275km. 7 days. 1 legendary feat of endurance
An ultrarunner from Germany with a number of awesome achievements already under his belt, Sascha Gramm thrives on extreme challenges and lives for his next adventure.
But what happens when your latest challenge attempt ends in a rescue mission and a fight for survival? That’s exactly what Sascha Gramm experienced whilst running the Ultra Norway Race when he became lost alone in the high mountains in severe weather, with no GPS signal. And yet, just a few months after being rescued, Sascha was back out on the trail to take on the Grand to Grand Ultra – a legendary feat of endurance under another set of extreme conditions, in one of the remotest parts of America.
We chatted to Sascha to learn how he prepared himself to take on the Grand to Grand Ultra, his most memorable moments during the race and how his experience in Norway helped him through the toughest moments.
After your experience at the Ultra Norway race, was it a difficult decision to run in the Grand 2 Grand Ultra?
Only a few days after returning from Norway, I decided I still wanted to make the run from the Grand Canyon to the Grand Staircase a reality. It is probably comparable to the rider who falls off the horse and gets right back on.
I visited the Grand Canyon National Park with my wife a few years ago, and we took a helicopter tour of this impressive area. With the Grand to Grand Ultra there is the opportunity to experience this immense, imposing nature with its different facets up close and that made it especially appealing. Untouched locations can sometimes only be experienced away from developed areas, which I already know from other races around the globe.
After the experiences I had in Norway, I was not worried about taking on my next challenge. On the contrary, the anticipation and excitement I felt was particularly high. Covering approximately 171 miles (275 km) over six stages in seven days, the Grand to Grand Ultra course is a unique experience in breath-taking terrains that few people will ever get to see.
How did you prepare for this race?
Mental preparation for a multi-day stage race beyond civilisation is essential for me. Since body and mind are inseparable, a positive attitude and a love for what I do are basic requirements for me to be able to successfully reach the goal.
A lot can happen during a stage race. In my opinion, you need not just one, but several goals. If the first goal – for example, a good placing – cannot be achieved for certain reasons, you need an alternative goal – for example, to finish well – to keep you motivated.
I mentally go through certain scenarios and ask myself what I will do if certain situations occur. If any of those situations then actually become a reality, you react less frantically because you have already dealt with the situation in advance.
Aside from mental preparation, since the Ultra Norway race, I am more aware than ever of how indispensable good and reliable equipment is. The organiser usually only provides water and a tent that is shared with eight runners (you must be able to do without shower, sanitary facilities and privacy during the race). Everything else you need during the race must be carried in your backpack, with a large part of the total weight (around 10.5 kg) allocated to the food you’ll need, which you are responsible for. It’s vital to ensure you are well equipped, so that you feel confident and positive going into the race.
For the Grand to Grand Ultra, Sascha’s choice of pack was the Talon Pro 30. Lightweight, durable and up to the challenge of extreme outdoor conditions.
“The Talon Pro has always been a faithful companion during my sporting challenges. Everything I need during a race away from civilisation fits in and on this 30-litre backpack – including sleeping bag or mat, cooking utensils, equipment and food which can be stored in the easy-to-reach hip pockets. The pack is also individually adjustable to give a body-specific fit which is comfortable to wear without any chafing.”
What was the most difficult and testing part of the route?
The Grand to Grand is a very challenging stage race. The course includes steep climbs and descents over rocky massifs, boulders, scree and fields, all peppered with cacti, riverbeds and dunes. In addition, according to locals, the temperatures were higher than usual.
However, the most difficult part for me was on the queen stage after a good 85km, and more than 10 hours on varying terrain, when I had to run over 13 sand dunes as high as a house. The sun had set and only a small LED light attached to the route marker showed me the way through the night. The only advantage was that at least with the darkness I could not see how many dunes still lay before me!
Climbing them without multiple breaks was out of the question. So, when I reached the top of every dune, I sat down and enjoyed the spectacular starry sky for a few seconds. From this joy I drew further energy for the remaining stretch to the stage finish.
Taking part in this race so soon after my experience at the Ultra Norway, I felt immense gratitude, humility and joy and was able to really soak up the beautiful moments. I was able to get through the difficult situations that a race always brings with it much more easily.
What was your most memorable moment?
There were many, but the goosebump moment right before the starting gun during sunrise directly at the Grand Canyon, after the US national anthem was played, is something I will probably never forget.
Later, during the fifth stage, the route ran through a slot canyon and the interplay of colours and light was unique and breath-taking. I had many friends on the road here cheering me on which made it such a joyous moment.
Finally, at the end of the race, in the finishing area, we were greeted by eliminated participants who came to congratulate the finishers with iced drinks, which we were all very grateful for!
What is next for you?
I’m training for two events right now – in two very different and unique environments.
At the beginning of March I will be taking on the Ultra ASIA Race in Vietnam as part of the “Continental Challenge”. The aim is to complete 160 km in four days as a self-supporter in very high humidity. The route takes you through many rice plantations in mountainous landscapes, with some technical trails.
Following that, at the end of May, I will be competing in the stage race ‘The Last Secret’ in the Kingdom of Bhutan running over 200km in 6 days. It will be my first competition in the Himalayas, taking me through evergreen jungle, unspoilt villages and probably the most spectacular monastery on earth.