[Author’s Note: This is the first in a five-part series on unforgettable moments in ultrarunning history. Read our introductory article on this series for a description of what, to me, makes a moment unforgettable.]
In the summer of 1985, Fred Pilon, the longtime, legendary publisher of Ultrarunning Magazine, hatched an idea. In consultation with Steve Baugh, the original Wasatch Front 100 Mile race director, and John Grobben, the event’s current and longstanding race director, Fred created what he called the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning.
As difficult as it may be to believe in today’s saturated ultramarathon market, back in 1985 there were only four 100-mile races in the United States, the Western States 100, Old Dominion 100 Mile, Leadville 100 Mile, and Wasatch. Pilon’s idea was to create a challenge for runners to complete all four of those 100 milers in a single summer. During the summer of 1986, beginning with Old Dominion in early June, 12 runners set out into the Virginia mountains seeking to finish the Grand Slam.
At the time, Old Dominion provided a stern test for even the most accomplished ultrarunners, as it was truly a one-day race featuring a strict 24-hour cutoff. Perhaps as a result of that, by the time the dust settled on the 1986 edition of the race, the field of Grand Slammers had been swiftly cut in half as six runners failed to finish.
Three weeks later, on a surprisingly benign weather day at Western States where the high temperature in Auburn, California, only reached 88 degrees Fahrenheit, five more Grand Slam hopefuls were eliminated.
The one man left standing was 35-year-old Tom Green, hailing from Maryland.
The previous summer, Green had been frustrated by a DNF at Old Dominion. In response to that frustration, he set about to exorcise those demons by attempting the Grand Slam, and by July 1, 1986, after successful finishes at Old Dominion (in 21 hours and 3 minutes) and Western States (23:39), he was halfway to his goal with the two more difficult races in the series remaining.
Coming from the low country of Maryland, Green knew that the higher altitudes of Leadville and Wasatch would provide his biggest challenge. Adding to that the cumulative fatigue of having already run two 100 milers, Green knew he had his work cut out for him.
In the end, however, he rose to the occasion with a 25-hour finish at Leadville and then capped off his summer with a 26:43 finish at Wasatch. The first Grand Slammer was crowned!
From a contemporary perspective, the Grand Slam may not seem so unforgettable. In fact, it has now been completed over 350 times since Green’s inaugural run. However, in the context of the time period, during an age long before trail shoes, running vests, and energy gels, Green’s accomplishment is extraordinary and, in my opinion, truly unforgettable. To learn more about Green and his long ultrarunning career, read our in-depth profile of him.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Elk River Brewing Company in Elkton, Maryland. Featuring some classic European-style beers, one of Elk River’s best is Veazey’s Vienna Lager. Mildly hopped with the delightfully crisp finish, Veazey’s is a throwback of sorts to the days when Vienna Lager featured a more amber hue than is typical these days. This is a perfect beer to drink with burgers or barbecue.
Call for Comments
- Calling all Tom Green stories! Leave them in the comments section.
- Despite the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning’s existence for more than 35 years, the challenge of completing four 100 milers in a summer remains quite a feat. If you’ve attempted the Grand Slam, share your experience!