I have worked with many endurance sport athletes over the years, ranging from age group to pro, runners to triathletes, 800 meters to 100+ miles, and all points in between. Many have been injured, trying to return to their sport. Others have come to me wanting to improve their performance or just take on a new athletic challenge.
There does seem to be an intriguing competitive “tension” between the “extreme” athletes in running and triathlon. Ultra-runners will be quick to remind Ironman triathletes that 140.6 miles of three sports is just not the same as 100 miles of running. Can’t debate that, for sure. Ironman triathletes, on the other hand, are quick to note that their sport involves three disciplines, not just one. Can’t imagine many ultra-runners putting in 2.4 miles of swimming or 112 miles of cycling.
Here’s a thought: what if you could do both in the same year?
Enter Paul Terranova – Austin endurance sports athlete. The name of the beast in question? His self-proclaimed “Grand Kona Slam” – now ceremoniously referred to here as the Quintuple Crown Of Endurance Sports. Who needs two events when you can have five?
I have known Paul for a number of years and have been one of his supporters. Oh, and he’s a pretty darn good athlete as well! His wife, Meredith, has provided nutritional consultation to a few of my athletes over the years and has contributed to a couple of podcast interviews for “Consumer’s Guide To Health” (Episode 14: Nutrition 101 and Episode 12: Training In The Heat). Paul has been a tremendous supporter of “RunSmart”, giving it a great review and bringing it to the attention of many runners and triathletes. Together, Paul and Meredith are two of the most positive, motivated, and dedicated people that I have met in the sports community in Austin. I am thankful that they are a part of my world.
As for the Grand Kona Slam, a little more history is in order.
I remember the day when he mentioned this whole Grand Kona Slam thing to me. He started off with the idea to do the Grand Slam of Ultra-running – the Western States 100 in June, Vermont Trail 100 in July, Leadville Trail 100 in August, and Wasatch Front 100 in September - all completed within the same year. That has been done before: 234 people have completed it 266 times since 1986.
What makes it the “Grand Kona Slam” is the fifth event, the Big Daddy of triathlon, a trip to Kona for the Ironman World Championships in October. Qualifying for that alone is tough enough. Throw in a little Big Island sweat-fest at the end of it, and you have a daunting task indeed – if you didn’t have one already.
It’s just a mere 540.8 miles. If there is anyone that I know that I thought could get the job done, it was Paul. Nonetheless, I will admit, I laughed when he mentioned it. Utter craziness.
Paul worked his way through the four Grand Slam ultra-running events, and it’s not like he sauntered his way through any of them either:
Western States 100.2: 20:12:15
Vermont Trail 100: 16:19:30
Leadville Trail 100: 21:04:48
Wasatch Front 100: 23:17:25
His cumulative time of 80:53:58 is the best time of all “Slammers” this year.
This past Saturday, Paul put the icing on the cake by completing IM Hawaii – 140.6 miles in a time of 10:24:39.
For those who like numbers, one Grand Kona Slam of 540.8 miles in a total time of 91:18:37 – a little over 10:00 per mile average!
A couple of days after the culmination of the Grand Kona Slam, I asked him if he would share some thoughts with me on all of it. Here is what he said:
“Allan, thanks for the opportunity to share some thoughts on the GKS … there's no denying the physical and mental aspect of completing 5 "A" races in 16 weeks, but deep down I'm more thankful for and proud of the teamwork and sacrifice that Meredith and all our friends, family, crew, pacers, supporters, and well wishers exhibited in rallying us towards a common goal, all while we continued to work and do all the normal day to day stuff that needs to be done. My 6 years of active duty Army service taught me, even without ever being deployed, that war-fighting (aka trigger-pulling) is the "easy" part, but all the logistics to support the war-fighting effort is the "hard" part. And so it is for 100 mile trail runs and Ironman triathlons, the training and racing is the "fun" albeit challenging part, but all the little things that surround training and racing is where the "heavy-lifting" really happens: travel plans, coordinating crew and pacers, packing drop-bags, meal planning and preparation, laundry, photos, videos, social media, bills, doggie care, etc... That being said, I have intentionally put off multiple home-projects and vehicle maintenance items that can wait until the fall. It's all about priorities!”
After reading this, there are definitely some common themes with many other athletes seeking to push the boundaries of human performance. And it doesn’t have to be 540.8 miles. Although the destination is a great thing, it is really all about the journey. Not only does it require physical training, but perhaps more importantly, facing the mental challenge head-on. It speaks volumes about the power of the mind and the challenges we face – in our first 5K, or a 540.8 mile endurathon.
You can accomplish seemingly impossible things when you put your priorities in place, when you have the courage and fortitude, and when you have the support and love of those close to you. Then, the boundaries really are limitless.
My congratulations go out to Paul and his epic, inaugural Grand Kona Slam, the Quintuple Crown Of Endurance Sports. It will not only be interesting to see how many take up the challenge that he has thrown down, but also to see what new adventure lies ahead for him. In the meantime, go get some other projects done, will you?
Photo credits: Terranova