For at least 27 runners, the finish line of the Vermont 100 marked the halfway point of their attempt to complete the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, which consists of four 100-mile races. Three weeks before running Vermont, they were in California for the Western States 100, and four weeks from now they’ll be in Colorado for the Leadville 100 before traveling to Utah in early September for the Wasatch 100.
In 2010, Neal Gorman took just under 75 hours to finish all four races in total. This year, Nick Clark and Ian Sharman both have a great shot of breaking that record. But to become the new record-holder, they also have to beat one another. Sharman crossed the finish line 36 minutes before Clark at Western States. At Vermont, Clark led Sharman by 10 to 15 minutes for much of the day but edged him out by just three minutes at the end.
After the race, as they sat near the finish line and waited for other runners to finish, they talked about what they thought of the course and about who was going to come out of their Grand Slam competition on top.
How was the race?
Clark: It was beautiful.
Sharman: It’s a nice course if you could do it fresh. It’s not much fun when the legs just don’t agree with you.
Clark: When the quads are barking at mile 20, it’s like, oh, shit.
So you were tired pretty early?
Clark: You know, I thought I had recovered pretty well. I was feeling good last week, and then 20 miles in it’s like, yeah, I ran 100 miles three weeks ago.
Sharman: The first 20 miles wasn’t too bad, and then it just suddenly hit me that there’s a long way to go.
Clark: This course is a lot harder than people give it credit for.
Sharman: It is.
Clark: It’s unforgiving. It’s up-down, up-down. And it just punches you the whole way. I don’t think I climbed more than 700 feet in one push, but—
Sharman: I think 800 feet is about the most, when I looked at the profile.
Did the humidity make it tough?
Sharman: Not too bad.
Clark: The humidity was brutal.
Sharman: It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it’d be today. It wasn’t as bad as yesterday would have been, for example.
Clark: I thought it was brutal. I’m from the Front Range in Colorado. The humidity there doesn’t get much above 20 percent.
Sharman: You know, my only motivation to keep pushing was because you were ahead. Otherwise, I would’ve just gone, screw it.
Clark: I thought you were buried.
Sharman: I was. I don’t know what happened. I ran basically all of the last six miles, all but about a tenth of that nasty little road climb before we got on the trail again.
Some runners went out pretty fast at the start, but you guys both seemed pretty steady all day.
Sharman: In terms of average pace, yes, but not in terms of how we felt.
Clark: There were probably three or four people who went off pretty hard. After about 10 or 15 miles, I knew it was going to have to be just a steady job all day. Just kind of trying to keep it steady, not slow too badly towards the end, so that’s pretty much what I did.
Sharman: We obviously went off harder than the average pace, but I don’t think we went off particularly hard. I think it was just that the legs really couldn’t take that distance. I had a feeling that maybe at 70 miles it would get extra tough. I mean, at Western States usually the last 30 or so is kind of hell, but this one I felt like that from mile 35 or 40. And I was just thinking, if I can average 10 minute miles from here, I’ll be amazed. I just did. The other incentive was just to come in under 16 hours.
You both built your cushion on Neal Gorman’s times by a bit.
Sharman: I know. At least it’s four weeks until the next one.
Clark: I don’t know what his finish time was.
Sharman: I think it was 16:33.
Clark: What was your finish time? I think I was like 15:53, 15:54.
Sharman: 15:57. So I’ve taken 36 more minutes out of him. So I’m exactly two and a half hours under record so far.
So you’re looking forward to Leadville now.
Clark: That’s where I put him [Sharman] away. On my home turf.
Sharman: I have four weeks. I’ll feel great by then.
Clark: We’ll be at 10,000 feet.
Sharman: That’s fine.
Clark: I’ll be at 10,000 feet for the next four weeks.
Sharman: I will for two. I’m going to go up to Durango and get up to high air every day. I can’t afford to give you a couple of hours just because you live at high altitude.
Note: Clark and Sharman aren’t the only runners attempting the Grand Slam who have made strong showings at both Western States and Vermont. A somewhat complete list of Slammers is available on run100s.com, although there may be some runners (including Nick Clark, apparently) who are running the Slam but haven’t registered with that website. Below are photos of a few of the other runners taking on the Slam.