16 Feb 13 by James Elson

Grand Slam of Ultrarunning

One of the things which inspires us at Centurion Running is epic challenges, which is why we create races to push the limits of the runners and why we help to coach people of all abilities to reach those goals.

The 100 mile distance is something particularly close to our hearts (hence the name of the company) and it's a distance we love attempting. There are no guarantees with a 100, no easy days or jogs to make the race into a training run. No matter how fast or slow you run you know you're in for a tough day, usually in ways you've not experienced before.

Our idea was to grow the number of 100 mile trail races in the UK, initially by staging the North Downs Way 100. A relatively much underused trail, given it’s position geographically and a trail with some great history, scenery and varied terrain. It became obvious early on that the demand for other trail 100s was there and so we looked to the other national trails we loved running so much and created other races giving people an opportunity to run well supported, well marked 100 mile trail routes at various points across the year. Out of that, the Centurion Grand Slam was born, in order to allow runners to complete four 100s in a single year in a series. That idea was one we developed out of trail racing in the US too. 

The concept of the 100 mile trail run was invented by accident back in 1974 when Gordie Ainsleigh had a lame horse and wasn't able to compete in the normal fashion in the Western States Trail Ride known as the Tevis Cup. Instead of riding he ran the distance, accidentally starting the Western States Endurance Run 100.

Over the years people started thinking that doing just one 100 was too easy so the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning was born, involving four particular US 100s over one summer. Originally that was Western States, Old Dominion, Leadville and Wasatch Front, but in recent years Old Dominion has been switched for Vermont. 

And so in 2011 our own James Elson decided to try to finish the US Grand Slam but spent several months pre-Western States injured. He still managed to finish Western States and Leadville but the injury inadvertently caused renal issues which led to a DNF at mile 60 of Vermont in-between those two which meant he had to forfeit his place to start the final race at Wasatch (it has a lottery but Grand Slammers can still get in as long as they complete the first three races).

This year the other half of our coaching team, Ian Sharman, is undertaking the US Slam after three years of finishing Western States in the top 10 and therefore earning an entry for the following year and a way past the lottery. The Slam record is 74:54:16 by Neal Gorman in 2010 and this year has probably the hottest competition ever, with Nick Clark, Nick Pedatella and Ian all gunning for the record and with very realistic chances.

As Ian puts it:

"After running Western States a few times it seemed like a natural choice to take advantage of my guaranteed entry and try a challenge way beyond anything I've ever done. Four mountainous 100s in just over two months is just plain crazy, but it's a good excuse to see new races and have an amazing summer. Not many people get the chance to try something like this due to the logistics, cost and time, never mind the fact that entries to Western States are so difficult to come by these days.

I'm excited but also very nervous to try this out and that's exactly the trepidation you want to experience before an ultra (or four)."

We'll include more updates about Ian's Grand Slam both pre-race and during the summer, plus you can also follow his antics on his blog.

The view from the top of Emigrant Pass, looking down over the first 4 miles of the WS100 course.