This Saturday, local Rock/Creek Race Team member, Nathan Holland will join a mass of anxious, highly-trained, and headlamp-clad runners, in the pre-dawn darkness of Squaw Valley, California. It will be the starting line of the 41st Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run.
Those participating are either: a) an elite ultra runner that “won” or made the “podium” in a handful of qualifying ultras scattered around the country or b) one of the 370 individuals “lucky” enough to have their name drawn during last December’s lottery. These runner’s have all had since that first weekend in December to train, to plan, and to dream about finishing the oldest 100-mile foot race in country.
Originally a horse-back race known as the Tevis Cup, that is until Gordy Ainsleigh decided to run against the riders in 1974–in an attempt to to prove that a 100 miles could be run in 24 hours. Well he did… following the historic Western States Trail of the Sierra’s, with more than 18,000 vertical feet and nearly 23,000 feet of descent before reaching the finish line in Auburn, California…and the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run was born. And now, some 40 years later in 2015, there are at least one hundred and forty three 100 mile races in the U.S. alone. Needless to say, the endurance cult of ultra running is now thriving.
And, not only is Nathan running the Western States 100, but having been one of the “lucky” lottery winners, he has also committed to attempt the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. The Grand Slam is a set of four of the most prestigious (and oldest) 100 mile trail races in the United States. Entrants must first gain entrance into Western States (June 27). Once entered into the WS100, “slammers” must register for and finish the Vermont 100 (July 18), the Leadville Trail 100 at 10,000 feet in Colorado (August 22), and finally the Wasatch Front 100 outside Salt Lake City (September 11). That is essentially running four 100 milers in four months from the West coast to the East coast. Upon finishing all four, participants earn a bronze eagle statue and have the honor of being etched into the Grand Slam finisher’s list. On average, approximately 30 people attempt the Slam each year and anywhere from 12-20 usually finish it.
Nathan, who joined the Rock/Creek Race Team two years ago after stringing together some consistently impressive finishes in area trail races, is a smart, fluid, and efficient runner that has logged some serious training miles on our local trails in preparation for his Grand Slam quest. And having run with him on a few occasions, I can attest to the fact that he is ready for the challenge!
I emailed Nathan a few interview questions as he spent the week In Squaw Valley preparing for Western States:
Why did you decide to attempt the Grand Slam? To be honest when I first read about The Grand Slam about two years ago I was intrigued by the challenge of running four one hundred mile races within such a short time. Mind you, I had never run anything longer than a 50-miler. So, when my name got drawn for Western States I started thinking over the possibility of going for The Slam. My wife and I discussed whether or not I should attempt The Slam given my relatively inexperience with 100-miler, talked with friends and family, and prayed quite a bit. In the end we felt like God provided an opportunity so we decided to take the challenge on as a family.
Do you have/use any special training program? How many miles per week have you averaged leading up to Western? Nothing I would call ‘special’ for training plan. I have picked up a little over the past 4-5 years of running and more so lately from my friend/coach Daniel Hamilton. I build a training plan in Excel and try to stick as close to it as possible but I never get hung up if I waver from the plan, which happens pretty frequently. I try to minimize how much time my training takes me away from my wife and two little girls. I’ll try to run early morning, nap times, late nights, etc. Building up to Western I’ve probably averaged ~75 miles per week and probably about 80% trails with as much elevation gain and loss as possible.
How long have you been trail-running? Up until this summer, what have been the highlights of your trail running/racing experiences? I’ve been trail-running since 2010. I’ve really enjoyed figuring out new challenges such as, nutrition, various distances, different terrain, etc. I’ve had some success and plenty of learning experiences the past 5 years, the highlight of trail running has to be in the relationships I’ve made over the past few years. Everyone is so nice and genuinely excited to get together and enjoy the outdoors.
It will be 4 100 milers in 4 months…What, if any, special considerations have you taken into consideration for the Slam? Do you have any concerns leading into it? Well… I’ve definitely tried to increase my base mileage and I’ve stopped focus on speed work as much as I was for shorter races. I’ve really tried to do a better job of proper warm up, cool down, rolling out, and stretching to keep as healthy as possible. I still have room for improvement but it’s better than nothing. I also decided to skip out on some races in the months leading up to The Slam to focus more on these four races and also to attempt to prevent injury. My game plan is to run The Slam just like a multi-day stage race. I will run each race with the mindset to be preparing for the next race and will focus on recovery between races. I usually don’t get nervous about races and just enjoy the experiences, but leading into these races I do feel a sense of anxiety because I would hate to let my family and friends down who have sacrificed so much to come out to these races and support me… However, I will roll with the punches and take whatever life throws my way.
Do you think that trail running in the Chattanooga area prepares you for the Grand Slam? What are your favorite trails to train on? I definitely think the Chattanooga area has helped prepare for the Grand Slam. I know we don’t have the altitude that I’ll experience out west but we have plenty of solid technical trails, good 1,000-2,000 foot climbs, plenty of heat and humidity, and a ton of fellow trail runners with plenty of good advice for the Grand Slam and similar 100-mile runs. My go to trails are the ones at Southern Adventist University (White Oak Mountain), Lookout Mountain, Signal Mountain, and Enterprise South Nature Park (Volkswagen). And, when I can find the time I will head up around the Hiawassee and Ocoee river to run on those trails.
Another local, Michael Scherzer from Ringgold, Georgia, will also be running Wester States…looking for his second finish. Chattanooga couldn’t have a better representation at such a prestigious 100 mile ultra running event. Rock/Creek wishes both of these local runners the best of luck and we will be cheering you on. Bring those buckles home!
Nathan’s Grand Slam journey can be followed on an the Instagram account: @n8_grandslam2015
Follow the Rock/Creek Race Team on Instagram: @teamrockcreek
And of course, Rock/Creek and rockcreek.com is your local Chattanooga trail running expert for gear, shoes, and knowledge should you be inspired to start training for your 100 mile race.