in myself I did to get here.”

Susan Donnelly’s signature

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