Photo: Erin Mulder
Running a 100-mile ultramarathon is an extremely difficult feat. But, running four of the country’s oldest 100-mile races in a span of 11 weeks? Come on!
Thirteen folks completed all four—the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, the Vermont 100-Mile Endurance Run, the Leadville Trail 100, and last weekend’s Wasatch Front 100-Mile Endurance Run—this past summer, competing in what is known as the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. Somewhere between 10 to 20 folks do the Grand Slam each year.
This year, 34-year-old Neal Gorman from Washington D.C. set a new record for the lowest combined time over the four races. Gorman’s time of 74 hours, 54 minutes and 16 seconds bested Joe Kulak's previous record of 75:07.
Gorman, who owns an insurance brokerage firm in Richmond, Virginia, is recovering from an impressive second-place overall finish at the fourth and final 100-miler in the Grand Slam series, the Wasatch Front 100-Mile Endurance Run. I caught up with him on his drive back from Utah to D.C.
“The Grand Slam sort of came out of nowhere this summer,” he says, explaining that he raced the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 in 2008, and ran part of it with Kulak. “After running the Vermont Trails 100 and then the Wasatch Front 100 in 2009, I got a better feel for running that distance, learned how to do it well, and how to feel okay. And I thought, ‘Next year, there’s so much energy around Western States. If I get in, better do the Grand Slam.’ Why not? It seemed like a pinnacle effort that would really create a lasting memory that would just be fantastic.”
Gorman got into Western States, paid the $80 fee to register as a Grand Slammer and began chasing the engraved eagle each finisher is awarded at the end, should they complete all four hundreds. “It was a fun, long-term goal,” he says. “I love those, by the way.”
Gorman says that, for him, Western States was the hardest of the four 100s. “I created a bad patch for myself. I felt fine, but I had nothing, and I just wasn’t right for two or three days after that. I just chalked it up to heat, and that it was my first 100 in a while.”
You’d think one bad hundred would make a person concerned that they’d be racing three more within weeks. But Gorman remained level-headed and optimistic.
“I trained to think about it one race at a time,” he says. “Vermont was next, and I just thought, ‘I’d like to do better the next time and have a good day.’”
He had a good day, and then he had a good race at Leadville, and went into Wastach with a goal of running under 21 hours and 30 minutes to break Kulak’s record. “I knew Wasatch would have to be a top-notch performance,” he says. “I was like, ‘You’re going to have to go after this like a prize fighter. Stay focused, and don’t relent.’”
Gorman finished an astonishing second place at Wasatch, behind winner Nick Clark, and set a new Grand Slam record with just over 12 minutes to spare.
“I felt like stars were aligning all summer,” he says, crediting good weather, great pacers, working under his running coach, Russell Gill, and his innate ability to sense oncoming injuries early and treat them accordingly. Sometimes, that meant running through pains, which seemed to work for him.
When asked if he’d do another Grand Slam summer, Gorman replied with a laugh, “Seriously, just beat me with a whip. It’s too good of an experience to pass up.”
Gorman isn't alone in his enthusiasm. "There were so many spectacular moments," says Aaron Mulder, who finished with the third fastest Grand Slam time this year after only getting into running in 2006. "The scenery of the four races was vastly more beautiful than I was lead to believe. My biggest regret might be not sacrificing just a bit of time to bring and use a camera."