The 39-year-old from Austin tackled an ultra-ambitious racing season in 2012.
“If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.”
This was the quote, from an HBO documentary, bouncing around in Paul Terranova’s mind as he made his first strides, during an early-morning run in the Crestview neighborhood of his hometown of Austin, Texas, last March. It was day one of the 39-year-old management consultant’s new training program, designed to prepare him to tackle the audacious task of the Grand Slam of ultra running—finishing four classic 100-mile running races in the same calendar year. To up the ante, Terranova decided to add a unique multisport twist to his checklist: the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, the flagship ultra-distance race of the triathlon world.
Terranova tore into his ambitious goal with a 20-miler, mixing in half-marathon race pace intervals. After the run he got in his car, pounded some coffee, and drove to the Barton Creek Wilderness park for another two hours of trail running. Not bad for a first day.
The idea for Terranova’s “Grand Slam Plus Kona” took shape in late 2011 when he simultaneously received a lottery slot for the Western States 100 and also earned an entry to the Hawaii Ironman. Aware of the existence of the Grand Slam through crewing and cheering on his ultra-running wife, Meredith Terranova, he considered the possible landscape for the entire 2012 season.
“I figured if I was going to take a crack at Western States this year, I might as well go for it all,” Terranova recalled
Sure, why not? Well, for starters, Terranova had never run a 100-miler before.
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The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning is achieved by running four grueling big daddies: Western States 100, Vermont 100-mile Endurance Run, Leadville Trail 100-mile run and Wasatch Front 100-mile run—all within the same year. As a three-time qualifier for the Hawaii Ironman, the triathlon aspect of his gambit was the one race in his plan that would provide familiar territory.
His training plan worked. Opening up the attempt at Western States in late June, Terranova finished in 47th place in a time of 20:12:15, a strong performance for an ultra rookie, one good enough to earn him a silver belt buckle. At the Vermont 100 in July, he finished in fourth in 16:19:30. The following month on the famously challenging Leadville 100 course in the oxygen-drained, high altitude air of Leadville, Colo., he clocked a 21:04:45 for 17th place. Then he polished off the running-only part of his endeavor with a 23:17:25 to snag an eighth-place finish in the Kaysville-to-Midway Utah event. And on the Big Island of Hawaii on Oct. 13, Terranova posted a 10:24:39 at the Ironman World Championship.
Even without the Ironman tacked on, Terranova’s Grand Slam performance in 2012 has secured his status in the ultra world. He covered 400.2 miles in 80 hours and 53 minutes total time, good enough for eighth fastest time in the runners started doing the Grand Slam in 1986.
Looking back on the trail runs, Terranova says he was thankful to have three 100s under his belt before he took on Wasatch and its knee-and-heart grinding 26,882 feet of climbing 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 it’s 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.”
And for the future of “Grand Slam Plus Kona”? “Well, I hope it catches on!” Terranova says cheerfully.
Sane people need not apply.
This piece first appeared in the February 2013 issue of Competitor magazine.