Sunday, November 06, 2005
A nice article about Krissy Sybrowsky, the youngest woman to ever complete the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. She and her husband, Brandon, are also known to race and direct shorter ultras in the Pacific Northwest.
By VINCE RICHARDSON, Staff Writer
(Photo by Topher Donahue, Krissy Moehl Sybrowsky, four races and 400 miles later, ultrarunner is youngest woman to finish)
SEATTLE — Completing a single 100-mile race in a summer is quite a feat.
Imagine completing four in the span of about three months and you have the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning.
It is an undertaking so brutal that in the 19 years since its insidious inception, it has been accomplished only 187 times. Of those 187 finishers, 161 have been men and 26 have been women.
This year, nine runners completed the harrowing task, of which, two were women. One of those was Burlington-Edison High School graduate Krissy Moehl Sybrowsky.
Sybrowsky not only conquered the Grand Slam, but at 27 she became the youngest woman to do so.
“It’s kind of fun because going into the last race, I was kind of sad because the other three had gone so well,” Sybrowsky said. “I was sad to see it come to a finish. I am happy, however. It feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”
Sybrowsky’s feet are probably just as happy, feeling great resting at home in Ellensburg.
“But crossing that final finish line, I really didn’t feel like, ‘Oh, it’s finally done!’ It was just another finish line,” she said. “A couple of weeks later, I finally had the energy level to look back at what I did.”
So, just what did Sybrowsky do?
She completed the four oldest 100-mile trail runs in the U.S. — the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, the Vermont Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run, the Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run and the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run — in the same year.
Sybrowsky, sporting bib No. 28 for each race, did it with gusto.
“It wasn’t hard to put the shoes on again (for each race),” she said. “Actually, I could feel myself getting excited again and I could feel my body recover.”
Photo by Ben Ditto
Krissy Moehl Sybrowsky races along the rocky trail at the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.
In the end, she was the top woman to complete the Grand Slam, placed second overall and ran the second fasted elapsed time for all four races (88 hours, 11 minutes, 48 seconds) ever by a woman.
“I wanted to complete it sometime soon,” Sybrowsky said of the Grand Slam.
“I wanted to do it while I was in my 20s. Now I am the youngest lady to complete the Grand Slam by four years. So that is kind of cool.”
Sybrowsky never had any doubts she’d finish.
“I was going to do it no matter what,” she said. “There were some times when I had some questions. A lot of people that don’t make the Grand Slam do so because they can’t make the time cutoff. You have to be at certain aid stations by certain times.
“When my knees were hurting, I definitely did the math,” Sybrowsky explained. “That was really my only doubt. But I made it.”
Sybrowsky was spurred on by several individuals. None was as persuasive as her mom, Peggy.
After Sybrowsky told her mom she was interested in completing the Grand Slam, Peggy took matters into her own hands. She crewed on her daughter’s team a year earlier at Wasatch and knew what attempting the Grand Slam was going to entail. She told her daughter she’d be willing to crew at all four of the races.
All that despite the fact that her daughter had yet to decide whether or not to give it a shot.
“I told her I’d think about it,” Sybrowsky said. “In the meantime, she asked me the dates of the races. The next thing I knew, she had all her vacation scheduled around the Grand Slam. I was like, ‘Well, I guess I’m going to be running the Grand Slam this summer.’”
And with that, the odyssey began.
Western States 100
Sybrowsky was a little nervous about the first race in the series. There were other factors besides the 16,000 feet of elevation gain and 18,000 feet of loss that awaited her.
“I was super nervous,” she admitted. “It’s a really competitive race. It’s an event. The event has a presence all its own. There were huge expectations.”
Expectations such as her husband Brandon telling her that he expected her to win it.
“No pressure there,” Sybrowsky said. “But I felt I ran a really smart race.”
The race began with an ascent from the Squaw Valley (Calif.) floor (elevation 6,200 feet) to Emigrant Pass (elevation 8,750 feet), a climb of 2,550 feet in the first 41¼2 miles. From the pass, following trails used by gold and silver miners of the 1850s, runners climbed another 15,540 feet and descended 22,970 feet before reaching the finish line in Auburn.
“The climb was definitely the prettiest part of the course,” Sybrowsky said. “I actually really enjoyed it. The rest is just really well-groomed, single-trail of soft dirt. Not a lot of rocks.
“It’s not super-technical from a runner’s standpoint. If you’ve got quads (leg muscles) and the mentality to go, you can run it.”
The trail passes through remote and rugged territory, accessible only to hikers, horses and helicopters.
Of course, Sybrowsky’s mom was there, along with other supporters.
“It was really nice to have so much support,” she said. “For all those people to come and support me, it felt good.”
Brandon paced her for the final 16 miles.
Vermont Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run
Three weeks after crossing the finish at Western States, Sybrowsky toed the line in Vermont.
She’d end up as the first women finisher.
“This one, I won,” Sybrowsky said with a smile. “It’s more of a road race because 70 percent of it is on Forest Service roads, which are two-track wide. There was a little bit of mud in the first three miles, but after that it was really like running on a highway.”
The Vermont race wasn’t easy. It boasted about 15,000 feet in elevation gains and losses and the temperature reached the mid-80s.
The course pushed Sybrowsky to the brink.
“Surprisingly, I lost my quads,” Sybrowsky said. “I think I got behind on calories at one point at about mile 60 and I started to feel it. At about mile 90, I couldn’t run downhill.”
She described the pain she felt when running downhill as “the muscle separating from the bone.”
The race ended with a 200-meter drop to the finish line. Sybrowsky managed to laugh all the way down.
“I was just trying not to topple over,” she said. “I was sitting way back and remember laughing so hard because it was so comical. For a course that is really known as the easiest of the four, that one definitely hurt the most.”
After crossing the finish line, her father, Dennis, carried her to the medical tent.
Leadville 100 Mile Run
An out-and-back course in Colorado, Sybrowsky ran up and over 12,600-foot Hope Pass not once, but twice.
“This race had the toughest start for me,” she said. “I think it was something like 40 miles before I really felt good. Then I started feeling pretty good right before Hope Pass, that was at mile 45, I think. My system for some reason just wouldn’t go. But I just kept going.”
Leadville allows participants to use a “mule” — pacers who carry all of a competitor’s gear.
One of Sybrowsky’s pacers did more than just lug her necessities.
“She wouldn’t let me stop,” Sybrowsky said. “We were on this downhill road section and I was just walking, feeling miserable, and she just kept running. I was like, ‘OK, I’ll just go with her.’ She pulled me back around and I got my head on straight.”
Three pacers shared the run with Sybrowsky. Each one kept her eating and moving.
Running an out-and-back race can seem tedious. Sybrowsky, however, doesn’t mind retracing her steps. She explained that the trail is always different.
Plus, she said knowing exactly when you reach the halfway point is a positive.
“But it is hard,” she said, “knowing that you have to repeat what you’ve just done. It does kind of prepare you for the different sections of the race. There is a three-mile road section in Leadville and it’s just long and straight. Mentally, that can kill you if you aren’t prepared for it.”
Sybrowsky usually listens to music while charging along. However, her iPod died in Leadville. Luckily, her pacers kept her occupied.
“Leadville was hard, but to have it turn into such a good race was great,” she said. “At the end, my tendons were really starting to hurt. I only had a few weeks before Wasatch and I really started to wonder how that was going to be.”
It would be tough.
Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run
The Utah race tested Sybrowsky like no other. A mere 30 miles into it, Sybrowsky was ready to be done with it.
“My knees started hurting and knowing that I had 70 miles to go and that I had to finish, it was rough,” she said. “There was never any doubt that I would finish, but it was how long and how bad was I going to hurt.”
Peggy was waiting for her daughter at an aid station. This time around, Sybrowsky broke down.
“My poor mom,” she said. “When she looked at me, she could tell how bad I was hurting. That really brought it on. I started to cry, telling her it hurt so bad.”
Fortunately for Sybrowsky, David Horton, who had just finished running the Pacific Crest Trail in record time, was a member of her crew. He looked at the shape Sybrowsky was in, asked a couple of questions, handed her three ibuprofen and told her she’d feel better at the next aid station.
That turned out to be the perfect prescription.
An hour and half later, Sybrowsky was running strong.
At mile 62, she was only 20 minutes off the pace she’d set a year earlier. She decided she’d try to make up those lost minutes.
It proved to be a tactical error.
“Twenty minutes, I can make up 20 minutes,” Sybrowsky recalled. “So I pushed really hard and then all of a sudden everything just sort of fell apart, not my knees, but my breathing, my mental state. I just couldn’t go.”
At mile 93, the temperature was 23 degrees.
Brandon ran the entire race at her side. A ultrarunner himself, his legs were undertrained for running the course’s entire length. On the flip side, his wife’s legs were overtrained and she was about to crash.
In the end, the two sort of found a middle ground.
“He’d normally kick my butt,” she said. “He stuck with me. This was the most time we’d spent together in a couple of months. But it was crazy. I’d run through certain sections of the course and I’d remember how fast we’d ran them the year before. But this time, I was going so slow.”
Something else happened at Wasatch.
“I’d never had the sun come up on me,” Sybrowsky said. “I’ve always finished sub-24 hours. But we came in 261¼2 hours, so the sun came up on us while we were out there. I was like, ‘Whoa, this is a little different.’”
Their dog, Azul, herded them across the finish line, nipping at their heels.
The next Slam
Believe it or not, Sybrowsky is looking forward to running the Slam again — in about 10 years. Or she may set her sights on the Rocky Mountain Slam.
While the Grand Slam is the four oldest 100-mile races, the Rocky Mountain Slam is the four toughest. It includes the Bighorn, Hard Rock, Wasatch and Bear races.
“I have other goals to reach,” Sybrowsky said. “One is to try Hardrock, which is the toughest 100-miler. It has 33,000 feet of gain. There is a 48-hour cutoff, so that shows you how tough it is.”
Another is to get some rest.
“This is a very selfish sport,” Sybrowsky said. “It’s been all about me. Now it is time to give back (to family and friends).”
In the meantime, she’ll simply reflect.
“This was a whole different experience,” she said. “But that is what long distance races are. Some have said it is like an entire life summed up in a single day. There are so many ups and downs and different emotions and pain and elation. This is just something different that I love to do.”
SYBROWSKY’S GRAND SLAM
Western States 100 (June 25-26)
Finish time: 20 hours,
Results: 4th woman, 31st overall
Vermont 100 (July 16)
Finish time: 18:41
Results: 1st woman, 8th overall
Leadville 100 (August 20-21)
Finish time: 22:03
Results: 2nd woman, 13th overall
Wasatch Front 100 (September 10-11, 2005)
Finish time: 26:34
Results: 3rd woman, 24th overall
GRAND SLAM TOTALS
Results: 1st woman, 2nd overall
Total Time: 88:11:48 (2nd fastest female ever to complete the Grand Slam, behind Ann Trason’s elapsed time of 79:23:21)
Vince Richardson can be reached by phone at 360-416-2181 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org