Archived Post- Making A 2016 Grand Slam of Ultrarunning Attempt by Tommy Barlow

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In 2016 I’ll make an attempt at completing the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. Most of you probably have no idea what that is unless you’re a running sadist, nor would you care to participate in it because you’re probably too smart to put yourself through something like the slam…and I make that assumption because until last year I had no idea what it was either and certainly never aspired to check that box. Before you label me as a crazy and entirely write me off, let me share a little about the “what” and “why” of this challenge, mostly so I can selfishly gain as much support from you all as possible towards something that frankly is intimidating and scary, and will likely be the source of more physical and mental pain than anything I’ve ever experienced to date. I am going to be in desperate need of mega good vibes and support from everyone in my circles to pull this one off and I look forward to sharing this journey with anyone along for the ride!


What is the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning?


You can get an extensive overview on the official site here , but the short version is I’m going to run 4 of the oldest and most prestigious 100 milers in the U.S. which will feature over 78K ft of gain and about the same in descent for around 160,000 ft of total gain/loss, and I’m going to do them all in an 11 week span. YAY! The races start with the birthplace of the 100 miler at historic Western States in late June and ends with one of the toughest mountain 100 mile ultra trail courses (MUT) the Wasatch Front 100 on September 9th—all with Vermont 100 and Leadville 100 (with it’s punishing altitude) sandwiched in the middle. The history and statistics fascinate me, with only 236 men and 44 different women having completed this feat since 1985, including just 17 from my home state of Utah. Each year several runners attempt the slam, with a success rate of about 30-40%, typically with a running time totaling between 90-120 hours. Most people enter the event for the prize money, as every finisher of the slam will receive $100K per year for the rest of their life….totally kidding, you get a small trophy with an eagle head and 4 belt buckles but wanted to make sure I had your attention ; )  Entry to the slam is limited primarily by the lottery process for Western States, which is extremely difficult to get into as each year an increasing numbers of runners enter the lottery for the 270 available slots. This year 3,510 runners (all of which had to complete a qualifying run in the previous year) held 8,291 tickets. My Bear 100 finish last year qualified me to enter the lottery, and that little ticket was one of the 270 drawn. Jealous, right!? As an ultra runner who mostly identifies as an Ironman triathlete I had not expected this at all, and most of my trail running friends were left scratching their heads after years of entering qualifying races and subsequent unsuccessful lotteries. Frankly it was a 5 year plan for me as I figured it would take me years of getting more tickets into the draw before a successful entry, but life truly is like a box of chocolates, right Forrest? (run Forrest run)


Why The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning?


Given the sacred nature of the Western States, most (sane) people would immediately feel satiated at the chance to run in the mecca of trail 100 mile races, but my brain skipped immediately to the Grand Slam. I blame Joshua Holmes for this. The slam was never on my radar until I noticed his posts on Instagram last year, which from my perspective gave the impression that the dude was running another 100 miler every week. I didn’t piece it all together until my wife and I got to have lunch with him after he completed the Wasatch 100, and the last leg of his successful slam. In picking his brain and listening to his journey, I was subconsciously planting the seeds that would bring me to where I am today…but at the time I was only flirting with the possibility of something so heinous perhaps years in the future. The goal for the conversation during this casual lunch was to glean experience and wisdom that would hopefully set my mind at ease for my pending Bear 100 attempt that was to follow just two weeks later. Needless to say, his thoughts and experiences got my imagination challenging the “what’s possible” part of my endurance brain, and as a result when I drew out for Western States it seemed like the only logical thing to do was to slam it, so there you have it. Be careful who you share a lunch with!!


That’s the story of how I got to where I am, but it’s certainly not the crux of the “why”. I acknowledge first and foremost that I’m not an elite runner, nor an experienced 100 miler, and to many my attempt might seem premature, naïve, or even undeserving. Given what most people go through to get this chance, I understand those feelings. The reason I feel compelled to make an attempt at the slam boils down to my lifelong goal to adopt the single most impressive characteristic displayed by my dad throughout his whole life….RESILIENCY. My dad fought through many life challenges and growing up I watched him take on every blow that life dealt him head-on and with everything he had in him. At 75 years old he still outworks people half his age. Observing his resiliency instilled confidence in me as a young man, which empowered me to take on and get through challenges of my own as a husband and father. I’ve been knocked down more than once and expect to hit the canvas many more times, but I’m determined to make resiliency my quest and the slam seems like an amazing proving ground. By definition alone, doesn’t it sound like the perfect goal for any endurance event:


“the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy”


Having started running and endurance sports just 5 years ago, I’ve already battled a lot of demons with one knee (x2) and one shoulder having been surgically repaired. At around mile 80 of the Bear 100 this past September I tore the labrum in my left hip and have been battling through pain while hoping to avoid another surgery. The timing isn’t the best in terms of being at peak health or having more ultra running experience under my belt, but I’m up to toeing the line and seeing what is possible, fully knowing that 60-70% of us who try for the slam this year will fall a little short. Fear of failure will never stop me, because in my failures I discover who I am and thereby will have the opportunity to become even more resilient and more like my dad. So here we go… see you in Squaw for leg #1!  Hoping many of you will join me in this journey any way you can. #4bucklesandabird


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