Monday, September 06, 2010


Rewind to May 2009. I’m on the heels of a bouncing, backwards white baseball cap on some Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 ridgeline. I catch up to the Hat eventually and we run together, yo-yo style, for a few hours. We run, we chat, we drop each other, we catch back up to one another, we pass through aid stations and, finally, the Hat drops me for good around the 50 mile marker. We both go on to finish in the middle of a stormy night.  Only, the Hat finishes about 40 minutes faster than me. We congratulate each other at the finish. I feel like death and shiver uncontrollably. The next day the Hat, otherwise known as Joe Kulak, was nowhere to be seen. There would be no catching up and no exchanging stories from yesterday’s race.

Fast forward to May 2010 and I show up again to the MMT100 as a spectator. Joe is racing. I see him at a few aid stations throughout the day. Throw up, blood, dehydration- you name it- the guy has it going on. Regardless, Joe goes on to finish only as a die-hard, tough-as-nails competitor would. Does Joe even know the meaning of DNF I thought? I still don’t think so.

In a nutshell, these were my two experiences seeing Joe Kulak in action. I have heard other stories from VHTRC pals about his drive and mental toughness. I have also heard amusing stories about his weak stomach at race aid stations, acting out like an angry child. Combine the stories and look up a few of the guy’s race results and I dare anyone to disregard Joe as anything but an ultra running legend.  As far as ultra running legends go, at least. Much less, an ultra running legend that still runs ultras. And runs them well.

Joe is probably most widely known for his 2003 Grand Slam performance, in which he ran a stellar 18:14:59 Western States, 14:55:26 Vermont, 20:03:25 Leadville and 21:53:10 Wasatch. To date no other Grand Slam finisher had run a faster combined time. To date, no one has still. Very impressive, Joe.

Friday is Wasatch, and my final stop on the 2010 Grand Slam express. I have been fortunate to find mild success in my Grand Slam races this summer and I calmly await Friday’s Wasatch adventure with a careful, yet respectful, eye on Joe’s 2003 Grand Slam 75:07:00 combined time standard. Truly, first and foremost I would like to enjoy a fun day of running and competing in the beautiful Wasatch Mountains of Utah. Second, I want to finish what I started and become a Grand Slam finisher. Will good fortune accompany me at Wasatch? Will I negotiate the clock in such a way to produce a strong finish time and better Joe’s Grand Slam record time? If I am so fortunate to race strong and smartly who knows what will happen. Only time will tell. I hope to make Joe proud.  Tune in.


  1. Neal,
    Very nicely written piece as always. Very inspiring too. All the best in the last section of the Grand Slam!!!

  2. A story in the making, I am sure. How you enjoy each race and truly respect the competition is inspiring. You contribute to ultra-running what, I believe, separates this sport from too many others...humility.
    Have a great run. I wish I was there to cheer you on!
    ~Margaret Gorman Campbell

  3. what a great post. respect for your peers. strategy. humility. respect for the race, the course, the organizers, the volunteers, etc. you've got it! good sport! all the best! joan