How Greg Salvesen Won The 200-Mile Peak Ultra Race

Ten hearty runners started the 200-mile race, but only five finished. (This photo includes race directors Andy Weinberg and Joe De Sena. Greg Salvesen is in the back row wearing green. One 200-mile runner missed the photo.)

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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.

RELATED: It’s Time To Run Your First Ultramarathon!

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.

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