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Performance Life: The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning

Grand Slam


Photo: Facchino Photography

Photo: Facchino Photography

Photo: Sports Illustrated/Getty Images


Because running 100 miles is not enough, an ambitious bunch of ultrarunners have challenged themselves with the Grand Slam.


The Grand Slam award is given out to runners who finish four of the toughest, oldest, and most prestigious 100-mile runs within one calendar year. The Grand Slam includes the Western States 100-mile run, Vermont 100-mile run, Leadville Trail 100-mile run, and the Wasatch Front 100-mile run.


Only 15 ultrarunners finished the Slam successfully in 2012. They learned how to dig deep as they spent continuous hours running over burly mountain trails, through climate changes, and through rivers. They also were tested by nausea, sleep deprivation, hallucinations, emotional highs and lows, hypothermia, dehydration, and endless other variables.


Most runners need 24 hours or more to finish a 100-mile race. This involves staying awake and running through night and darkness. As exhaustion sets in, the ultrarunner’s mind starts playing tricks concerning reality.


With all of these variables and more, a DNF (Did Not Finish) is commonplace. The finish rate for the Slam hovers around 50 percent or lower. All it takes is one wrong step or decision, and it’s over due to injury.


Neal Gorman, who holds the record for fastest time for the Grand Slam and who won it in 2010, sums up what it takes to finish the Slam: “A commitment to not quitting.”


What first attracted Gorman to the event? “The Grand Slam seemed to embody what I interpreted ‘ultra’ running to be,” he said. “Not just running, but finishing back-to-back, to-back, to-back grueling 100-milers in one summer.”


Gorman finished hours ahead of his nearest competitors. While others were reduced to a walk, he cruised up the mountains and flew at high speeds on the declines.


About his experience, he said, “It was a very positive, life-changing one. It was the summer of a lifetime. I spent time in California, Maine, Vermont, Colorado, and Utah during the course of traveling for each event and met lots of new people along the way.”


Going Long and Fast


Photo: Brett Rivers
Ian Sharman

The goal of most Slammers is to finish. Others, like Neal Gorman, focus on speed. Although Gorman’s Grand Slam speed record seems unapproachable, it will fall someday.


Among those ultrarunners who stand a chance to challenge that record is Ian Sharman. He has raced in 30 countries and completed more than 170 marathons and ultras. He holds the record for the North American Trail 100-mile race, running it in only 12 hours and 44 minutes. This year will be Sharman’s first attempt at the Grand Slam. He says his draw to ultrarunning is an addiction to the freedom, people, and places he comes across.


Whether or not Sharman breaks the record, there is no doubt he will have a good time. In the past, Sharman has run in marathons in various costumes, such as Elvis® and Spider-Man®, for the Guinness World Records™. He says, “The crowds go crazy, and it’s a good way to spice up road marathons and add some variety.”




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