2013 Grand Slam of Ultrarunning—Part 3: Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky

“In the evening you see firearms on all sides, every third man carries a Sharps, Spencer or Winchester rifle and every man has one or two revolvers in a condition for immediate use…”

“I do not believe there is a town or city that contains as many cut-throats, thieves and black legs of all kinds than Leadville.”

“It was a world of gambling halls, dance halls, and theatres… lawyers, doctors, dentists, and newsmen… underground caverns, abominable snowmen, and a lost Egyptian ship… church bells, school bells, teas, artists, horses, and horse races… mule skinners, freighting, assaying, smelting, charcoal kilns, and smoke… murderers, lynchings, bunko, and con artists… gold, silver, lead, zinc, and more… all there for the taking in the richest geological pocket ever discovered in the United States.”

-Unknown authors, quotes found here on the Leadville website

Ian Sharman - Sean Meissner - 2013 Leadville 100

Ian Sharman embracing his pacer Sean Meissner after winning the Leadville 100. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Twenty-six Slammers started Leadville, and 22 are left standing. If all of the runners who qualify for Wasatch finish Wasatch, there will be a record 22 official Slam finishers. If the five women who are still in the Slam all finish, that will be the highest total number of women to finish the Slam in one year.

Here are a few comments from a couple of those who were forced to DNF the Grand Slam during Leadville:

“The Leadville 100 was a disappointing end to what has turned out to be a rather disappointing year of running. I enjoyed a fairly solid first half and return trip to the top of Hope Pass. On the descent back to Twin Lakes I began experiencing rather sharp pain in my hip joint which got progressively worse until I was reduced to a gimpy shuffle. Before long every step induced a stabbing pain through my hip and I opted to call it a day to avoid any sort of permanent damage. Obviously this is not how I envisioned things going this year. I guess we all get to experience our peaks and valleys; hopefully this year is merely a valley along the way and next year will be better.” –Nick Pedatella, a posting on his Facebook page

“On the first day after my 30th birthday, I DNF[ed the] Leadville Trail 100 for the second time in a row (2012 and 2013). Everything bad was almost copied exactly from last year. Unhappy stomach, nausea, threw up and low body temperature, the altitude sickness. Then at Half Pipe #2 I was treated by the same group of rescue team. Oh, what a shame! Thank you very much for your cheering and encouragement. My friends… No Grand Slam of Ultrarunning for me this year, I have to say I am very disappointed with myself. Best of luck to you… tough nuts. Although I am out of this game, I do have a good time with all of you.” –Di Wu, a posting on his Facebook page

The Race for the Record

The 2013 Grand Slam of Ultrarunning is unfolding as a great contest driven by its engine of accumulated time. Ian Sharman (an official Slammer) and Nick Clark (who is not an official Slammer) are driving the ‘race’ to its conclusion, though it is not yet a done deal. Sharman has run beautifully these past seven weeks but has not yet delivered the knockout blow to Clark, who has kept it tight, kept the ‘race’ in sight. Unlike a stage race a la Tour de France, there is minimal team help, drafting is a laughable construct, loneliness and camaraderie a side by side-by-side journey, shared almost exclusively between the two. In that sense it is a heavyweight brawl, ultrarunning’s version of the Thrilla in Manilla executed by two 138-pound ‘Sluggers’ over an accumulated distance of 400 miles.

Interesting in itself, Nick Clark writes his race report differently than he speaks of the event, certainly at this point. His Leadville race report reads like a manual in risk management: thoughtful, honest, aware of always being on the edge of ‘losing it,’ humble, never panicking, and always staying within himself. Once begun, there is work to be done; oddly it is a spiritual journey, despite earlier ‘denials’ (and with out all the high-blown language) in the sense of knowing who you are on the day and paying respect to the race, yourself, your colleagues, and the miles themselves.

And then there is this:

“To claw back 70 minutes on the Sharminator is a big ask, but I have every intention of giving it my best shot. I already have a plan in place and if I can just execute on race day, then I’m hopeful that I can still walk away from this summer of racing with the Grand Slam record to my name. With one race left in the Grand Slam, I believe it is still all to play for.” -Nick Clark in his race report

This last is as close to trash talking as two 138-pound ‘heavyweights’ from Britain will likely ever get. But make no mistake, Clark is clearly in it for the win.

Ian Sharman ran a similar race to Nick Clark’s. Ian’s race was totally contained. He wanted to get to 70 miles with gas in the tank. As in each of the previous races he kept his eye on Nick Clark and judged his final efforts based where he was in relation to Clark for the race, not for the Slam.

“About eight miles from the finish I was told at the last time check (May Queen) Nick was 10 min[ute]s behind me so that lit a fire under me and I suddenly kicked it up a gear and ran really hard. I couldn’t eat anything and just hoped I wouldn’t bonk and that Nick wouldn’t catch me – frankly I was terrified he’d take the win from me in the last couple of miles.

“Somehow my body let me run in those final miles fast enough to break two hours for the split for the last 13.5 miles and I gapped Nick by 36 min[ute]s in the end, but I only found that out when he crossed the line. I assumed he was still catching me.” -Ian Sharman in his race report

If this were a stage bike race like the Tour de France (and in some ways it is), someone with a microphone in his/her hand would have asked Ian about “putting his mark on the Slam with the Leadville victory.” I’m guessing Ian would have waved off the suggestion and said something humble about there being another 100 tough miles at Wasatch, about Clark being tough and then, when no one was paying attention, you might see the warrior thought cross his face, the recognition that the Slam is his for the taking and that the thought made him very happy. Of course, he might have just looked tired.

Ian Sharman - Nick Clark - 2013 Leadville 100 - Twin Lakes outbound

Ian and Nick running into Twin Lakes outbound. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Nick Clark - 2013 Leadville 100 - outbound

Nick running outbound after Outward Bound. Photo: iRunFar/Travis Liles

Nick Clark and his pacer running over Hope Pass

Nick and his pacer on Hope Pass a second time. Photo: Glen Delman

Ian Sharman - 2013 Leadville 100 - win

Ian shortly after winning the Leadville 100. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Ian Sharman - Hiking - 2013 Leadville 100

Ian hiking his way to the finish. Photo: Glen Delman

Voices From the Middle of the Pack

Dreams die hard out here, in the world of the Grand Slam, in the pursuit of 100-mile buckles. Rare they are, and only given to those special few who have earned them, mile by mile.

The folks who finish and go on are tested to their limits and beyond, and they come through. At this point there are 22 official runners left in the chase.

For those whose fate it was not to get through this time, whose dreams eroded in the wind-driven, dusty miles, in altitude just a little too high for easy breathing despite months of training, there will be other races, an almost immediate beginning of planning the next ‘assault.’ And finally there will be the necessary ‘coming to terms,’ an acceptance that on this day the unthinkable for thousands miles of training has happened. You just stopped. You will fight the urge to explain. Everything. To everyone in sight. Maybe you fight off the tears; maybe you just let go. Finally you come to know that all races are ephemeral, conceived in and planned for in dreams, executed in the moment with no guarantee that what you dream of, what you wish for, will come to pass, that the day is entirely dependent on your being in the arena, in vital relation to the natural world, that being there is your true victory. Whatever else may happen that day is likely to belong to powers greater than you. By day’s end, the course and the event are packed away for next year, already gone back to empty sky. Tumbleweed returns to its proper place, the race results become plans and schemes to be chased down in the months and weeks ahead, already a story to tell in preparation for whatever is coming next.

2013 Leadville 100

Photo: iRunFar/Meghan Hicks

Michael Lebowitz

is a writer, a photographer, and a runner in Eugene, Oregon. His grown children who have taught him damn near everything that works for him in his life. He writes and takes pictures because it's his way of telling stories. He runs because it reminds him that he's here. He has no idea where the writing comes from. Nor the images. But he starts with what he knows and he imagines the rest. Sometimes it starts as fact, sometimes fiction but it is always true.

There are 9 comments

    1. Meghan Hicks


      This question was asked on the Leadville results post last week and here's how Bryon answered it there:

      "One can sign up to be eligible for the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning award for $80. http://www.run100s.com/gs.htm

      Per the official page,

      The “Slam” consists of officially finishing the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run, the Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run and the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run all in the same year. The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning Award was established in 1986, when Tom Green was the first finisher.

      I’d read this to mean that Nick Clark is, indeed, on track to complete the slam and, therefore, set the record. He’s just not in the pool to get an award or “official recognition.” So, he won’t be listed as a grand slam finisher on the above noted website. This would result in confusing verbiage if he sets the record. Otherwise, he’ll have slammed… just not officially."

  1. Dennis Ahern

    Great stuff Mike. I am mighty sorry to have Nick Pedatella, Di Wu, and the other great runnings out of the game. And it has been fun to see the great performances by Nick and Ian. With Nick having won Wasatch and knowing what it takes to run well there, I would think a 70 min. cushion would not be that comfortable. If he does overtake Ian and claims the record, the pundits will have their day on who holds the "official" record. Not being one to care much about buckles and trophies, I would have to say, if you ran it fast, you ran it fast. "Official Recognition" be damned. We are ultra runners second, and anarchists first, (said the guy who paid his Grand Slam money).

    1. Michael Lebowitz

      A healthy streak of anarchy never hurt anyone- I think you make a great point Dennis, "if you ran it fast, you ran it fast." . The naming of official and "stealth:" and other such winners as there may be must wait until Wasatch unveils what it has in store for all of the runners there.

    2. anon

      Dennis, Michael, Meghan,

      I totally disagree. Nick wants the slam record and is speaking like he is doing the slam, wants the glory, etc. but was too cheap to pay the $80…in his blog he wrote "I didn't see much point in spending the $80. It might be nice to have my times recorded for posterity, but if anyone is interested, I'm sure they can just check ultrasignup or something". Why is he given so much story? He is simply running 4 races. To me, this is like a race bandit…if someone bandits the Boston Marathon and wins, should they be given credit? It's simple to sign up and he obviously decided not to. What does that say about the rules…is he too good to follow them…the fact that he is being covered so much without simply paying (which his sponsors likely would have reimbursed him) is a slap in the face to the "official slammers and the Grand Slam Institution". I'd love to hear about the struggles of the people who didn't make it and why (so I appreciate the above about DiWU and Nick Pedatella).

      1. Mike Hinterberg

        Anon, I'm sorry to read this. Although convincing every last person — especially anonymous ones — on the internet is always a losing proposition, I'm heartened to read most people's take on this, especially his fellow Grand Slammer's, up and down the field.

        The reality is much more simple and less insidious: the $80 fee pays for an extra trophy and recognition, which is not currently important to Nick, but is certainly an awesome option of recognition for those that want it. Perhaps more importantly, the $80 helps guarantee a spot for those who work hard to run all 4 races. This, also, is an awesome arrangement that enables people to run all 4 races. However, Nick already had a guaranteed entry to Wasatch by virtue of being a previous winner! So his $80 would in fact get him a trophy which he doesn't want (his prerogative) and pay for "nothing" in terms of a guaranteed Wasatch entry. That is — he would receive less value (nothing he needed) for the $80 than perhaps other folks!

        Enough of the "bandit" comparisons, the analogy is simply false. The only way this would be banditing is if someone snuck into the results website and added his own name, and then stole a trophy. He's not stealing anything from the race course or race directors. It's just running, a certain 4 races, with the grand total added up using simple math: The "definition" of the Grand Slam is simply the 4 classic races, according to Wikipedia and most people's opinions. Nick, Ian, and others are considered primarily about simple results and simple math.

        $80 being "too cheap" — an opinion, but what if the completely-arbitrary fee were $200 or $500 or $1000? In fact, this comment is even more of a slight if you considered the way Nick operates with regard to his runs and races in general. He does group training runs and doesn't think about charging for them. He's an RD (with Pete Stevenson — another Grand Slammer!) who work hard to keep their races a great bang-for-the-buck. In fact, their latest series of races gives a discount for registering for both, rather than an upcharge; and also offers discounted "no t-shirt" options. Across the board, Nick is against the trend of races getting more expensive and charging for every last bit.

        Again, the recognition on a certain website, the trophy and ceremony, and the guaranteed entry are certainly great options and a great service that should continue — and this is what is supported by the fee. It's otherwise strange to think that anyone can or should "own" and set a price on information and effort, which is freely available. It is strange to think that someone would want to censor the simple mathematical results on his blog or irunfar or anyone else's blog. The free, uncensored, non-proprietary sharing of information on the internet are considered general virtues in modern society. If there's an "Institution" which functions otherwise, it's seemingly not attractive to the majority of opinion on this subject, thankfully.

        It's just running.

        1. Guest

          Agreed Mike.

          For 80$ the GS service is nice for those who otherwise would not have guaranteed entry. For anyone who does paying 80$ gets you pretty much nothing.

          If the GS wants to stay legit they should add Nick's (assumptive) record to the books. Demanding cash when you can run all the races anyways makes it seem like a scam rather than a convenient service.

          1. Michael Lebowitz

            Anon: "(so I appreciate the above about DiWU and Nick Pedatella). There will be more about both the finishers and those "Slammers" whose fortunes were not blessed with completion. IMHO anyone who trains for a hundred let alone 4 of them is hard core, already a winner when they toe the line at States and further on. I will follow all of the slammers, likely write a book about the whole project. I think i will call it "Slammin', the Ultra Grand Slam 2013-Voices From the Middle of the Pack." The Grand Slam IS legit, the miles are real, the dreams and failures equally real. It is up to the sport's guardians as well as its participants to "sit and reason together." The people involved are all good people who want to honor those who have come before with grace and support those who are in the arena today.

      2. NickP

        Anon – If you look at the GS website, it clearly says that the $80 covers the "Grand Slam of Ultrarunning award". This is stated several times on the website ( http://www.run100s.com/gs.htm ). It also clearly states, as Meghan notes above, that the GS consists of officially finishing the four races. So, nothing about Nick's run is really 'unofficial'. He just didn't want the award. Kind of like a race that lets you pay less if you didn't want a shirt or a belt buckle (i.e., award). He would be a bandit if he was running some of the races unofficially, which he is not.

        Also, IF Nick beats Ian by the 70 minutes he needs to at Wasatch I don't think anyone would consider Ian's time the record.

  2. Lstomsl

    There is absolutely nothing "official" about ultra running period. There is no governing body, there are no standard rules, no drug testing, no official record-keeping, nothing. Anybody who wants to put on a race can design a course, get the proper permissions, set their own rules and have at it. The entire sport has progressed by people seeing a need and taking steps to meet such a need. bryon started Irunfar, ultrasignup did their thing, peter Bakwin began his FKT web site, and somebody named Stan Jensen put together a site with a bunch of information about 100 milers and put forth the idea of a grand slam. All these things are great and the grassroots efforts are one of the things that make the sport wonderful. But absolutely none of it is "official". In any sense of the word. Sending $80 to something named "Stan Jensens Website" doesn't make anything official. If Nick wants to he could start a thread on Peter Bakwins site for the Grand Slam FKT and it would have just as much standing as Stan Jensens website.

    I suspect that as the sport becomes more popular We will begin to see governing bodies, standard rules, official record keeping, drug testing etc. for better or worse. But for now let's stop pretending there is an official anything in our sport and appreciate it for what it is.

  3. Richard Graham

    Great writing! Reminds me of Barry Lopez or Rick Bass. Nice connection to our spirit of being human and the beauty of this earth called home, thank-you

  4. Ian Sharman

    Nick's not a bandit, he just won't get a trophy at the end if the Slam. He's still entered and paid for all the races, which is all that's required. As a top 10 runner at WS and previous winner at Wasatch he could get into all the races without the guarantee the official Slam entry provides for the final race.

    On the other hand, joining the official Slam was essential for me as I was unlucky in the Wasatch lottery and would have been stuck doing just the 1st 3 races without it (that doesn't sound entirely unappealing right now :)).

  5. Dennis Ahern

    Official Recognition and $4.00 will get you a nice cup of coffee. I paid my $80ish dollars for the series as I'm just a little guy plodding along, but I like the idea of "belonging" to a group of like minded souls striving for something challenging. And I admit if that if I get to the finish at Wasatch, I will be glad to stand with the group of tough rule followers, smile for the photo, and enjoy my 15 minutes of ultra world fame. And I hope Clarkie gets to be the group photo too. I have a feeling the other slammers will want him there. Because watching he and Ian push the boundaries this past summer has be a sheer joy for me. Both have shown them selves deserving of the record, and fast is fast now matter what it says on the trophy. All this chain jerking is good to keep ultra running weird.

  6. Charlie

    The hard part for you Ian may be not accepting the Trophy in the event Nick does beat you.:) Hopefully it wont come to that. Best of luck!

  7. Mark M.

    What it must be like to be such a badass that you don't even want the trophy for completing the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning? I'm no medal-whore, but I will never be that good even if I ever am good enough.

    Perhaps for Mr. Clark and those of the more practical sort, they should have a Grand Slam tech-tee or Grand Slam rash-guard bandanna instead?

    Best of luck to all those aspiring Slammers who are a few days and a hundred miles from getting (or not getting!) their trophies.

  8. Mike Hinterberg

    Ha! Thanks for the heads-up.

    "Only those who are official entrants and finishers of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning are entitled to use the term “GrandSlam of Ultrarunning” in whatever form (including in any form that might cause trademark confusion) in connection with their running endeavors."

    So if you DNF the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning(TM), you can't say it. If you're thinking about running it, you can't say it. How odd and capricious. That alone should sway rational sympathy away from a small cadre of complainants.

    Anyway, "Our friend Nick is running the 4 races that comprise the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning(TM)"

    Would be curious to have Bryon or anyone else's legal comment on fair and descriptive use.

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