Sunday, 12 February 2012

The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning

With the number of ultras now requiring lotteries and Western States getting so hard to get into if you have to rely on the lottery, it got me thinking about how that changes people's goals and race schedules.

For example, the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning in the US involves running WS100, Vermont 100, Leadville 100 and Wasatch 100 in the same long summer. In the past this has always been a fairly small event but it seems more and more people are thinking about it if they get into WS100. And why not? WS100 and Wasatch have lotteries, but if you're lucky in the former (plus you complete the first three of the quartet) then Wasatch will let you in too.

When the odds of getting into WS100 weren't too bad, the idea of 'one day' doing the Grand Slam seemed feasible for many hardcore ultrarunners. But now the odds are so low for getting a spot at WS100 (and only likely to get worse as the sport's popularity rises) that I think a lot of people are reasoning that the 'one day' has to be the year they get lucky in that lottery. Otherwise they may never get another shot!

A friend of mine, Paul Terranova, is doing it this year and the difficulty of getting the WS100 spot has influenced his decision, even though he's never run a 100-miler before (he's also doing Ironman Hawaii to be the first to add that to the Grand Slam in one year). Last year, another of my friends, James Elson, attempted it even though he was injured in the five months leading to WS100 and could barely walk (he finished WS100, DNFed at Vermont then finished Leadville!). Again, his reasoning was that he might not get another chance so he was going to try it, even when injured.

Hopefully the growth in the number of races and not just in participant numbers will alleviate this to some degree. But it seems that there's a huge premium on being able to do the historic ultras so I suspect more an more people will attempt challenges like the Grand Slam even if not as prepared as they'd ideally like to be. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing, but certainly reflects the personalities attracted to the sport and the increasing popularity of ultrarunning.

If anyone has stats for this year's Grand Slam compared to previous years, let me know and I'll link to it here.


  1. I can tell you that I decided if I was selected for Western States I would attempt the Grand Slam. I was selected this year after three years of not being drawn and so I'm on to the Grand Slam. However, I'm not a total newb. I've at least run Wasatch, Leadville and five other 100s. I have wondered how many people may pull the Grand Smal trigger with no prior 100-mile experience because of exactly the issue you bring up.

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  3. A friend of mine, Keith Straw, was crazy enough to throw Badwater into the Grandslam mix (2010?). He finished all of them. Imagine running Badwater, then running Vermont only 5 days later. Yikes!!!