2013 Grand Slam of Ultrarunning—Part 4: Heaven and Hell

[Editor’s Note: This is the fourth and final installment in our 2013 Grand Slam of Ultrarunning article series. We published Part 1 after the Western States 100, Part 2 after the Vermont 100, and Part 3 after the Leadville 100. We’ve also published a couple additional articles on the competition at the front of the Grand Slam, post-Leadville and post-Wasatch 100 interviews with Ian Sharman and Nick Clark, and Grand Slam champ Ian Sharman’s report.]

Grand Slam Stats

The 2013 Grand Slam of Ultrarunning is complete! Western States, Vermont, Leadville, Wasatch. Ten weeks. Four hundred miles.

*records scratching, aghast shouting, cats flying everywhere*

I know, right? But 22 folks did just that, finished their personal journeys and set a collective record for the most Grand Slam finishers in a year. In alphabetical order, the 2013 Grand Slam of Ultrarunning finishers are:

  • Dennis Ahern
  • Bob Ayers, Jr.
  • Chris Barnwell
  • Andre Blumberg
  • Dan Brenden
  • Liza Canowitz
  • Jay Donosky
  • Traci Falbo
  • Chihping Fu
  • Stephany Hiller
  • Will Jorgenson
  • Ryan Lund
  • Tim McGargill
  • Abby McQueeney Penamonte
  • Michael Miller
  • Iris Priebe
  • Peter Priolo
  • Brandon Salomon
  • Terry Sentinella
  • Jonathan Shark
  • Ian Sharman
  • Keith Straw

Anytime you put a group of runners together, you have speedsters who emerge at the front. This year’s men’s and women’s champs are Ian Sharman and Abby McQueeney Penamonte. Ian set a new Grand Slam course record, finishing all four races in a combined time of 69:49:38, which is a bit more than four five hours faster than Neal Gorman’s 2010 record. And, Abby, well, Abby’s women’s win was so dominating that she was the second-fastest overall finisher among this year’s slammers. Heck yeah, girl.

Ian Sharman - 2013 Leadville 100 - Outward Bound inbound

Ian cruising 70 miles into Leadville. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Abby finishing Wasatch

Abby finishing Wasatch. Photo: Dan Verdi

Within this bunch of way-out-there folks, there’s a guy who is still many, many steps beyond even them. That’s Dan Brenden. In completing the 2013 Slam, he did so for the, you’ll need both hands to count ’em, eighth time. Yowch, Dan, you have some strong pegs on the bottom half of your body. And Keith Straw finished his third Slam this year, working his way up into the catalog of crazies. (I mean this in the most endearing way!)

Dan Brenden at Vermont

Dan Brenden at Vermont. Photo: Patchanida Pongsubkarun

And Andre Blumberg made himself the first Hong Kong-based Grand Slammer this year. That’s some seriously slamming travel in addition to 400 miles of running.

Nine more folks started but couldn’t finish the 2013 Slam. Hats off for laying it all out there and trying, y’all.

And then there was that dude who became the awkward elephant in the room, Nick Clark. He ran all of the four races that compose the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning without being registered for the Grand Slam. What does that make him? A dude who ran a lot of stellar miles this summer, as well.

Nick Clark - 2013 Leadville 100

Nick Clark on the road to a second-place finish at Leadville. Photo: Bryon Powell/iRunFar

The following is a collection of words and photos from the Slammers themselves, a collage marking these 22 folks’ rite of passage into perhaps the niche-iest corner of our niche sport.

Wasatch 100

The Wasatch 100, the fourth and last race of the Grand Slam, doesn’t let the Slammers off easy. In fact, most Slam participants would agree that the Slam saves the hardest race for last. Since the Wasatch’s motto is ‘100 miles of heaven and hell,’ I asked the Slammers where they found heaven and when they went through hell out in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains.

Says Chris Barnwell:

Heaven was running the first 64.31 miles of the course. Hell was the 2.4 bonus miles I ran when I missed the turn at ‘Blunder Fork’ due to a missing course marker. When I doubled back, I found Dennis Ahern’s pacer re-marking the fork to make sure that nobody else had missed it. At this point, I had lost nearly an hour and after that I was just in a bad mood. I knew I was going to finish even if I walked it in but I was still frustrated with the loss of an hour.

Explains Liza Canowitz:

Wasatch was the toughest course of the Slam and, by far, the hardest trail that I have ever experienced. The trail’s creator has to be a masochist.
Wasatch has the most beautiful vistas, overlooking mountains, lakes, and cities. You feel like you’re at the top of the world looking down. Heaven was sitting on a mountaintop, gazing over the green range as I watched the sun rise. It was fantastic. For a moment, my pain was washed away by the beauty of the dancing colors of the sunrise on the mountains.
I entered hell many times on the course… every time I ran down a steep mountain slope.  The downhills were very steep and were mostly singletrack. My foot barely fit in the angled trail. There were rocks that varied in size from golf balls to baseballs that made your shoes jam into your toes and your quads scream. The downhills were my hell.
Adds Mike Miller:
Wasatch, like the rest of the Slam, was pretty much all Heaven to me. We are so blessed to be able to have these experiences, how could anything temper that for too long? This said, I did have a Hell moment. I went into Wasatch hanging on to some cold funk. With the midday heat, I hit Lambs Canyon 15 pounds down and a big mess. The look of worry in my wife’s face was not good. Knowing that I was causing that concern was surely my Hell moment.
And, from Pete Priolo:
The heaven was definitely the scenery, but also the fact that all of us that survived through Leadville finished the last race and successfully
completed the Slam. That was our collective goal going into Wasatch, and we successfully executed it. :) The hell? The Dive and Plunge. Well, how about the last 25 insane miles of the course. I probably fell down about 10 times in the last quarter of the race alone.
The words of Ian Sharman:
Around mile 60, I was having fun with my pacer, Aaron Keller, and just jogging and chatting while we took in some beautiful views from a ridgeline. I knew it would be a short-lived moment of feeling good and being able to enjoy the scenery made it more special.

Hell was definitely the long section without an aid station from 82 to 92 miles as it was pitch black and the terrain was the hardest of the day, technical and unrelenting in terms of steep climbs and descents. I just wanted it all to be over and was feeling nauseated from the altitude plus dizzy and wasted. I felt like I crawled through that section yet it seems everyone else did, too.

Ian Sharman - 2013 Wasatch 100

Ian high up on the Wasatch 100 course. Photo: iRunFar/Meghan Hicks

Traci Falbo says:

The only things that were heaven about the Wasatch course were the views, the great volunteers, the popsicles, and the finish line. Hell was pretty much the entire course.

From Andre Blumberg:

Among the four Grand Slam courses, Wasatch is definitely my favourite. Wasatch has some amazing views, especially in the first half. Running along the ridges of the Wasatch Mountains is something special. Being one of the harder 100 milers with a lot of technical sections, of course the ‘hell’ part came in regularly as well, but I still enjoyed that as part of the journey.

From Ryan Lund:

Heaven—without a doubt, the finish and seeing my beautiful girls and wife. They have been great cheerleaders during this whole process. A distant second was the views just after Chinscraper, they were amazing.

Hell—Well, that was the vomitfest I had near mile 45. I hit the wall hard in the heat of the day. The joke now is that my good friend and pacer, Joelle Vaught, held my hair back. I don’t have much hair and I was wearing a buff so I made life easy on her! She did give me a nice pat on the back and said, “Okay, let’s go!”

Ryan and daughters, Sierra and Aspen at the Wasatch finish line.

Ryan and daughters, Sierra and Aspen at the Wasatch finish line. Photo courtesy of Ryan Lund.

Reflections on the Physicality of the Slam

One could also argue for the applicability of Wasatch’s heaven-and-hell motto to the whole Grand Slam process. I asked the Slammers what they thought of that comparison and about the physicality of the Slam experience in general, and here’s how they answered.

From Abby McQueeney Penamonte:

My goal going into the Grand Slam was to race each race with as much heart and legs as the previous. I didn’t just want to finish the Slam, I wanted to test my physical, mental, and nutritional limits and push myself beyond what I thought I was capable of.

I went into Western simply repeating this phrase [from my coach, Nick Clark], “run your own race and the time will take care of itself.” I always dream of my races and crossing the finish line. However, I never dreamed of placing in the top 10 and running 22:36!

Vermont was the toughest race for me. My legs felt off from mile three, and it was nothing but a sufferfest. I never had to fight so hard to finish a race. I somehow managed to PR, although I am not sure my efforts there deserved a PR. I did the walk of shame the last 11 miles. I hated everything about the Vermont course–I was so uninspired by the country roads–and I hated everything about myself over these 100 miles. However, I learned the most from this experience. One of the lessons I took away is that things really couldn’t get much worse, and if they did, I knew exactly how to fight through.

Leadville turned out to be an incredible race for me. I went in with no expectations other than avoiding the dreaded walk of shame, and came out a sub-25, big-buckle finisher!

But, like the others, that post-race high was short lived. I felt unprepared going into Wasatch and not recovered. I remember being so anxious, wondering how my legs would work and how uncomfortable these 100 miles would be. Somehow Nick assured me and convinced me that I would get the job done. His advice is simple, but makes me feel at ease, “All you have to do is run (albeit, for a really long time).”

Tim McGargill:

The heavens were bestowed by being able to share this journey with my friends and family. We have lifelong memories that we are still forming. The bonds that were tested and strengthened made all the pain worth it. The pain it took to drill into the epicenter of my character was a temporary feeling of hell that was a necessary ‘evil’ to find out what I am made of. The ability to embrace the self-inflicting pain was difficult to do, but I am a better person for learning this.

Tim McGargill and his crew before Wasatch

Tim McGargill and his crew before Wasatch. Photo: Maureen McGargill

And, Pete Priolo:

Heaven was the successful completion of each leg. I honestly thought I was somehow not going to complete the entire Slam. Each finish represented buying more time to stay in the Slam. So each finish was heaven.

Hell? The flight back after three of the four races, and the sleepy car trip back on the fourth. I needed to elevate my legs after each race, and the planes made it impossible to do so. I had some painful trips back home.

Mike Miller:

I remember thinking in the middle of the night at Western that I was hotter than I was at Badwater last year.
Michael Miller with a wet head and a popsicle staying cool at States

Michael Miller with a wet head and a popsicle staying cool at States. Photo courtesy of Michael Miller.

Liza Canowitz:
With respect to the Grand Slam, I experienced no hell during the summer. I decided early on that I wouldn’t race any of the events, just take them casually and comfortably. There have been no female finishers from Ohio, so I was determined to be smart in my training and running to ensure that I would take home the coveted title.
For me, heaven was being fortunate enough to experience the events, the people, and the beauty of the land in four states. Who else can say that they ran on a singletrack trail, in the dark, with the rattle of rattlesnakes echoing across the canyons of the Sierra Nevadas? Then, a couple of weeks later, I ran in a 100-mile horse race in the rolling hills of Vermont. After that, I went to the highest city in the nation, climbed to 12,600 feet and stood, with a pack of llamas, looking across the Rocky Mountains. It felt like I was running in the sky. Finally, I made it to the grueling Wasatch Mountains and learned how important the camaraderie of my fellow Grand Slammers could be in the fulfillment of a dream. All of this was done in a short 10 weeks.

Chris Barnwell:

Heavens were completing my first 100 miler at Western States, then running sub-24 at Vermont three weeks later, followed by completing the Slam at Wasatch. Hells were getting depleted at Leadville, catching a cold after Leadville, and just Leadville (the race). The town of Leadville could also be considered a Heaven, just not the race.

Ryan Lund:

[At Western States,] temperatures were reported to be greater 115F in the canyons—I lost eight pounds climbing up to Devil’s Thumb. The physician strongly suggested I stick around for 15 minutes to get fluids on board and to cool down. I wisely accepted his advice—this likely saved my race.

[At the Vermont 100,] I went out hard and died like a man. The last 10 miles were a death march and my knees were fried—likely due to wearing neutral shoes all day. I finished in the 21-hour range. A little disappointed, but I got through it and I was really hurting after that one (lack of sleep, going out fast, humidity, neutral shoes for the whole race, eight trips into the woods, etceteras).

[And, at Leadville,] I had a very slow first half. After climbing Hope Pass for the second time, I was having fun on the downhill. I passed over 70 runners during the last 45 miles. Finish time was just over 24 hours. [Also, I] tested the limits of non-sleep. After finishing, my crew and I made it back to camp only to get two hours of sleep so we could tackle the 13-hour drive back to Boise[, Idaho]. More Rock Star please!

The Grand Slam of Good Friendship

Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” However applicable to the Grand Slam, that’s not quite the quote I was looking for. What I mean to say is, “Hell is full of musical amateurs” (George Bernard Shaw). Nope, still not right! Mark Twain! I’m trying to quote Mark Twain, “I don’t like to commit myself about heaven and hell–you see, I have friends in both places.”

Perhaps what Twain meant was that, no matter where you are are what you’re doing, the company you keep along the way is bound to enhance your experience. And this certainly seems true for the Grand Slam. When I asked the Slammers about their relationships with each other and with their families, crews, pacers, and random helpers along the way, my did they ever have a lot to say!

Here’s Dennis Ahern:

At States, we came together as a group of individuals who had some Facebook interaction. At Vermont, the bonds of a group with a shared purpose had formed. At Leadville, we relied on each other for the moral support needed to get through a tough race. By Wasatch, we were a group of friends with the understanding that we had got through something pretty tough and remarkable together. Bonds formed that will last a lifetime.
It was an odd feeling as we went our separate ways after Wasatch. For the last two-and-a-half months, we would get together every three or four weeks and after each there was the expectation of seeing everyone. Except now we wouldn’t.
Of course the challenge of the Grand Slam was gratifying. But I think for myself, and I think for some others, the real gift was the people met along the way. Not just the Slammers but crews and pacers and all those who helped in so many ways.
Dennis Ahern at Vermont

Dennis Ahern at Vermont. Photo: Patchanida Pongsubkarun

Keith Straw’s thoughts:

Without a doubt, this was my most fun and ‘bonding’ Slam out of the three I’ve done. Traci [Falbo] was a big factor in that. She got me out of my introverted shell and had me connect with folks. Of course, the rest of that bonding was due to the wonderful friendship shown by you all.

That’s it. Love you all. No more slush from me.
Keith Straw at Vermont

Keith Straw at Vermont. Photo: Patchanida Pongsubkarun

Ian Sharman said:

I went into the Slam with the expectation of running a lot with Nick Clark and Nick Pedatella and certainly spent a lot of miles with Clarky. Luckily I got to run with Nick P. early on at Leadville, too, and it was great how supportive both of these guys were as well as the other Slammers. Clarky and myself ended up battling back and forth in every race, which will give me lasting memories but at no point did I want him to fail or to have a bad race, just that I wanted to be ahead of him. I think that’s one of the key differences between our sport and many others–it’s not zero sum and all finishers can get so much out of their racing and want their friends and rivals to have good runs too.
From Michael Miller:
Over the course of the Slam, my hugs total was higher than my miles-ran total. This is why I run.
The words of Liza Canowitz:

My family consists of my three children, ages nine, eight, and five. I missed many sports games and family gatherings this summer for the races. I knew that if I had to miss a kid’s baseball or soccer game, I’d better make it worthwhile. Quitting was not an option.

Tim McGargill:

The phrase, ‘It takes a village,’ was a theme for 2013. I am fortunate to be surrounded by a great network. At the core of it was my crew and pacers who assumed year-round duty serving as training partners and doing everything in their power to help me succeed. Other critical components involved my family’s unconditional love and support, my mentor’s guidance, and close friends in and out of running that balance out life. It is only through these shared experiences that I can cherish these memories.

Ryan Lund says:

[At Western States,] the track and the finish line running with my pacers, friends, and my wife… something I will never forget.

[At Vermont,] signs from my girls were posted at various aid stations. My wife and kids could not make this race so they made awesome posters with pictures on them and sent them to the race director. Needless to say, when I saw the posters posted out on the course—it sparked various emotions. [Vermont also had] some of the hardest working volunteers I have ever seen. The cook in the medical tent was amazing. I am willing to bet she was up for 30 hours straight catering to every need of every runner. She is just one of many of the volunteers that come to mind. Also, Dennis Ahern and I had the great opportunity to pick-up local pacers that put us up in their own homes. Dennis’s pacer also invited us over following the race to his daughter’s birthday party. It does not get much nicer than that.

[At Leadville,] it was a lot of fun to have an out-and-back course to see fellow Slammers and friends along the way. There were plenty of high fives and words of encouragement. No one was going to skate through this one!

Ryan Lund sign at Vermont

Ryan’s support team at Vermont. Photo courtesy of Ryan Lund.

Abby McQueeney Penamonte says:

What made this season even more unique is that I was coached/mentored by Nick Clark (yes, ultra stud Nick Clark). I reached out to Nick after my season last year. I wanted to be a better runner but needed more coaching and guidance. Nick is an amazing athlete; his running resume speaks for itself and I surely don’t have to remind anyone of his incredible endurance, speed, and consistent top-10 placing. Nick has helped transform me into the runner and racer that I am today. He constantly supported and encouraged me, shared his knowledge and experience, and really believed in me (even when I didn’t)!

My husband, Dan Verdi, has been my crew both on and off the trails. I don’t know how he has the patience or strength to take care of me physically and mentally during these races (and at home), but he is outstanding! The most remarkable thing about Dan is that when I see him at an aid station, I gain strength. My most powerful memory of this summer was at mile 75 at Leadville. I was coming off a very rough stretch and into the Fish Hatchery Aid Station. I looked into Dan’s eyes, and told him that I felt terrible and that I wanted to throw up. Dan stayed completely calm and simply said, “It’s okay, you’re just having a rough patch. It’ll pass.” I needed to hear that from him. And that rough patch did pass. He later told me that he knew I would turn things around. He had complete faith in me, despite me questioning my own sanity. Dan knows me better than I know myself sometimes.

Abby and Nick after Wasatch

Abby and Nick after Wasatch. Photo: Dan Verdi

From Andre Blumberg:

My wife was stellar in terms of support and having had to make a lot of sacrifices given extensive training and preparation on my part. She joined me for three of the four races and crewed for me. The other positive takeway was the support received by race directors and their teams and the countless volunteers at aid stations. The support at Western States for example, by ultra runners for ultra runners at each aid station was something that I had never experienced anywhere and was truly outstanding. I also had an immensely important mental support network by many followers and friends back in the Asia Pacific. Knowing they would virtually cheer me on and follow my race progress often gave me the extra needed willpower to overcome low points during the races.

Game face on for Andre Blumberg (with crew Kevin Chan) at Western States 100 Michigan Bluff after a very hot day

Game face on for Andre Blumberg (with crew Kevin Chan) at Western States. Photo: Patchanida Pongsubkarun

Final, Quirky Thoughts

We all know, being a member of this tribe of humans called trail and ultrarunners, that we’re a quirky bunch that likes to do quirky things. It’s best, I think to embrace our uniqueness and goofiness. These last quips from some of 2013’s 22 Slammers just didn’t fit anywhere else in this post but are some great insight into what makes these creatures tick.

Dennis Ahern:

I am adept at putting on a public face. My wife’s friends who may not know me well have said, “You must laugh all the time.” And she tells them at home I just retreat into my own little world. Which is largely true. I am self employed as a cabinet maker, furniture maker, and wood worker, have no employees and spend most of my time in my shop in blissful isolation. I absolutely love to be around interesting people (please… for God’s sake let’s not go on about the weather) but I work, train, and go on adventures mostly on my own. I had pacers and crew at the Grand Slam largely because friends wanted to participate and help. Glad to have ’em, loved having them, too. But a tiny bit of talk about planning just set my teeth on edge. Can’t we just run? My near-complete mania with self reliance is a big reason why I do well in ultra-endurance events. But when people ask what the secret of doing well at ultra events is, I feel bad to give the answer, “misanthropy.”  Instead I tell them to read Dean Karnazes’ books.

From Pete Priolo:

The Grand Slam brought home the fact that with enough willpower, anything can be accomplished, no matter how difficult it might seem in the beginning.

Liza Canowitz says:

The Grand Slam showed me the enormity of the human spirit. At Vermont, I gave water and food to a man that was going through a really rough time. In return, at the next aid station, a runner gave me lube for my blistered feet. These selfless acts are often found on the trails. Ultrarunners want to see others succeed. I’ve discovered that ultras are not about time, they’re about the experience.

According to Andre Blumberg:

The Grand Slam has been a dream for me for four years. I had read about it and said, “one day I will do this.” At the time, I was 65 pounds overweight and not even a runner. So within four years from the couch to the Grand Slam has certainly left its marks. I feel more confident as a result to take up a challenge that just seems to be too big to begin with. It also strengthened my mental focus, tenacity, and ability to go through temporary adversity, pain, and discomfort to achieve the target and ultimate goal.

Andre Blumberg relieved after finishing Wasatch as the last of the four Grand Slam races.

Andre Blumberg relieved after finishing Wasatch. Photo: Patchanida Pongsubkarun

Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com’s Senior Editor, the author of ‘Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running,’ and a Contributing Editor at Trail Runner magazine. The converted road runner finished her first ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world’s wildest places. For more information on Meghan and her adventures, please visit her personal website.

There are 49 comments

  1. art

    Long Live Nick Clark.

    since irunfar is now scared of being politically incorrect, I thought I'd mention his name.

    another 30 minutes and it would have been a really fun can of worms.

    1. reality

      "And then there was that dude who became the awkward elephant in the room, Nick Clark. He ran all of the four races that compose the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning without being registered for the Grand Slam. What does that make him?"

      Great article, but I disagree with one point. There clearly was an awkward elephant in the room and it was not Nick Clark. It was the person(s) who made a big deal of limiting the conditions under which the term "GS finisher" can be used. Ridiculous. That is awkward for them. As far as Nick: 2nd fastest all-time! Sweet! I believe not putting his name on the list at the top is an odd, if not downright disrespectful, concession to the "pc" police.

    2. Bryon Powell

      Thanks, Art. Meghan did mention Nick Clark in the article. We all wish that there wasn't this awkward situation. I sure wish I could have paid $80 to avoid it. Nick Clark kicked some butt this summer, whatever you want to call it.

  2. art

    What's truly amazing here, is that someone can claim ownership of a process of incredibly hard work by others, and then charge a fee for their right to publicly declare their accomplishments.

      1. Jason

        Yup. A real story was the already publicized back and forth between Ian and Nick. No comments on 'Heaven a d Hell' from Nick C??

        C'mon guys, you're better than this. Nick (and the others) are the ones who put in countless hours training. They paid the entry fees, bought airline tickets, and ran the races. The RD's and volunteers put in the effort creating top notch races. I wouldn't pay $80 to use a term either! I think Nick said he'd pay a small administration fee or something… That I can understand.

        1. Bryon Powell

          That'd be an awesome option, although, in reality, one very few would have the option of taking giving the slim odds us mere mortals have of getting into Western States and Wasatch in the same year.

  3. Jim

    Great final piece of the Grand Slam Meghan!! I love the stories of races or should I say endeavors such as these and all the walks of life. I do the best I can to keep up to date with all the races and trailers out there but Abby, for me, came out of nowhere. Someone I will keep on my radar for the future.

  4. RunDC

    Just saw this on the run100s website and I think it's disgusting:

    "The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning™ Committee and the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run Committee do not endorse, recognize, or ratify anyone or their times involved in the so-called “unofficial” grand slam of ultrarunning. Likewise we do not support, encourage, or sustain anyone involved in this pursuit."

    Ensuring runners have the ability to register for all four races is a good service. They should offer the service to those who want it and treat everyone else (Nick) respectfully.

    I'd suggest RD think about reneging on their support for this shady behavior.

    I love a lot of the content on irf, but if it's to be a successful long term endeavor it needs to have a little more independence vis a vis races and advertisers. The reviews are already unfortunately not to be trusted, I'd hate to see other content go in this direction.

    1. Bryon Powell

      "Ensuring runners have the ability to register for all four races is a good service. They should offer the service to those who want it and treat everyone else (Nick) respectfully."

      I wish that's what'd gone down, too.

      Can you explain why you think iRunFar's reviews aren't to be trusted. I'm happy to explain our process, the goal of which is to share what we think are good products with the readers while outlining where we think they work best… and where they don't.

      1. RunDC

        "I wish that’s what’d gone down, too."

        Thanks for that. You might consider using your platform to say something as you guys have done a lot of coverage of this.

        As for the reviews, I'll preface this by saying that you clearly have put a ton of work and thought into the site. I respect all the work you've done, and your effort to keep the tone positive and supportive. It's been a great service for the community and (I hope) has been a success for you.

        But…

        Reviews seem pretty haphazard and almost never say anything negative. Often they are just a description of the product. Read through a couple and ask yourself: "If I wanted to buy shoes (or socks or a watch or whatever), would this be of any use to me?"

        To start, this guy does a great job. Although his reviews are triathlete focused and probably more detailed than you would want to do:
        http://www.dcrainmaker.com/

        Beyond that?

        (1) Have a clearly stated policy for advertisers whose products you review, and one for sample products reviewers receive to review. In an ideal world you would not take any money from any advertisers whose products you review. I know that might not be possible. Instead do your best to split the advertising and product review functions between you and other contributors so there's no overlap, and clearly state that. Also all sample products should be sent back to the company after the review, and you should clearly state that.

        (2) Have a standard format for reviews. Maybe different sections for each product type? For example for shoes: fit, durability, etc. For the reviews to be useful it would be helpful to be able to compare reviews of similar products. If you have a standard set of criteria this will also make sure you don't unintentionally avoid negative aspects, alternatively it could insulate you from criticisms you intentionally avoid negative aspects.

        (3) Review based on popularity. If there's a really hyped product coming out, review it. Preferably in the first few months. Is the new NB MT110 worse than the old one? Is it better? I want to know!

        It would be great to have reliable ultra/trail product reviews from this site rather than reviews from folks who use the same products in different contexts, I think would really help you grow the readership. Good luck!

  5. dogrunner

    Great article, as always Meghan,

    These folks have a lot to be proud of and I really am inspired by their accomplishments.

    BUT, there is no elephant in the room and it has nothing to do with PC.

    Nick did the Grand Slam. He deserves to be part of the story. He and Ian WERE the story, all summer. With all due respect to the other runners, theirs was largely a personal feat, shared by friends and family I am sure, but the larger Ultrarunning community was focused ENTIRELY on Nick and Ian, regardless of what some committee of proprietary name copyrights want. Reality is what it is. I would have enjoyed the story more if you had not played along with the so-called elephant in the room view.

  6. Meghan Hicks

    dogrunner,

    We've covered the front of the 2013 Grand Slam pack in depth. We have two articles on iRunFar that were dedicated to the front-of-the-pack competition, a post-Grand Slam interview with Ian Sharman and Nick Clark as well as Ian Sharman's Grand Slam race report. In addition, the front of the Grand Slam pack was also peripherally covered via our pre-Western States interviews, our live Western States coverage, pre- and post-Leadville 100 interviews, our live Leadville coverage, and some random live coverage from the Wasatch 100 course that was focused on Ian and Nick's last on-course battle. The pair had a fantastic duel this summer and we loved bringing it alive for folks who weren't at these races. I'm glad their duel has been recorded on iRunFar and elsewhere in trail-running media since it won't be officially recognized by the Grand Slam's organizers.

    Our intent with this article, however, was to focus on the entire pack, not just the front. With this article, we've now published four articles, after each of the Grand Slam events, with the goal of bringing the experience of the entire pack of Grand Slammers alive. This idea was proposed to us by photographer/writer Michael Lebowitz and enacted by him in three of the four articles, and by me in this last one because Michael was unable to. For this article, eight days after Wasatch, I reached out to the majority of the finishers and asked them to share their experiences. (This included Nick. This didn't include a couple of the Slammers for which I couldn't locate contact information. This also included a couple of the folks who began but didn't finish the whole Grand Slam because we think there are good stories in DNFs, too.) What you read in this article are excerpts from the Slam runners who elected to participate. Our hope is that readers of this and our other three full-spectrum Grand Slam articles can get a feel for what the men and women who ran four 100-mile races in 10 weeks went through, whether they were the first or last Grand Slam finisher.

    1. henry t

      Admittedly you guys have given Nick a lot of coverage, but most commenters have consistently been against the stupid claim of 'ownership' of the Grand Slam, as it is completely anathema to the ethos of ultrarunning. All they did was pick 4 races and give out a lame trophy to the winner–all for $80. By covering the Grand Slam in this way and leaving Nick off the list of finishers you are giving legitimacy to the greedheads. While I commend the grit of all the finishers, I have to say that those who ponied up $80 are basically suckers.

      1. Meghan Hicks

        henry t,

        Grand Slam entrants pay for not only recognition in the Grand Slam event, but they also pay for entrance into Wasatch. As you may know, Western States and Wasatch both have lotteries; I would guess that the statistical probability of being picked in both lotteries is exceptionally low. The Grand Slam and Wasatch organizers have an agreement that allows Grand Slam runners entrance into Wasatch if they don't make it in on the lottery. So, if someone is lucky enough to get chosen in the Western States lottery (or gains entrance via the Montrail Ultra Cup or finishing in the top 10 the year prior), they can then sign up for the Grand Slam and get into Wasatch if they aren't chosen in the Wasatch lottery.

        Nick Clark is a previous Wasatch 100 winner, and previous winners are guaranteed entry into future Wasatch events. Thus, he didn't need to sign up for the Grand Slam in order to run Wasatch.

      2. Andre Blumberg

        Henry,

        I for one very much commend the GS100 organisers for doing what they do, and have done for the last 20+ years. 80 dollars is a steal for an amazing trophy plus the WT100 entrance insurance, run the site plus a few other bits you get in return. It doesn't nearly compensate for the time invested by the organisers, and assertions by some people in various forums that this is a get-rich quick scheme is utterly bizarre.

        If you think that makes me a sucker – be my guest.

        Now, could this all be have been handled better? Yes. Does any of the Slammers, or Nick for that matter, bother? Not at all. It's funny how this has been blown so much out of proportion and none of us Slammers actually cares a bit (and Nick does neither, if you read his blog), only bystanders made a big fuss out of it. If you don't support the GS100, well then vote with your money and don't join it and do the races standalone or do other races.

        Andre.

    2. dogrunner

      Thanks for the explanation, but henry t got my point.

      1. I really did enjoy the article and all respect to all those who attempted these 4 100s (or any multi-100 season for that matter!).

      BUT,

      2. Nick did all 4 races. Regardless of how they got packaged together as a named thing, he did all 4 and so was one of the ones with that accomplishment.

      3. People can do whatever they want, and take it for whatever they want, so packaging these 4 specific events as a meta-event is fine for what it is, but it is not really an event. It strikes me as sort of parasitic (no value-added to the completion of even these 4 specific events). Even that would not bother me, other than your article specifically did not note ALL the finishers of the 4 real events. That's all. I know you covered the races (in the usual outstanding iRF way) and had plenty of coverage of the dual… was not my point.

      thanks

  7. Ryno

    With all due respect, can we move on from the whole "ownership of the Grand Slam" talk? This topic has dominated blogs, articles, Facebook, etc. all summer long with both good and bad discussion. In the end, I think the parties involved agree that they would have handled this whole thing differently.

    So how about a big congratulations to all (23) that got through the four races in 10 weeks in Epic conditions–it was not easy.

    1. Rich

      The problem is, everyone wants to hear from this so-called 'committee' and not just some legal mumbo-jumbo on a webpage. We want to hear from the 'man behind the curtain'. It's interesting. It's intriguing. Soap opera-ish? Sure, but we still want to discuss the issues.

  8. Tom W

    Sorry, should have been more specific.

    Leaving Nick Clark's name off the alphabetical list in the article is just plain wrong IMO. It gives the appearance that IRunFar is OK with some independent entity assigning their stamp to what others have accomplished.

    The fact is that 23 (not 22) runners completed Western, Vermont, Leadville and Wasatch this year.

    The way the article was presented left me wondering if IRF was trying to protect relationships at the expense of continuing to provide fantastic ultra running content. A dangerous precedent IMO.

    1. Bryon Powell

      Not to be argumentative, just trying to clarify – We're not protecting a relationship with Wasatch. We don't have any relationships with Wasatch nor have covered the event the past few years. Yes, we could again in the future, but that'll be on our own initiative because the competition warrants our being there.

  9. dogrunner

    I definitely do not want to take anything away from the accomplishment of all the finishers. I am impressed by anyone finishing even 1 100, much less 4 in a single season! I have read a lot of polar exploration literature (for fun and in pursuit of research on how dogs were used in the arctic by European explorers and by native peoples) and one of the strong impressions I come away with is people used to be a lot tougher than they are now (or so it seems from a "civilized, modern" North American perspective). The great thing about this article about the Slam is that it highlights not just the elites, who are impressive in their abilities, but "regular" people (and I use regular with the caveat that nothing is "regular" about anyone doing ultras :) ) doing something very out of the ordinary. Setting a goal for yourself like finishing a 100 mile event, and then pulling it off, and then x4 (!) – that requires a big dose of toughness! Hats off!

  10. Chris

    First, congrats to all the slammers! Even the one's that DNF'd. Terrific attempts and finishes!

    Second, am I the only one that noticed that Run100s.com posted early on that Nick was ghost slamming? I believe they even linked to a site with other prior ghost slammers. Which leads me to believe that at some point Stan or whomever was in charge was ok with Nick's unofficial slam. Obviously this changed at some point. Wonder what the tipping point was? Did they change their position simply because they didn't want an "unofficial" possibly holding the record? Anyone know?

    1. henry t

      Better solution: Grand Slam organizers waive the $80 fee for any previous winners of Wasatch since they get an automatic entry. How rare is it for previous Wasatch winners to try the Grand Slam?

        1. Rich

          For some, running the 'grand slam' is simply about running all races in the fastest time. If you can do that without paying extra money, simply do it. Easy. Because, you've done the same exact thing that everyone else who had to pay 80, because they weren't fast/good/lucky enough to win an entry into all races.

  11. Charlie Hunsberger

    Congratulations to all the Grand Slam Finishers, and thanks for sharing your words with us! What an amazing accomplishment from each and every one of you.

    Great article Meghan! :)

  12. WeiDe

    If two people climb Everest, both have made it to the summit and back, have taken pictures etc;

    One has not paid a minimal amount to authorities, is hence not recognized by those officials as an official conqueror of the highest peak…

    Ask any kid: how many ppl ascended Everest? Easy answer

  13. Andrea

    Great article! Thanks for sharing the stories of all the runners -not just the elites. I'm extremely impressed by those who do this Grand Slam year after year. All I can say is "wow!"……

  14. Tim

    Why can't you add Nick to the list and put an asterisk next to his name and then just define what the asterisk means. Is that an option?

  15. Dennis Ahern

    I would guess one of the things that makes Clarky such a successful runner (and I would guess a successful person, which is true from my limited experience since I can't say I know him very well) is that no matter what the outcome of his endeavor, whether good or bad, he moves on and doesn't let the past weigh him down. Not one to linger. I wish all of the other pundits who came out of the woodwork this summer could do the same. Having just read the article and the comments for the first time, I'm a bit stunned that the Grand Slam (TM) horse is still being flogged so mercilessly. As Nick said early on about not signing up for the Slam (I paraphrase his comments) "those who care can just go to Ultrasign and add up the races to see how I did". Seems like sound advice to me.

    Thanks to all who made positive comments about Megan's lovely article. I sill feel one of the best things about this experience was the people I met (said the misanthropic introvert).

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