The First Grand Slammer: Tom Green

Grand Slam of Ultrarunning - Neal Gorman and Tom GreenPart of the fun at the Bull Run Run 50 (BRR) each April is a “North vs. South” Civil War themed competition among the runners. 150 years ago, Civil War battles took place in the area where the race is located and the friendly competition pays tribute in remembrance. If a runner is from the north, they of course run for the North team and adorn a corresponding team bib number ranging between 1 and 500. If one is from the south, they run for the South team and wear a bib number ranging between 501 and 999. The lowest bib numbers in each group, beginning with a 1 or a 501, are set aside for runners in each team with the most BRR finishes.

In the photo above, at a picnic table in Hemlock Overlook Regional Park in Clifton, Virginia, home of BRR, I sit with Tom Green, who proudly sports bib number “502.” The photo was taken moments after Tom finished the race in its 20th anniversary year. Tom informed me and a few others in a conversation that he hadn’t logged a single run over five miles in the preceding three months and that a doctor had only cleared him to run a week prior. (Something about a knee injury.) Under trained and undeterred, Tom toed the line at BRR, ran his race and along with Frank Probst (“501”) and Tim Stanley (“503”), finished his 20th consecutive BRR. That is 1,000 miles apiece at BRR; a large number by any comparison. Big congrats to Tom, Frank and Tim.

Many know Tom as the original Grand Slammer. A long, long time ago, back in 1986, there were only four 100 mile trail race events in the United States: Old Dominion (held each June) Western States (also held in June), Leadville (August) and Wasatch (September). In the years prior to 1986, Tom suffered poor performances at Old Dominion finishing only once in three attempts. Originally designed as a one-day endurance run, Old Dominion’s then cut-off time was 24 hours, a finish time that for years would elude even the fittest runners seeking to finish the race and be awarded the coveted oval shaped Old Dominion cast silver buckle, with its signature enlarged running figure overlaying a raised Virginia map. In 1985, fed up with his Old Dominion results, Tom decided that the following year he would not only finish Old Dominion, but also run each of the three other US 100 mile trail races – a feat that had yet to be accomplished, much less attempted. Tom kept this to himself. At the same time, Fred Pilon, then editor at Ultrarunning magazine testified publicly in an article that he would attempt running each US 100 mile trail race the following summer, billing the series as “The Grand Slam.” A public discourse ensued of the ‘craziness’ of such a goal and so – naturally – 10 other runners from across the land signed on to attempt The Grand Slam as well.

On Saturday June 7th, 1986, among the runners toeing the line at Old Dominion, a group of 12 including Tom, began the race with the expressed goal of running The Grand Slam. Eventually, only six of these runners finished Old Dominion. Five others DNF’d at Western States three weeks later, and, thereafter, only Tom remained in the hunt for an elusive Grand Slam completion. As the weeks counted down to Saturday, August 16th, and the start of Leadville, a buzz centered on Tom’s effort: could he go on and actually finish all four 100-mile races? Tom did the job at Leadville, finishing in an impressive time of 25:00:09.

Finally, only Wasatch remained. The first grand daddy of big climbing, suffer-fest mountain trail 100 milers in the US. “One hundred miles of heaven and hell,” proclaimed the event organizers. By the time Tom arrived in Utah to run Wasatch on Saturday, the race organizers planned something special for him, should his effort prove sufficient and he actually finish the race. Finish he did; Tom nailed it, finishing seventh overall in a time of 26:43:16. Tom received a special recognition and trophy at the post-race ceremony and officially became known as the first “Grand Slammer.”

As Tom and I chatted at the picnic table, he told me with a smile and a gaze that appeared to look back in time – to 1986 – that his Grand Slam summer was one of the “best experiences” of his life. He was 35 years old then; my age now. It’s easy to feel the enthusiasm when listening to such a story from an individual one looks up to and with whom one feels a connection. I feel the same way as Tom about my Grand Slam summer two years ago. I already and will forever know that when I am old and look back on my life, my Grand Slam summer of 2010 and the indelible memories it etched on to my soul, will be one of the stand outs. I imagine every other Grand Slam finisher feels something similar. It is simply an irresistible, unshakable feeling. Each Grand Slam alum has Tom to thank for paving the way and creating such a high standard in what has become – in my opinion – the most difficult, unique and classic ultra running race series anywhere. And for giving us the opportunity to create such lasting memories for ourselves.

Tom went on to speak about finishing BRR. It was evident how pleased he was to finish the race, feeling good and on little training. “Imagine what I could do with more training,” said the 61 year old. Indeed, the ultra running results of the legendary Tom Green continue to impress.

[Editor’s note: The author, Neal Gorman, set a new Grand Slam of Ultrarunning record in 2010. He ran the Western States (June – 18:14:00), Vermont (July – 16:33:11), Leadville (August – 18:47:54), and Wasatch (September – 21:19:11) 100 milers in a grand total of 74:54:16.]

There are 18 comments

  1. Jim Skaggs

    This article brings back memories of my Grand Slam last year. As the summer wore on and friends found out what I was doing, I couldn't believe the support I was getting. I also was surprised at the mental stress. I knew the physical stress would be there, but the stress of worrying about getting hurt in between races, or even during races really built up until the day before Wasatch. At that point I knew I would finish and I've never slept so good the night before a 100 miler. When I crossed the finish line at the Homestead, I couldn't believe I had actually done it. Last summer's running adventures will always remain as one of my favorite.

  2. Anonymous

    The Grand Slam is cool, but the problem now-a-days is it's subject to a 10% chance to even get in. Not many folks will really compete in it anymore,which is a shame.

  3. Rob Youngren

    Thanks Neal. This brought back memories of my own Grand Slam effort "way back" in 1998 when I was still just a kid, just 24 years old. In typical youthful exuberance I decided to sport a different color theme for each of my Slam races: Old Dominion (Red), Western States (Blue), Leadville (Green) and Wasatch Front (Orange). The color theme included, socks, shirt, hat, painted shoes and even dying my bleach blonde hair! ha! Sweet youth! That was a fun and painful summer that I'll always remember. Thanks!

  4. art

    A little more history would be nice for those of us who aren't completely filled in.

    When and why was Old Dominion replaced by Vermont ?

      1. Neal Gorman

        From: http://run100s.com/gs.htm

        "Note: When Vermont began in 1989, it became an alternate to Old Dominion as one of the four 100-milers. Also, the Old Dominion cutoff was 30 hours in 1986, 1987 and 1988. It was lowered to 24 hours in 1989 and 1990 and has been 28 hours in 1991 and later. In 2002, the Old Dominion Memorial was allowed to substitute for the original Old Dominion, which took a one-year "sabbatical". Starting in 2003, the Old Dominion (and the Old Dominion Memorial) is no longer allowed to be one of the four 100s. In 2008, Western States was cancelled (due to fires) and the Arkansas Traveler became the fourth race."

        Not exactly the "why" answer you're looking for but kind of covers the "when".

        1. Rob Youngren

          Not sure why or who gives the right to shut out Old Dominion from all future Grand Slam considerations. It's still the second oldest 100 in the US next to WS100 and now it's back on firm footing. It's a class event on a challenging yet honest course. Shame that it isn't included in the Grand Slam any longer. I think a lot of would-be Slammers liked the Vermont option simply because they could go into WS100 fresh unlike if they did OD which would have been first in the series…

  5. Shannon

    I'm a newbie, having only a few "cupcake" 100's, a spattering of lesser distance ultras, and one highly traumatizing last place finish (2 hours after the cut off) at The Bear under my belt.
    Hooked on the Rockies after my visit to the Cashe Range, I decided that entries were going into all the lotteries and, if by some twist of fate I was selected for WS, of course I would Slam all the way.
    Sure enough, out of six entries, I managed two, the Empire State Building Run Up which is NOT in the Rockies- IS literally down the street from my house-and has become it's own special fiasco, and the beautiful and well-oiled machine that is BRR.
    So I decided to invent my own slam, and I found suitable tests of mettle in 5 different states that I'll be stringing together for a unique and Quixotic experience of a lifetime.
    My entries are in for all but 2, and I will receive no plaque for completing all 5, but hopefully I'll find a keepsake along the way to AC100, BOB100, Plain, the inaugural Run Rabbit Run100, or my settling of unfinished business at The Bear.
    Wish me luck!

  6. Trail Clown

    Is there anyone who has completed a 100-miler in every state? (Do all 50 states have a 100-miler now?)

    It kind of reminds me of the explosion of wineries in the U.S.– Twenty-Five years ago you had just a handful of 100's to run and just a handful of wineries to taste wine at. Now you can find a 100 and a winery pretty close to where-ever you might reside…

    Pretty cool…especially combining the two hobbies…

    As for slamming, that is insanely hardcore, whether "fast" or "slow"…

  7. Craig

    Great story for sure. Thanks so much for sharing. Understanding the history of our sport and the roles people played means a lot to me so I love stuff like this.

  8. Doug

    Neal, thx for writing this. Tom is a legend and I'm glad to have spent time with him. His stories and life experiences are classic. We could be so lucky at 61 to be able to complete BRR much less without training to speak of.

  9. Brad Koenig

    Actually, I have been told that Old Dominion is really the oldest 100 in the US, as the first few running's of WS were not a full 100 miles (and Old Dominion always was). Can anyone else out there confirm this?

    This is what I was told by a friend of mine who is part of the OD organization. His official title in the OD organization is as "Historian" (I think? I can't remember). He does great work for OD100, fighting with local land owners (over ancient property easements and rights of way, etc.) and working closely with park officials, fighting about old property easements, and "ancient" Virginia trails (that they cannot close because it was/is actually an official public road from a 100+ years back, etc.). He always has a lot of fantastic stories to tell (of OD100 history, local Massanutten trails, local Civil War history, and all of his ultra race experiences). I always have a great time sharing some trails with him.

    I can't wait to get back to the Massanuttens.

    Happy Trails!

    -Brad

  10. Suzi Cope

    The WHY question is easy for me to answer, regarding why Vermont instead of OD. I ran Old Dominion in 1987 in 27:57 after finishing WS twice. Finished Wasatch in the same year in 31:46. Saw the Grand Slam award ceremony and told RD John Grobbin he needed to change the trophy from a male figure to something unisex. Did not get in the WS lottery in 88, but did for 89. Ran Leadville and Angeles Crest in 88. Old Dominion was changed to a 24 hour format which was not in my mind in the spirit of the Grand Slam award. I spoke with John Grobbin and told him of a new 100 with a woman race director in Vermont, suggesting it as an alternative. The idea was discussed and approved. Four women, including myself completed the Grand Slam in 1989 and I was the first to receive the Big Bird Grand Slam trophy.

    All this before the internet;) but that is another story,

    Suzi Cope

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