Looking back seven weeks after the Grand Slam, I decided to have a Q&A with myself on some of the frequent questions received about this event
Why Tackle the Grand Slam?
When asked why he decided to climb Mount Everest, the famous mountaineer George Mallory’s three word answer is now an iconic statement in the sport… “Because it’s there.” I’ve asked several of the slammers this question, and I’ve received a multitude of answers:
- To see what I’m made of
- With odds of current race lotteries being so low, this may be my first, and last opportunity
- To finish something that only 280 others have ever completed
- To show my kids that you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it
These are all outstanding answers to a question that I’ve received multiple times. In order to give this challenge justice, I felt compelled to come up with a sufficiently poignant answer. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. Thinking over it for several weeks now, I chose to tackle this event solely because it would be hard. Life is too damn easy in so many ways these days. Jared Campbell, my ultrarunning man crush, summed it up perfectly in a recent podcast, “We live in an air conditioned society.” Living in San Luis Obispo, we actually don’t need air conditioning, but this is exactly the point. Today’s society is so focused on taking away the pain though medication or intoxication (Americans make up 5% of the worlds population, but ingest 50% of the worlds pharmaceuticals), that we rarely experience the true bliss that comes from battling through intense uncomfortableness.
What Did You Learn Throughout the Grand Slam?
Hopefully my “enlightened” answer to the first question didn’t stop you from reading this far, as I actually have an answer to this question. The famous Texan ultrarunner Paul Terranova said it best when asked about his thoughts on completing the Grand Slam in 2012, “The Grand Slam was a crucible of learning.” Here are a few of the specifics that I took from this crucible of learning:
Completely underestimating the amount of sacrifice necessary to complete this journey was a definite miss on my part. You will be forced to sacrifice in nearly all areas of your life to complete this event, and I should have thought through the potential impact of these races before throwing my name in the hat.
Work, Relationships, Time, Money, Fitness, Sleep, Sanity…to name a few
Having a solid support system in place is integral in preparing for the Grand Slam. Fortunately, I have a partner and best friend that understands and fully supports me chasing these sometimes outrageous dreams. Alejandra couldn’t have been more supportive throughout these 11 weeks… and the additional 5 months leading up to Western States. Not kicking me out of the bedroom for sleeping in an altitude tent. Being ok with me waking up at 4:15am for several months, and passing out at 8ish. Not busting my chops for traveling with work at least 2-3 weeks out of each month, and then adding in weekend travel for these races. Without her support, I wouldn’t have been able to tackle this adventure.
Working with a coach for the first time in my ultrarunning career caused some serious anxiety. Without formal training or years of consistent running to lean on, I was nervous about my results, and more importantly somewhat terrified of how the workouts would be. Thomas kicked my tail for 5+ months, but was empathetic and flexible all along the way. Already having a ton of respect for his running ability, I’m honored he was willing to work with a newbie like me, and happy to have met a great friend.
My dad, Kris, Aaron, mom, Dave, Dizzle, Nick, Eric, Canice, Luke and Joanie all sacrificed from their own lives to support me throughout this summer. I’m not comfortable asking others for help, but I’m so thankful that you offered selflessly to ride this wave with me.
Also, having a nutrition partner in Physiophyx has been a giant support in preparation and recovery for these events. Tony, Terry and Michael have been awesome to work with, and I couldn’t be happier to see this company grow and continue to support my crazy endeavors.
If you’re not much of a planner, you’ll get a “free” graduate level course in logistics training plotting out the Grand Slam. Travel, housing, car rentals, race recon, recovery, drop bag prep, training, acclimation, pre/during/post race nutrition…
The consensus from many slammers is that you get stronger over the course of the Grand Slam. Granted, I did a lot of hiking and gym work in the 11 weeks between events, but I definitely did not become a stronger runner throughout the Grand Slam. Seven weeks out from Wasatch, I’m realizing how unfit I became throughout the course of these 11 weeks. Aside from a few, relatively fast downhill racing miles, I didn’t perform one quality workout in nearly three months. With a heart rate nearly 15-20 beats/minute faster than it should be at the same running pace from June, I’ve got some work to do.
What Would I Do Differently
Whether it’s the Grand Slam or preparing for the Angeles Crest 100 in 2017, I will definitely be taking a rest day each week, and will be incorporating at least 1 gym workout as well. Listening to ultrarunners that have been competing at a high level for decades, consistently training injury free, is a commonality that tends to breed success. My focus on quality workouts (tempo runs, intervals, fartleks, progression runs, etc.) will also increase, as fitness is king… whether on the track, or in a 100 miler.
Recommendations for Future Slammers
Respect each race in it’s own right. Just as in an ultra, worry about the immediate steps in front of you to the next aid station, and not about the miles to go before the finish. Just because a race looks “easy” on paper, means absolutely zilch when racing the Grand Slam. The Vermont 100 nearly knocked me out of the slam, and it’s by far the easiest of the four races. When you’ve never raced a back-to-back 100 in 19 days, you never know what your body is going to do… or say to you.
Remember to thank those that helped you get here! Yes, there is a lot of personal sacrifice that goes into preparing for 100 milers, but there is also a lot of sacrifice from those that support you in these crazy endeavors. Don’t forget to remind your support system how much they mean to you.
Enjoy the journey! For many, hell for nearly everyone that finishes it, the Grand Slam will be the first and last time you’re privileged to tackle these four races in one season.
Would I do it again?
In a heartbeat!