I started track in about 1991 - junior high, so I have been running for about 27 years. I started doing longer distances in college. My first half and full marathons happened while at the university. I feel like this is when I started looking for races that were new and different than what I have done in the past. A new distance, a new challenge drew me in to sign up for races that motivated me to run. Each race has wonderful memories - from the people I trained and race with to pushing my limits, trying something new, and learning more about myself and running. I have been fortunate to have been able to finish an Ironman and a 100 mile race. I remember interviewing coaches when I thought I wanted one for the Ironman. (I ultimately ended up with a wonderful mentor for the Ironman instead of a coach.) One of the coaches I interviewed said running an ultra was much harder than an Ironman. I found that interesting since my background was in running. Now that I have done both, I was able to find out for myself.
My Ironman My 100 miler
Logged more training hours Logged less training hours
14 hours to finish 27 hours to finish
140.6 miles 100 miles
Cheerleaders only Active crew and pacers
Fuel/hydration important Fuel/hydration important
Time cutoffs for each discipline Time cutoffs late in the race at aid stations
Bike issues No mechanical breakdowns
Variety of muscles used Only running/walking muscles used.
Pacing important Pacing important
Weather can affect race Weather can affect race
Other competitors can interfere in your race Other competitors rarely interfere with your race
There are many similarities for the two, but some big differences that definitely makes one more of a challenge. For me, I would say the Ironman was tougher, maybe it is because I have been a runner so long, but I feel it is more than that. The training was longer, more intense, more dangerous from my viewpoint. Riding a bike on the road can be scary with drivers that do not want bikers on the road. I also thought about what ifs on the bike - flat tire, hitting a pothole making me crash....Open water swimming has it own risks associated with it. Swimming in the OHIO River, need I saw more? Running seemed safe, but using the same muscles mile after mile is asking for injury too. I ran different paces and walked during the 100 miler to keep switching leg muscles. When I was running and training for the 100 miler, I didn't have as many doubts and unknowns as I did for the Ironman. Ironman pushed me more outside of my comfortzone which may also be why I think the Ironman was tougher. I feel like if I were to train for another Ironman I would still be anxious on the bike and some open water swims, but would have more confidence knowing I have made it through once before. Don't get me wrong, the 100 miler was hard. Nutrition, feet issues, stomach issues can cause for disastrous races. Many things can go wrong on race day for both races. I feel though I could personally fix most things that would go wrong on my 100 miler and still finish the race than I could for Ironman. I also loved how you can have your own personal crew and pacers for the 100 as the Ironman you would get disqualified for any outside assistance - even help changing a tire or water from non-aid station person. I enjoyed the more laxed atmosphere of the ultra race as well which calmed the nerves.
Fortunately, both of these races, were great races for me. My race day memories are filled with joy and happiness. Do I see myself do either of these races again? Possibly. Another 100 before another Ironman. But preferably, would like another physical challenge whatever that might be....