Factors For Estimating Your Race Finish

First off, thanks for joining me again for our RDU in motion blog!

Those of you who know me know that one of my life’s dreams is to run Badwater 135 (a 135-mile foot race through Death Valley in July). If you would please take just a very brief moment to answer this extremely short and simple survey, I would be so appreciative. This data will help with my application process. Also, the questions are funny – trust me! Thanks! Love you all!

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/3LHGJ7Z (or) www.veganultrarun.com

This week’s blog is about “Estimating Your Finish Time For Unusual Mileage and or Circumstances.”

Let’s gauge an estimated time for 135 miles for say…me…and let’s say it’s in Death Valley California in the summer. I’ve broken considerations for how to estimate race time based on 4 criteria and their sub-variables. You should be able to use this as a template for whatever crazy race you’re attempting – that is if you survive the minutia laden processes here. Enjoy…

Criteria #1 – CONTROL GROUP

Add up the collective finish times of whichever distance you have multi-data for and reflect the most similar distance you are attempting to estimate yet is still UNDER its full milage. Add up all of your completed races of the same distance (in this case all of my 100-miler finishing times rounded to the closest half hour). Then, divide that number by the total hours by the number of completed races (in this case 12). Just for summary and simple clarity here, if you were trying to gauge a finishing time for a 60k and you’ve finished 5 marathons, we’d want to add up the total finishing time of all those marathons then divide that number by 5.

Total Hours of all races of equal distance ÷ Number of Races = Average Expected Completion Time of Said Distance

1. Pinhoti 100 – 28:24:22 – Average 28.5 hours

2. Yeti 100 – 19:38:17 – Average 20 hours

3. Massanutten 100 – 29:39:58 – Average 30 hours

4. Umstead 100 – 22:52:21 – Average 23 hours

5. Charleston 100 – 22:49:52 – Average 23 hours

6. Uwharrie 100 – 32:38:10 – Average 33 hours

7. Grindstone 100 – 31:30:19 – Average 32 hours

8. Massanutten – 31:39:15 – Average 32 hours

9. Umstead 100 – 28:58:15 – Average 29 hours

10. Rocky Raccoon 100 – 25:47:09 – Average 26 hours

11. Devil Dog 100 – 30:23:39 – Average 30 hours

12. Old Dominion – 27:19:47 – Average 27 hours

TOTAL: 333.5 hours

333.5 ÷ 12 = 27.7916667 (28 HOURS)

Criteria #2 – SPLITS

Consider the cumulative splits (or) time for the remainder or difference of the milage you are estimating (in this case 35 miles). Since I don’t have a large pool of data around 35-mile races, my next best option is to consider my cumulative marathon (26.2 miles) or 50-mile races. In this case, I’m going to add up my cumulative finishing times for 50 milers because of two factors:

A) I have a similar pool of data around 50-miler and marathon finishes (hypothetically if I had 1-2 50 mile finishes and 7 marathon finishes, I would opt for the marathon as the clearer indicator)

B) As a rule of distance running, when estimating finish times for longer distances, you must always factor fatigue into your splits. For instance, if you consistently run a 3.5-hour marathon, you cannot and should not expect to run a 7 hour 50-miler. You must always account for depletion extra miles will incur. For 50 milers, add an extra 2 hours x 2 of your best marathon time. For 100 miles, add an extra 3-5 hours to your best 50-miler x 2 just to be conservative. That said, since we’re estimating for 35 miles after the legs already have 100 miles on them, we’ll stick with our 50-mile average because of the aforementioned “fatigue factor.” I will also include some 50k and slightly longer distances as, in my particular case, these races reflect a vast set of environmental contingencies that can give me a clearer picture of possible finish time as we couple advantage with disadvantage. For instance, at the Badwater Cape Fear (50 miles-ish) I was running on the beaches I grew up on; whereas, at Bryce Canyon (50 miles-ish), I was running at high altitude, with a lot of elevation (climbing), and exposure to a very alien and challenging environment for my body. Also, I selected races where I was giving it my all. Other races in this database were ones I did with another person and was not running at my full potential, so these were omitted from the data pool.

50 milers and similar splits to determine the extra 35 miles (rounded to the closest half hour)

1. Bryce Canyon 50 – 15:05:36 – Average 15 hours

2. Arches 50 – 8:44:12 – Average 9 hours

3. Badwater Cape Fear – 9:54:00 – Average 10 hours

4. North Face 50 – 10:22:33 – Average 10 hours

5. Table Rock 50k – 7:02:32 – Average 7 hours

6. Laurel Highlands 70 – 17:05:44 – Average 17 hours

TOTAL: 68 hours

So, using the same math as above…

68 hours ÷ 6 races = 11.3333333 (11 hours)

We’re going to go ahead and keep these 11 hours as an estimate to go 35 miles. I know it sounds unambitious to you speed demons, but let’s look at the upcoming criteria coupled with that “fatigue factor,” and it will make more sense.

So, adding up the cumulative 100-miler hours with our 35-mile hours estimate group (28 + 11 = 39) we’re looking at a total of 39 hours for 135 miles thus far. But wait, the fun’s just starting!


We need to think about where we’re doing a race. Is the environment familiar or alien? Consider altitude, temperature, barometric pressure, terrain, weather, flatness, verticalness and any other generally “weird” environmental factor you can think of. Maybe the place has an unusual amount of roots on the trail that you’re not accustomed to – whatever. If these factors are very similar to where you normally train then don’t add time to your estimated finish. If they are different, consider the various challenges these environmental factors could place on your performance. Temperature, altitude, and hills are the 3 “big ones” in my opinion.

We cannot know the unknowable – we only know the past. Anxiety comes not from the unknown but past experience and our fear of reliving the negative experience. So, it’s not the “unknown” we fear inasmuch as it’s our negative past experiences “replaying” what we fear. We usually don’t have sound reason to believe such circumstances will repeat themselves. This is something to think about when things get tough in races. Don’t project into the future and catastrophize things that haven’t gone wrong yet. Just focus on what you DO want to happen. Instead of internal chatter like, “what if I go into anaphylactic shock?”… Go for something a little brighter like, “What if everything goes right?!” Also, remember that the fear we feel in the moment is almost never as bad as the next moment when we’re doing the thing we feared. The actual anxiety always feels worse than the deed. I know, easier said than done. It’s a developed tool and discipline. That said, mistakes in our history are very valuable teachers. For instance, I DNF’d (did not finish) The Leadville 100 and Ouray 100 both of which are at high altitude. Now, I don’t make excuses. The reason I could not complete those races is because at the time I could not – I was not experienced enough, nor prepared. But I know altitude played a big part as I have a history of not acclimating well in these environments. So, where is the race in question for you? For me (if you haven’t already figured this out), I’m calculating my estimated finishing time for Badwater 135 which is set in Death Valley California in July. Yes, hot. So, let’s ask ourselves some questions to determine if we should tack on some more hours:

  • Have I been there before? Yes
  • If yes, has it been hostile to my body? Yes
  • Have I raced under commensurately hostile conditions? Yes
  • Have I already factored these commensurately hostile race hours into our ongoing equation of considerations? Yes
  • Do I know the racecourse well? Yes
  • Do I have any reason to think that something is likely to go logistically wrong such as crew not being able to find me or get me water when I need it? Yes
  • Do I know how the race works including rules, culture, cut-offs, logistics, etc.? Yes
  • Do I have reason to believe there may be anything I’m not taking into consideration? No
  • Scrutinizing all previous questions with great care and consideration, do I feel that I need to tack on any additional hours to my time? Yes
  • Why? Because Death Valley is a brutal place and I have seen what it can do to some of the world’s best athletes. Therefore, I will not take this hostile environment for granted.

ADDED HOURS: 2 due to ENVIRONMENT & CONTINGENCIES, looking at a total of 41 hours when coupled with the aforementioned 39 hours of our combined (and demonstrable) control group and race splits criteria.

Criteria #4 – RACE COURSE

Study the race course carefully and understand its difficulties and its aspects which you can personally take advantage of. Does it have terrain, grade, or aid stations in a particular area that may specifically benefit you and your strengths as a runner? Think of anything about your race in question that concerns or pleases you. For instance, when I crewed at Badwater 135 in 2019,  I watched my buddy Joshua pass several competitors in the last 12 miles of the race. Why? Because the road to the Mount Whitney begins climbing at a nearly 80% grade for this (brutal) last section where the runner eventually gets to the finish line at over 8,000 feet altitude. Most people living at sea level begin to feel the effects of high altitude at approx. 5000 feet. But Joshua lives in Essex Park Colorado – at altitude and a very “vertical” place in general, meaning the guy is used to running up mountains. So, while this last section was a total advantage to him, it was and is a hindrance for most of us; a major factor in any would-be Badwater competitor’s race plan. Because I intimately know the cruelty of this climb and moreover, have raced enough to be able to look at a race’s elevation profile and know this would be a challenge. That said, albeit, I have accounted for extra hours on our additional 35 miles in criteria 2, and added extra hours for splits, environment, contingencies in criteria 3, I’m going to face reality and add an extra 2 hours for this climb to the Mount Whitney portal just because I know it’s going to be difficult.

ADDED HOURS: 2 due to the racecourse, looking at a total of 43 hours when coupled with the aforementioned 41 hours of combined race splits, environment and conditions. TOTAL of 43 hours estimated finishing time.

Summary Equation: (average finishing time most similar distance) + (average time of splits for additional mileage) + (a realistic gauge of additional time considering the environment, contingencies, and racecourse in question) = TOTAL HOURS

By RRCA Certified Coach Scott Waldrop: https://www.rrca.org/about/state-reps/northcarolina


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