A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the 4th New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Lighter and Stronger - The Key to Success in the Grand Slam


In the past 3 weeks I've been looking at all 4 courses of the Grand Slam races. Thankfully, I know firsthand the Vermont 100 and the Leadville courses, and the lessons I can take home from those courses. With the Western States and Wasatch courses, I have gathered a lot of intelligence, and have drawn the same conclusions.

The goal here is to be "Lighter and Stronger" for the Grand Slam.

Gearing up for my first Vermont 100 race in 2010, I did basically an ultra-running regimen, running huge volumes (a couple of 100 mile weeks), with very little cross-training. I figured that this training will help me finish my first 100 mile race.

At the Vermont 100 weigh-in that year, I weighed about 205 pounds, even with the huge volume of running I did for training. That was primarily because I was a soda addict, and my diet wasn't what I call "saintly". I used to eat a lot of junk food, and was particularly vulnerable to sweet things (Skittle, Starburst, etc.).

As a result, I struggled up the hills, and basically walked the last 30 miles of the race. Yes, I finished, but wasn't really proud of the 28+ hours it took me to finish the race. I knew I could do better.

In Leadville in 2011, I trained the same way, had the same crappy diet, and basically got destroyed in the race, bowing out near the top of Hope Pass by not making the cutoff time. Yes, the lack of oxygen was a factor, but what really stood out was my lack of climbing. The hills before Hope Pass were bad, but Hope Pass was sheer agony. I just couldn't get my legs to climb the 3500 feet over 4 miles to get to the top in time.

At that point, I decided to make some serious changes.

First, I needed to reform my training. Since I had a huge background in triathlon, and know its more balanced approach, I decided to use this training to gear up for Vermont in 2012. My running mileage was significantly reduced, but I was to really ramp up my cycling and swimming mileage.

And as for diet, I decided to quit the soda cold turkey and start to eat a better diet.

As a result, my weight easily went down from 205 to 187 pounds at race time. My general all-around fitness felt a lot better, and I thought I had a shot at getting under the 24 hour mark for the race.

I did tons better at Vermont, much to my pleasant surprise. I finished under 21.5 hours. I climbed the hills really nicely, and never really had a huge crisis in the race. It was astonishing to see the difference between Vermont in 2012, and Vermont in 2010.

Now, I'm faced with the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning in 2013. And Leadville is in my sights again, as well as Vermont. Wasatch, the last race, is even more difficult than Vermont as well.

The biggest thing these races have in common is the hills. I need to train myself so that I can easily manage the hills on these courses, especially when it comes to Leadville and Wasatch.

So the key to 2013 success? Lighter and Stronger.

I will need to continue what I achieved in 2013, plus make a few enhancements that will get me even lighter and a whole lot stronger for the Grand Slam races. Some of the key things I must do even better is:

1) Improve on my triathlon training, namely my cycling, do develop the quadriceps that is needed to climb mountains. I will be doing slightly more mileage on the bike, and more hills.

2) Increase the percentage of trail running during training. Last year, my trail running accounted for about 55% of the total running volume. This year, if I can up that to around 65-70%, that should also enhance my abilities on trails and hills.

3) Supplement my cardio training with power and balance training in the gym. This should help develop my core muscles and give me the extra power I need to get over the mountains without much effort. Economy is definitely critical to my success here.

4) Improve my diet even more, going more "primal" in the process. Soda has been totally eliminated. Elimination of sweets is also needed, the elimination of processed foods and High Fructose Corn Syrup, and limiting certain grains from my diet. I am already at 188 pounds, which is a good head start. If all goes as planned, I can probably tack off another 10 pounds from my body (at least). The less dead weight I carry, the better I am getting over the mountains. I am looking to hopefully weigh somewhere between 175-180 pounds by the time I toe the line at Western States.

Lighter and Stronger!

If I can stick to these 4 points in 2013, my chances of finishing the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning should be greatly increased.

This achievement can be the culmination of all my 22 years of research. It's a huge year for me, and I hope that it will lead me to finish one of the most grueling feats of endurance in the world today.

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