What You Need to Finish a 100

Before I write, let me backtrack a little bit. Summer was amazing!

After Amber and I road tripped from San Diego to San Francisco, I took off to the beach, and then spent the remainder of my summer with my 5 and 7 year old, Brett and Brooklyn, in the Smoky mountains. My goal was to just break away and focus on some serious family time.

My kids, even at such young ages, are both avid hikers. So needless to say, we had some wild adventures!

Cliff side after a stormy hike up Chimney Tops. 

6 miles on Bullhead Trail, and 3 close snake encounters.. hence the piggy back ride;).

Views along Alum Cave Bluff up to Mt. LeConte.

The adventuring was unforgettable. Each time we would hit a bump in the road, or get to a tough climb on a trail, I would take a step back and observe how my kids handled the adversity. It was interesting to watch their emotions play out. I found myself relating to them completely on every little issue.

As I watched them battle the lows and celebrate the highs, I reminisced a bit on my own experiences with trail pain, and more specifically, my favorite distance, the 100 miler. I began to share my stories with them as a way to pass the time. I may have embellished some of them just a smidge…maybe…like the whole bear wrestling thing may not have actually happened 40 miles into a race–it was more like 30– but regardless, it felt good to share with my kids. It was fun to remember the pain that I’ve grown to treasure so much.

After a few stories, Brett asked me what he would have to do to finish a 100 mile race. I gave him the obvious answers like “practice and years of hard work”, and then I really started to think about it. …..What does it take?…..

Now let’s sidestep the typical responses here, because y’all know I’m not about to write up a gear checklist. So before you call me out on shoes and hydration, remember I’m borderline emo, and I rarely write that surface stuff. We’re gonna dig a little deeper here.

And no, trust me, I’m not claiming to know it all. I’ve just “been there, done that” a couple times. Sometimes I’ve finished. Sometimes I haven’t. This is what I’ve learned along the way….

What You Need to Finish a 100


Remember last year when I did this “controversial” (why is it always controversial) debate about 100 milers with JDF on Trail Runner Nation? I debated with Jimmy and Don that I felt “a why” is crucial to finishing a 100 mile race.  I explained that without a real reason, it becomes nearly impossible to get it done. What is “a why”? Well, frankly it can be anything that propels you to sign up for the thing in the first place.

Are you running 100 miles just to see if you can push yourself to a new limit? To get a faster time? To deal with some emotional issues? To have fun? To prove to yourself or someone else that you can? ... Why the heck are you doing it??!!!

Whatever your reason is, you’ve got to lock into it. Without it, you’re just running aimlessly, and 100 miles is a long freakin way to go without a purpose. Trust me, I’ve tried.

I feel like the reason has to be a really good one, because if your goal is something like “I just want to have fun”, well you might be rethinking that when you’re alone in the woods at night puking and hallucinating 50 miles into a race . (Again, speaking from an embarrassing DNF experience here.) Some people of course are completely different, and are able to push through without a reason, but this is just my experience.

Unshakable Confidence

After you figure out why you’re doing something so stupid to your body, make up your mind to do it, and don’t waver on it.

Absolutely everything will hurt 30 miles in. Then probably again at 50. Then it likely won’t stop hurting starting somewhere around 75 miles.

Your feet are going to be completely annihilated.

Your stomach is going to be jacked.

You will be pissed at yourself for setting such a monstrous goal.

But WHEN ...when..not if.. you go through all of that, that’s when the confidence kicks in. You’ve got to believe in yourself and your abilities more than anyone else does. You can’t let a little bit of pain..err a lot of pain…deter you from that “why” that I mentioned that is so important to you. Your confidence has to be strong enough to withstand every single thing that is going to come against it. 

These things are a battle of will. A huge mental battle. So don’t come to the start line carrying baggage full of self doubt, because it will weigh you down when you are at your weakest and lowest point. So check those bags at the door. 

Bring People That Love You

Real quick, before I go off on people selfishly dragging their families to their races every dang weekend…because that’s so messed up...let me clarify: Don’t be a douche. Talk over your decision to run this thing with your family, and make sure they are okay with it. Then, be sure that you’re not skipping your grandmother’s open casket ceremony or your sister’s weddingand ask them if they’d like to help you finish your race.

But back to the point, you need people there with you that actually genuinely love you. Because I can guarantee you that you’re gonna turn into a little crying [w]itch in approximately 15 hours or less.

At the start, it’s gonna be all fun and games, like, “Oh this is so great! Omg! Such a nice day today for a run!! Whoo!!!”

Then somewhere over the course of a few rolling hills, you’re gonna Jekyll and Hyde into this: “HEY YOU, OLD GUY. CAN YOU PLEASE SHUT THE FRICK UP. I HATE YOUR FACE. Oh, by the way, Spouse, TWO scoops in my water bottle! TWO!!!!! And you forgot my effing fresh socks. What’s wrong with you?!!”

Ha!!!!! just kidding! JUST KIDDING! I’ve never done that.
EVER. Ha….right, Daniel? …..Right???!! *crickets* (Just don’t look here for similar examples of me being mean… 
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ashleyringowalsh/5731836827/ or here… http://www.flickr.com/photos/ashleyringowalsh/5731893003/in/photostream/ –the least incriminating evidence I could find.)

Seriously though, I hope I’ve never been that much of a diva, but crap does happen. You’ll accidentally snap at nice people when you’re 80 miles in. You’ll get pissed at nothing and everything all at once. Having people with you that have seen you go through hell before helps tremendously. They can differentiate your “ugh” from your “ughhhhh!!”‘s. And they won’t stop talking to you afterwards for being a piece of human garbage. That’s important. 

Caleb somehow always ends up being my go-to friend at 90 miles. And somehow always ends up staying friends with me?

Understand Grit and Stupidity

There’s Grit and there’s Stupidity. They are brothers, and they look a lot a like. I know both of them pretty well and after a few years, can finally tell the difference.

Grit is temporary. Stupidity has staying power. Let me explain…

So let’s meet Stupidity: Say you’re doing something like, I dunno, running some random race in Florida. It’s hot and “humid” is an understatement. You start getting all dizzy at the 30 mile mark. You keep pushing, thinking that it will go away and you just need to gut it out. Then you start peeing dark. Then you start feeling like you’re having a heart attack…But, you know, you’re still gonna finish, cuz you’re all tough N stuff.… So you keep running. And keep running. Annnnd then you kinda just start screaming and pass out, and then get transported off the course unconscious via ambulance. Pshhh…NOT SURE WHAT KIND OF IDIOT WOULD DO THAT!!! … (Yes… Me…. I did that.)

But yeah, anyway… That kind of crazy stuff–pushing to dangerous levels– is straight up stupid, people. It’s not hardcore. It’s not “whoa you’re a hero!” It’s just, “Man, what the frick is wrong with you?”  And these long races make that line between grit and stupidity pretty blurry.

(After a 100mi finish, and slight amputation on my left big toe. Grit or stupidity?)

But I’ve found that if you get to a point in the race where you realize that you might still be dealing with your problem for another month or so.. then just cut the rope. Drop. It’s no big deal. It’s just a race. In my opinion, letting a hobby negatively disrupt your life sucks the joy out of doing it.

Grit is different, though… Grit is gonna show up when you’re just being a pansy. When your stomach hurts, or when it’s raining, or when you have an insane amount of blisters, or when your fatigue is setting in, …when it’s not stupid to keep going, just uncomfortable.

Grit is running up a mountain after you’ve already been moving for 90 miles. Grit is getting up off the ground after you’ve been knocked down one too many times. Grit is feeling completely hopeless, but pushing anyways. Grit gets you to the finish line.

Grit is Lane Vogel’s feet at Badwater 135 last month!!! Lane finished with a nasty case of bronchitis and these beauties on his feet…prepare yourselves for the epitome of grit…

Ughhhhhh. Man!!!!! That was bad. Geeez. Sorry.

Hard Work

Let’s be real..You gotta put in your time. Don’t take that the wrong way and go off on some heroic training sabbatical, but train smart and give yourself time to reach your goal.

I started training for my first 100 when I was 23, maybe a year and a half after I started running. Too quick? Maybe so… I mean, I trained for it. I ran early and long alone in the woods on the weekends before my kids woke up. I took advice and help from experienced runners every chance I could get. And I actually did finish on my very first try. Yet, in hindsight, I feel that maybe I rushed into things. I was young, and still immature and fairly new to the sport when I signed up. And though I finished, I didn’t really know what kind of pain and intensity I was getting myself into.

In other words, I wish I would’ve spaced it out a little, maybe trained harder, and had some experience under my belt. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so painful?

It’s kind of like my life…Do I regret getting pregnant in high school and married at 18? Heck no. I’m happy! I love my life! But it’s been a struggle…

Might it have been a lot easier if I planned it out, went to college, married Dan, saved up some money, bought a house and THEN had my kids??? Probably.

Everything is easier to tackle when you’re prepared. But you’re not birthing a kid here, you’re just running. So give your story some time to develop. Get strong before you tackle the big boys. Lock and load it. You’ll be happy you did.


Perhaps the single most important thing you can do is this: have no fear.

Because you aren’t getting to a finish line with fear holding you back. You can’t be scared to feel pain. You can’t be scared to go into the woods alone. You can’t be scared of what might happen to your body in the long term.

It’s easier said than done. But it’s gotta get done.

It takes guts to pull the trigger and sign up for a long race. It take balls to wake up every morning and train. But it takes a raw dose of straight fearlessness to put all feelings aside, to go through the pain, to leave it all out there, and get the job done.

Slow. Fast. First. Last. Injured. Wounded. Fit. Fabulous. Crawling… However you finish, you can only do it if you ain’t skurred.

So if you wanna kick this thing in the friggin teeth, then go at it with all you got. Don’t tip toe into it! Buck up and own it. NO FEAR.

Tie it All Together

This is the tricky part for me. I’m 50/50 here. Pulling all of this together seems to be the magic formula for finishing a long race like a 100. If I’m lacking any of the above components, I’ll likely stop running, curl up in a ball on a bathroom floor, and cry like a 4 year old in Kmart. But if you can keep it all together, chances are, you’ll finish your “inspirational 100 mile migration”….That was for you, Jen.and all of this will be worth it! But hey, if you don’t finish, it’s no big deal! Every single thing we do in life can be used as a learning experience. Just smile and Keep Moving Forward.

(Like my bracelet? I do too! Good ultrarunning mantra, right? An awesome gift from my friend. Support him, and get your own here!)


Thanks for reading my blog! Sorry for my two month silence. I didn’t think anyone noticed, until one day when I got an angry DM on Twitter from someone getting crunk on me for not posting…that was awkward..but hey, I wrote! If you stopped by, leave your feedback! Even if you haven’t done a 100, what is your magic mental formula for finishing a race? I’m always learning…Always.. 

51 Replies to “What You Need to Finish a 100”

  1. Ok that foot picture….wtf

    I don’t want to get all sentimental and stuff but i really love seeing how you get your kids right involved in going out in nature and how you balance everything. My daughter is 14 months old and I’m still learning how to balance everything in my life. I really admire what you do and how you do it.

    Good luck for your next 100!! Ancient Oak 100s say whaaaaaass

    1. Thanks Christian!!!! Took me a couple of years to get the whole “balance” thing down…but we do love spending time together outdoors, It’s helped us grow as a family! 🙂 I’m actually not doing AO again this year! Shocking, right? But I have plans for the future.. we’ll see what happens.

  2. Ashley!!!!! This was great!!! I just think you are really awesome and would love to give you a giant hug!!!!!! I am def going to sign up for my first ultra! TY!

  3. Thanks Ash, a great read. I have my first ultra in November this year (just under the 50 mile mark) really looking forward to it. I almost yesterday, allowed myself to sign up for a 184 mile race next year (stupid right?). I got caught up in the moment of wanting to do something special, or completely stupid. Probably the latter! My WHY, was that i thought it would be a fun adventure. However reading the above has made me realise it would have been a mistake. Huge mistake!! I am no where near ready. I shall slowly build the mileage and gain the experience and then, maybe one day, attempt such a mammoth task!
    Thanks again for the insight 🙂

    1. Aw Craig! Thx for your comment! I hope I didn’t discourage you! But you probably made a good choice …just to see if you like it first! my bets are on that you WILL. It’s always a painful good time.

  4. Great to see you back! Sure missed those inspiring and thought provoking posts of yours! This one sure was good timing for me, as I’m facing my own 100 miler in Oct. Actually it’s my first marathon, but at 59 it might as well be a 100 miles! I’m feeling pumped as I’ve completed one 20 mile training run thus far and have another over Labor Day weekend here in MD. on the NCR trail. What concerns me the most is the grit/stupidity aspect. I want this SOOO bad!!! Last year the stupidity won out (tried training like I was 38 instead of 58!) and I had to drop from the marathon after the 20 miler over labor day weekend that I just mentioned. Been smarter in my training this year (more rest and foam rolling to aid recovery), but as you well know, anything can happen on race day. Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Hi Kent!! Good to see you back too, friend! I’m sure you have wanted this for a long time because you’ve written to me about it before! Marathon is hard, but totally doable with smart pacing, nutrition, training, etc. and everything I mentioned above!;) drop me a line and let me know what happens!

  5. Grit is temporary. Stupidity has staying power. — That alone was worth the price of admission! After 5 100s, I’m still baffled. Why am stupid over and over? Stupid in the same old ways and stupid in some new ways? It’s just whatever happens to our brains out there. Something turns off, and other parts–older, mostly repressed parts–turn on. And maybe we actually need that to happen. So, instead of kicking ourselves for the stupid stuff, we need to adjust where possible, and accept that stupid will happen, and needs to happen.

    Anyway, absolutely loved your post. Not like anything else out there. Keep it up!

    1. Good point, Matt! Thanks for dropping by & leaving feedback. I genuinely feel like signing up for these things to begin with is where my stupid starts.. They screw me up all kinda crazy ways. My body, my hormones, etc..And I know they do!!!!

  6. Glad you’re back! Painfully honest, wise and funny as usual. Look forward to your next podcast appearance – you & JDF together are even more of a hoot!

    1. Aw shucks.. Lol! Thanks for this comment! TRN is always a good time! & JDF.. not sure if there is anything left for us to fight about ha! I think we ended up fighting so much we actually started to agree with each other! *GASP!*;)

  7. Great read and although obviously shorter than some of the books ive read about Ultra Running, was more candid and honest… warts n all!!! Thanks for taking the time to write and share and I look forward to the next instalment.


  8. A great read… although obviously shorted than the books Ive read on running Ultras, it was more candid and honest…. warts n all… thanks for taking the time to share and I look forward to the next instalment of your adventures. Cheers

  9. So I’m pretty sure a 26.2 feels like a 5K for you by now 😉 But I loved what you had to say in this post about unshakable confidence and GRIT. I am going to remember those things going into my 22 miler this weekend and my marathon in a couple of weeks. One day I will get to that ultra runner status! I am thinking of running 30 miles for my 30th bday coming up in April 🙂 Should be fun as I’ve never run any distance further than a marathon. Thanks as always for sharing your journey with us.

    1. & thanks for leaving feedback!!!:) you know actually, the marathon is by far the hardest distance for me mentally and physically. I don’t know why but I just can’t master it! If you decide to go for 30 (love that btw) it won’t be too bad of a jump. Honestly it feels the same to me as a marathon. Good luck in your mary & finishing up training!

  10. Yeah, ashruns100 is back with a happy smile on her face. Great read yet again. Almost lost my grit this weekend but after two dirt naps and a kick in the butt, gritted it out in a smart way.

  11. Hey my super-awesome inspiring friend! Love love love your posts -even though I haven’t tackled anything close to 100 yet (key word = yet!), you help me know that the ideas in my head aren’t too crazy and the need to escape to discover my inner “me” is not my thought alone. Wanted to share a little video project I have been working on -hope it maybe inspires you and makes you smile as well! https://vimeo.com/72834479

    1. Deanna you would totally and completely slay a 100!!! Absolutely no doubt in my mind with that one. you are insanely talented. Checking out your project right now. Nice to hear from you, girl.

  12. Great Blog Ash. I DNF’ed my second 100 which I signed up for as a backup if I didn’t finish my first one. After I quit I decided that you needed to have a better reason than “I signed up.” Also – thanks for keeping douche in my vocabulary. Finally, give some props to JDF for finishing AC100 and LT100 within a three week period.


  13. Good stuff. I’m no 100-miler, not even close. But one thing I’ve learned as that I’ve had to fully embrace the process as I gear up for Route 66.. There’s a whole lot of training — some of it unpleasant — before that race. Been educational for me.

  14. I just love how you took a break and spent some quality time with your family for a few months. At the beginning of this summer, I was way too focused on getting in more miles for yet another marathon and kind of phoned it in when I was with my little daughter. When I started seeing pictures on Instagram of you sharing all kinds of trail adventures with your kiddos, I realized what an idiot I was being. There were only a few weeks left before summer break ended, but I took my munchkin on as many hikes as I could in the time we had left. She LOVED it!! Running? Meh, that took care of itself. Earlier mornings, later nights, whatever.

    As far as the Ultra stuff in your post, it’s fascinating to read all those points. I have no plans to ever run a 100-miler (maybe a 50 someday), but my method of finishing the last few miles of a marathon is to shut off my Garmin and let go of any pace expectations. I just tell myself to run the rest of the way as best as I can. Sometimes it ends up being a bit slower, sometimes surprisingly faster, but it’s always everything I’ve got left.

    Thanks for an interesting, awesome blog post!

    1. I remember your comments on Instagram! And they were special to me! It’s so so easy to get caught up in the rush of training to forget what really matters to you most. Has happened to me more than I would like to admit! I’m happy you spent time with your girl hiking, isn’t it so amazingly fun? Watching them soak it all in… it’s awesome.
      I love your tips for turning off the Garmin. Good call. I should try that next time. The last few miles I usually find that I’m beating myself up over something stupid!
      ….. Thanks for commenting. I appreciate it!

  15. I read this post just several days before running my first marathon (Mesa Falls Marathon in Teton Natl Park) and it was seriously such a boost! I think for almost the entire marathon I kept reminding myself why I was running it – it really was a representation of overcoming a lot of personal battles in the last year and my need to make something good out of all the rough stuff. I wouldn’t have known how important it is to do that without your advice.

    Anyway – thank you! I’ve always loved your blog and you couldn’t have come back from a break (and written this post) at a better time.

  16. Great stuff again. I’ve yet to do a 100, but have done some 50s and a 100k. I always repeat to myself “No matter how good or how bad you feel, don’t worry it won’t last”. It makes the highs and lows more manageable for me.

  17. Pingback: Claud Woodand
  18. This was really awesome to read. I stumbled upon your site and chose this article. I’m not a runner, at least not at the moment, but this got my juices flowing… Inspiration has led me down many a path I never expected. Thank you.

What do you think? Talk back to me!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: