The motivated 27-year-old has only been running ultra marathon distances for two years.
Despite only running long distances for a few years, Greg Salvesen has developed a knack running 100-mile races. But this past weekend, he won his first 200-miler. Yes, 200 freakin’ miles! Inspired in part by the memory of a close friend and running partner Marcy Servita, who died of pancreatic cancer this spring, the 27-year-old astronomy graduate student from Boulder, Colo., won the 200-mile Peak Ultra Endurance Run trail race on Saturday near Pittsfield, Vt., in 61 hours, 46 minutes.
The 200-mile race started at 6 a.m. on Thursday, May 29 and continued until 4 p.m. on Sunday, giving runners a time limit of 82 hours. The race was run on a 10-mile loop that had between 1,700-2,000 feet of elevation gain per lap. Ten people started the 200 but only five finished. While the 100-mile race distance is typically thought of as the ultimate ultra-distance race in the U.S., longer races such as the Peak Ultra events, the 135-mile Badwater Ultra, legendary Sri Chinmoy races and new new Tahoe 200 are among the races pushing runners even farther. [There was an even more unfathomable 500-mile distance at the Peak Ultra event that began on May 22. Noted ultra-endurance athlete Kale Poland, 31, of Laconia, N.H., won the 500-miler in about nine days and 1 hour, while Nick Bautista, 33, of Manasquan, N.J., wasn’t far behind in second. Another runner, Michelle Roy, 44, Natick, Mass., completed 400 miles of the 500-mile event. Other concurrent race distances were held at 15, 30, 50 and 100 miles.]
Salvesen ran his first marathon in 2010 and then caught the ultrarunning bug a little more than two years ago at the 2012 Rocky Raccoon 100 in Texas. In all, he’s run a dozen 100-milers, including the H.U.R.T. 100, Buffalo 100 and Zion 100 in the past five months. He’s planning to average one a month for most of this year in honor of Servita, and next up is the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run on June 20 in Dayton, Wyo. He says he’s fairly low key about his training, averaging about 50 miles per week running in the mountain trails in Colorado. We caught up with Salvesen on Sunday, about 26 hours after he finished running.
How are you feeling after running 200 miles?
I feel really good. It’s pretty surprising, actually. I feel better than I usually feel after running a 100-miler by a good amount. I slept about 10 hours (Saturday night) after I finished and woke up feeling pretty good. During the race, I felt great the whole time. I signed up partly thinking that maybe I’ll really have to see what I’m made of and see if I’ll hit a point of wanting to throw in the towel, but it just didn’t happen. Just like a 100 or any ultra really, everyone out there is rooting for each other. You’re all in this thing together and you make new friends along the way. I think really the only big difference in a 200-mile race is the sleeping aspect.
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How did the race play out?
It started off with 10 of us and I was in fifth place after the first 50 miles. I had planned to run my own race regardless of what anyone else was doing. I just wanted to be consistent. I would finish a loop and come into the aid station—my dad was there whole time crewing for me—and spend 15 to 25 minutes there dealing with my feet and chaffing issues. I didn’t care how long it took. For me, the limiting factor is often my feet and I didn’t want my feet to go at mile 100. From the start, I thought, “What would be the easiest 100-mile pace in the world to run where it would not take effort to hold back?” I took it as easy as I could while still feeling like I was moving. At some point, two people dropped because they had gone out pretty hard and then I was in second. But my goal was to keep moving at the same pace and taking my time in the aid station. Every lap I did was between 2½ to 3 hours.
What was your sleep strategy?
I got through 140 miles that way and I was in the lead and decided to nap. I hopped in the back of my car and told my dad to wake me up in an hour. I wound up sleeping for 2½ hours and I was totally fine. I was out there for almost 62 hours on 2½ hours sleep but I felt totally fine once I started running again. I was worried I’d be all locked up, because after any race, when you stop, you’re done, and you think, “I wouldn’t want to go back out there.” But I’ve always felt that if you know what you’re in for, you approach it differently and know the work you have left to do.
What was your nutrition and hydration strategy?
It was pretty hilarious, I guess. I was doing a least one salt pill an hour, but I wasn’t sweating a whole lot. Normally, I would take two per hour. I was drinking about 50 ounces of water per loop and drinking GU Brew for the first 70 miles or so, but I don’t really like any electrolyte drinks that much. I think I ate nine packages of ramen noodles, about 40 Kind bars, maybe five peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and one humus and vegetable wrap my dad bought at a store in town. The key was that every time I came into the aid station after finishing a loop, I ate something big with about 500 calories—whether it was an entire sandwich or a whole cup of ramen—and then I would go back out and snack on things the rest of the loop. I also had a single energy gel, but that’s just not what I wanted at the time. I also had a single chocolate chip cookie, which was also not what I wanted at the time.
What shoes did you wear for the race?
I ran most of the race in the Altra Olympus shoes. I probably ran 130 miles in those shoes, despite having only run 60 miles in them before the race. They’re very cushy and have a wider fit, so it was nice to have that room. That was going to be my last resort shoe, but I really liked them. But something unfortunate happened too. We would warm my shoes next to a fire every time I finished a lap and one time they got too close to the fire and the insoles melted. I put the shoes back on and went a minute up the hill and the melted insole was really bothering my heel. So I came right back and changed them out for a pair of Brooks Cascadia 9 for two loops (20 miles). Those were fine, but they weren’t as wide in the toe box as I would have liked at that point, so it occurred to me to take the insoles out of a different model of Altras I had with me and put them into the Olympus shoes and that worked out fine. After that, we were just more careful while drying she shoes by the fire.
What kind of gear did you use?
I wound up using a lot more gear than I thought I would. I ran with an Ultimate Direction race vest the whole time. It worked great and has zero chaffing. It pushes down your T-shirt so you don’t chafe your nipples like you do with some packs. But as far as other gear goes, I changed my socks 19 times. Every single loop I put on new socks because I was terrified my feet were going to go. I would cover my feet in BodyGlide and a powder called Squeaky Cheeks. I don’t know what everyone else did, but it was definitely a way to get it done successfully. My feet were fine. I think I had one small blister the entire race. I think I also changed my shirt five or six times and changed my shorts several times. I’d wipe myself off with baby wipes every loop and cover my body in BodyGlide to avoid chaffing. Aside from that, I also carried and Ultimate Direction water bottle and wore a cheap, crappy trucker had because it was sunny the whole time.
How much did you sleep?
Most people wound up sleeping for about 8 hours total. I had planned on taking some power naps. I really wanted to take advantage of the weather. In the past, it has always rained and the forecast is pretty unpredictable. My plan was that anytime it was daylight or not raining, I would be on the course running. But if it was going to be dumping buckets of rain or it was nighttime, maybe I’d sleep. But for the first 140 miles, the weather was great, so I kept running. I felt like I could sleep, but I felt like I could keep going too. I was having some very mild hallucinations—nothing too crazy, but I was worried they’d get worse at night. It was just something small … I was sitting at the aid station looking at my leg hair and it seemed to be coiling up really tight and then uncoiling. You know you’re fine and you’re with it, but there are just weird little things like that. I wound up sleeping for 2 ½ hours and I was totally fine. I was out there for almost 62 hours but I felt totally fine.
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How are you training?
I’m really just going race to race. I might average 50 miles per week on the trails in Boulder. But I haven’t been to the gym in four years. I’ve got runner arms. I don’t think I could do more than three pull-ups. I was at a buddy’s wedding recently and we had an arm wrestling contest and I didn’t beat a single person. I’m a vegetarian, but that doesn’t really mean I’m careful about my diet. I think I probably drink too much and I eat a lot of sugar. I have a real sweet tooth, which is maybe why the Kind bars were so appealing to me.
What inspired you to run this race?
A lot of it has to do with a friend, Marcy Servita, who died of pancreatic cancer on March 16. I found out she had cancer the morning after I finished the H.U.R.T. 100 in Hawaii in January and decided to run a 100 a month in her honor. For her, running was so simple and fun. But for her, running was a social thing, a way to spend time with friends. She was always reliable as a training partner and totally positive and likable. It’s one of those things in which, when you think you have it bad, you don’t have it bad. She had bigger ambitions than what she had already done, so I figured ‘why not try something beyond my limits?’
What else happened out there?
A really cool thing about the race was that there were a variety of different race distances going on. On the very last day there were runners running the 500-, 200-, 100-, 50-, 30- and 15-mile courses. So you had this whole spectrum of people out there and I remember coming into the aid station after 190 miles with someone who was finishing their 30-miler and we just said, “Let’s grind out these final 3 miles together and get this done together.” It was great to see and interact with the whole spectrum because you sort of forget what it’s like to be to new this and how cool and open the community is. That was really fun, something I wasn’t really expecting going into it.
Are you surprised with how well it went?
Yes, big time. I am hugely surprised. I think really what it came down to was deciding right away that I was running my own race early on. If it was going to come down to a race, it wasn’t going to happen until mile 160, so who cares at all before that. I was almost looped twice by one runner and I was only at mile 80. For me, I just wanted to complete the distance and run it as smart as I can. I was able to run the whole thing, and although I don’t think I could have gone much faster, I think I could have kept doing what I was doing for quite a while. I was shocked. It was a lot easier than what I thought it was going to be. I think that was being smart about my pace and taking care of my feet, but also about having been there before. I kind of knew what it was going to feel like to run 100 miles and how it would feel like to plod along with tired legs.
Would you ever consider returning to run the Peak Ultra 500-mile event?
No, I don’t think so. To see Kale and Nick and Michelle out there, that’s an insanely impressive accomplishment. Those people are just freaking nuts. They were moving fast when they finished. I think if I wanted to run for that long, I would do something like run the Colorado Trail.