Hillsound brand ambassador Jeff Pelletier raced the Grand to Grand Ultra last week, completing 7 days of unsupported running across the desert. The course covers 170 miles of unique landscapes, from canyons to valleys to two-billion year-old rock formations. Jeff completed the race in 35 hrs and 45 mins, accomplishing an impressive 4th place overall and 1st in his male age group. Hillsound caught up with him for a race re-cap.
H: Hi Jeff! A huge congratulations to you on this super successful 7-day ultra!
J: Thanks very much!
H: Have you done any multi-day racing before?
J: While I’ve become very comfortable in racing distances between 50 km to 50 miles, this was my first time doing so back-to-back – certainly my first time racing 7 days straight!
H: Seven days of running sounds intense. Did you know what to expect? What were some of the unexpected obstacles?
J: I have some experience with multi-day trekking and fastpacking, so a lot of the logistics around gear, food, and just taking care of my body weren’t completely unfamiliar. But what was new was having to apply a longer-term racing strategy over the course of the week. Pacing an event like this was of course going to be different, and I was unsure how my body would feel several days into the event. Fortunately, I found that I was actually getting stronger as the days went on.
Challenges with this particular event also included running in sand – the 80 km stage was almost entirely sand, including 5 km of actual sand dunes. I had ordered some special sand gaiters from overseas which unfortunately didn’t arrive in time, so I had to simply deal with having to empty my shoes occasionally, especially when running through the dunes.
H: How did you train for this mega ultra? It certainly must have been very different from training for a regular ultra.
J: Since I had been pretty focused on the Fat Dog 120 miler this summer, which I considered to by my ‘a’ race for the year, I didn’t actually do any specific training for G2G. With only 5 weeks between the two, I had to concentrate instead on simply my recovery, and to hope that my fitness would carry over.
Temperatures in the desert at this time of year can get over 30 degrees celsius. We had a pretty warm summer here in the Vancouver so I found that I seemed to handle the heat okay, despite not having done any specific heat adaptation training.
Something I would have done different would be to do more upper body strength training as well as training with a heavy pack. I didn’t have any specific problems with my pack, which I had managed to get down to 15 lbs. excluding water, but I may have been able to run a little more efficiently with better training.
H: Have you ever run in a similar environment to the course at the Grand to Grand Ultra?
J: The race started right on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Two years ago, I ran the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim – from one side of the Canyon to the other and back again, a total of 46 miles with roughly 13,000 feet of elevation gain. So I was mentally prepared for similar terrain and temperatures to this.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the cactus fields that we had to run through in the first two stages of the G2G. Trust me when I say that it doesn’t feel good to kick a cactus!
H: What is the biggest thing you’re taking away from this race?
J: Staged racing really is its own sub-culture and community within the ultra running world. Everyone becomes like family at the end of the week, and it was really cool to see how close people had become who knew each other from other races. There are those that race nothing but staged events, so you could imagine how close and supportive that community becomes.
This was a great chance for me to experience another aspect of what our sport can offer, and I’m definitely planning on including another staged race in my racing calendar next year!
H: You must be exhausted (yet feel so good about finishing with such good results!). How are you cooling down at the moment? When will you run next?
J: I took a couple of days off after the race and just focussed on eating to try to put back on some of the weight that I’ve lost. I joined my usual Tuesday night crew for a recovery run this week on the trails and the legs are feeling great! I promised my coach I’d take it easy for a while though, so definitely no more racing for at least a few weeks 😉
H: Thanks for your time Jeff! We can’t wait to hear about your upcoming adventures!
Check out his video story about his journey at Grand to Grand Ultra.
You can see more of Jeff’s stories on his Instagram: @jpelletier