by Jade Belzberg
INKnBURN Elite Grant Maughan shows no signs of slowing down–in fact, he might actual be speeding up. His latest venture took him to Badwater; although he’s completed Badwater 135 4 times, most recently placing 6th in a highly competitive field in July, he wasn’t out there to race competitors: he was looking to set the Badwater 146 Solo (from Badwater to the top of Mt. Whitney), and in under 50 hours. His FKT was solid, made more incredible by the fact that he completed Leadville 100 in under 24 hours the week before, and had tied for first place (and the course record) at La Ultra High, a 333km race in the Indian Himalayas.
Between racing, recovering and traveling, I had the chance to ask Grant a few questions about his latest ventures.
You recently completed the Badwater to Mt. Whitney Solo FKT (Fastest Known Time), covering 146 miles in under 50 hours, which is a feat in itself–but you had also finished Leadville 100 and the 333km La Ultra High race several days before that. How are you currently feeling?
Surprisingly I felt really good after the Badwater 146–sore, of course, but not debilitated which I thought might be the case after so many hard miles in the preceding weeks. I was really sleepy, though. A couple days after I finished I drove pretty well non-stop across the country to South Florida, only napping in the drivers seat at truck stops or rest areas. I really wanted to lie down but I knew I would go into some sort of sleep coma and maybe wake up a week later. I spent the next week doing a lot of recovery sleep and just lazing about, which my body totally needed…
Did you plan out these races in advance or did the opportunities present themselves over the summer?
Bit of both really. I had the Badwater 135 pencilled in. Last year I won a slot in the lottery for the Leadville 100 but I couldn’t do it because I was doing UTMB, so they let me defer until this year. Then I had some friends that have been needling me to do the La Ultra High for a couple years. I was in contact with the RD and said I was on the fence with so many other things going on so he said to take my time and make a decision when I felt it was right.
I was headed off to try to climb Denali in Alaska so when I got off I had decided I would sign up and see if I could make it. I knew it was close after Badwater and was concerned I might be a bit drained afterward but in the end I felt great and spent 10 days in Ladakh before the race acclimating and hanging out. I managed to slip in a solo summit climb of the 20,182 ft. mountain, Stok Kangri before the start.
The race is 333km long and goes over three high altitude passes reaching 17,800 ft. and even the plains in between are over 10,000 ft. On the first and highest motor-able pass in the world, Kardung La (which separates Ladakh from Pakistan and China), I ascended too fast and suffered severe symptoms of AMS (acute mountain sickness) and HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema) and was barely able to make the crossing. My larynx felt like it was being choked in a vice and when I tried to inhale I had a loud “bark”, which sounded just like a seal. I was stumbling badly and felt in quite a lot of distress. The course medic was a bit surprised I was still going and followed me as I descended about 1500 ft. before the symptoms started to dissipate. My Serbian buddy, Jovica Spajic, and I ended up finishing the race together and breaking the course record in 60 hours 37 minutes. It was a grueling event, not just the altitude but the extremes in temperature, mileage and sleep deprivation.
After the race I jumped on a plane and spent two days getting back to Denver, grabbed my car and drove to Leadville, checked in and was then at the start line at 4am the following morning to race. I was tired and told myself I would be taking it very easy and just trying to finish. I didn’t push myself at all but moved very consistently, which is a great way to do any ultra. I didn’t think I would make sub-25 hour but pushed the last 25 miles and managed to come in sub-24!
I didn’t really have intentions to try the Badwater 146 Solo but I had been carrying my cart around on the roof of my truck for months in case I got the chance. You have to do it between July 1st and August 31st so I was running out of time and decided in a moment to just go out there and have a go at it.
Soon after I drove two days to Lone Pine, put my cart together, got a ride to Badwater basin and headed off into the unknown to try and finish the BW146 Solo self-contained challenge carrying all my water and needed supplies to get from BW to the summit of Whitney un-aided..
Was there a specific race or FKT you prioritized this summer?
No.I just wanted to keep busy, do some great races, do some mountain climbing and enjoy my freedom. I always say I never go out looking for the podium but I do go out to try to put in a good performance that I will be proud of. That seems to have worked well for me this year…getting on the podium has been a great bonus. I had a 2nd place at the Tuscobia 160 winter race pulling a sled and a shared 1st place at the Iditarod 130 Trail Invitational in Alaska pulling a sled. I managed to summit the highest mountain in the Southern hemisphere in Argentina, Aconcagua (22,838 ft.) in February then tried to summit Denali in May but spent 9 days at nearly 15,000 ft. trapped in a storm and had to retreat. I also had a good run at the Badwater 135 this year for 6th place, so it’s been really satisfying for me in 2016.
You attempted the BW 146 Solo–what did you do differently this year?
In 2013 after my first Badwater 135 run, I placed 2nd then decided on a whim to try to do the “double” so summited Whitney, found a crewman on Facebook then started running back to Badwater basin. In 2014 I decided to try the Badwater 146 Solo self-contained, so had a cart built and went out there with Lisa Batchen when she started her Badwater Quad run. I had way too much water on the cart plus other gear–it was horrendously heavy and I basically wore myself out trying to just get to Furnace Creek. It was very hot and I suffered bad. At one point I thought I was about to faint just as some of Lisa’s crew came back to make sure I was all right. I got some ice off them and sat in their car for a bit, so I couldn’t claim to have done the solo self-contained. I went ahead and finished the course and climbed Whitney but I knew at some point I would need to go back and try again. This time I trimmed everything down and took a lot less water and gambled that i would have enough.
What supplies did you carry with for BW146 Solo?
When doing the Badwater 146 solo self-contained you must carry everything you need to get from the basin to the summit of Whitney without resupplying or getting assistance along the way. You also have to carry all your trash. This means you have to carry enough water for the entire trip. Plus calories, clothing and pack for the Whitney section; being a large mountain, you are advised to take warm layers plus wet weather gear, headlamps, satellite trackers and whatever else you think you may need I needed battery packs and a solar charger for the headlamps, and GPS satellite gear. I also took some trekking poles and a pair of sandals. I used pretty well everything and even though I thought my water supply was marginal it lasted me well and I even dumped some before the end to make the load lighter.
How do you prioritize recovery after big efforts like these, while still preparing and training for your next upcoming race?
No impact is about the most important thing for me when trying to recover. Even if I am walking I do so slowly and softly. If riding a bike, it’s in low gear so I can spin easily with hardly any effort. I try to sleep a lot if possible and eat and drink lots of protein. It’s not any more technical than that. It seems to work well for me and so far I have had no significant injuries or down time. I have had a major schedule of running, traveling and adventuring for the past three years. Most of my races are 100 miles or over and I tend to gravitate towards the harder challenges whether it’s temperatures of hot/cold or altitude or major elevation changes.
I think I know my body pretty well and know when i have to back off to let it catch up to my demands on it.
What races are next on the calendar?
I have some winter races I am planning for early in 2017, like the Iditarod 350 miler and will look at other challenges as well.
How do you deal with all of the travel?
I have 24 hours in the day like everyone else. I think it’s just time management and making the day full. I get bored easily and have way too many hobbies. But don’t get me wrong–I love to laze around, eat chocolate and sleep like the best of them.
What’s your current favorite INKnBURN item?
One of my favorite shirts right now is the Phoenix bird. I wore this at Badwater 135 and got so many comments I thought someone might steal it off my back if I stopped for a rest.
I wore the medieval shirt for Spartathlon 153 in Greece. It really fit the bill and was like Pheidippides running to Sparta to warn of the approaching Persians.
Any advice for people who want to start taking on FKT projects?
Research is a good thing. Anything about the area from weather trends to topographic data. Proper gear is essential if going to the mountains.