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Paul Terranova Hits A Grand Slam

Austin runner achieves the Grand Slam of Ultra Running plus Hawaii Ironman in one year.

Austin runner achieves the Grand Slam of Ultra Running plus Hawaii Ironman in one year.

The Western States 100-mile trail run starts in California’s Squaw Valley at 6,229-feet of altitude. The opening miles of the classic ultramarathon shoot upward to 8,713 feet, the peak altitude of the race, at Watson’s Monument. The ensuing 95 miles of the race elevation map look like an EKG gone bad, and it was in the last 30 miles where 39-year-old Paul Terranova, an Austin, Tex.-based Ironman triathlete and new ultra runner, began to realize the visceral difference between running 100 kilometers versus 100 miles.

“I suffered like a dog that last 30 miles,” Terranova says. “There’s just no way to prepare yourself for how hard a first 100-miler is. Despite all the training and prep work and time in the gym.”

At the 99-mile mark of the race, called Robie Point, Terranova resigned to the fact that the 10 minutes he had before the clock cracked 20 hours was not enough. He let go of the hope of breaking 20 hours and focused on survival.

“I was just barely moving,” Terranova recalls. From within his well-meaning crew came the question, “What are you doing walking?” with a call to ‘Come on, pick it up.’ Terranova responded by spiking his water bottle to the ground. “It exploded,” he says with a laugh at the memory. An understanding crew member quietly handed him a fresh bottle and the death march continued. Once on the Placer High School track for the final few hundred meters of the race, Terranova found one last gear and was able to run in for the finish of the first event in his attempt at his own version of what is ultra running’s grand slam: Paul Terranova’s “Grand Slam plus Kona 2012.”

The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning is achieved by running four of the big daddies of the 100-miler world: The Western States 100, the Vermont 100-mile Endurance Run, the Leadville Trail 100-mile run and the Wasatch Front 100-mile run—all within the same year.  It was late in the 2011 when Terranova, qualified for the Western States event through the lottery and also qualified for the Hawaii Ironman through his performance at Ironman Cozumel in Mexico, he began to cook up his own version of the Grand Slam.

“I figured if I was going to take a crack at Western States this year, I might as well go for it all.” Although Terranova’s strength was in the Ironman—it was his third time qualifying for the Ironman World Championship—most of his education in ultra-running had come through crewing for his wife’s growing aptitude on the trails (Meredith Terranova has finished Western States in under 24 hours, earning a coveted silver belt buckle). Terranova salted his core training for running 100 miles with as many long bike rides and swims as he could fit in.

To kick-start the project at Western States, on June 23-24, Terranova finished in 47th place in a time of 20:12:15. At the Vermont 100, July 20-21, he finished in 4th place in 16:19:30. On August 18, on the famously challenging Leadville 100 course in the oxygen-drained air of Leadville, Colo. (altitude 10,152 feet), he clocked 21:04:45 for 17th place. On September 7-8, Terranova polished off the running-only part of his Grand Slam Plus program with a 23:17:25 to snag an 8th-place finish in the Kaysville-to-Midway Utah event. And on the Big Island of Hawaii this past weekend, Terranova posted a 10:24:39 for an overall finish of 588th place at the Ironman World Championship in Kona.

Even without the Ironman tacked on, Terranova’s performance this past year has secured status in the ultra world. In his blog post after Wasatch he wrote the following:

“400.2 miles raced, 80 hours and 53 minutes total time, good enough for 8th fastest time in Grand Slam history (since 1986).”

Terranova’s mental technique suggests his skill of avoiding the enormity of the full brunt that five extreme endurance events inevitably serve up.

“My approach was one aid station at a time, which were typically 3 to 6 miles apart. Just running it bit by bit and getting through it,” he said.

Looking back on the trail runs, Terranova says he was thankful that he had three 100s under his belt before he took on Wasatch and its notorious final 25 miles of an event that features a knee-and-heart grinding, 26,882 feet of ascent and 26,131 feet of descent.

“In the final 25 miles you go straight up to one of the highest points on the course,” Terranova says. “Then its just these fierce uphills and downhills. And you’re running this all at night, through shoots and gullies–a course a sane person wouldn’t run in daylight.”

Terranova is now enjoying some vacation time with his wife in Kona. He expressed deep thanks to friends and crew members for their support and raved about the Rogue Running shoe stores and community back in his home town of Austin, as well as the Jack Adams bike shop.

As far as the future of the Grand Slam Plus Kona? When asked this he and his wife are on their way out for a training run.

“Well, I hope it catches on!” he says cheerfully.

About The Author:

T.J. Murphy is a senior contributor to Competitor Magazine and author of the book, “Inside the Box: How CrossFit Shredded the Rules, Stripped Down the Gym and Rebuilt My Broken Down Body.” Follow him on twitter at burning_runner.