Southern Utah News Articles
Grand to Grand Ultra: magical and magnificent camaraderie
Something was different this year. Something magical. Something clicked among the runners, the staff and the crew. It was remarkable how happy everyone was. They became like family, really caring about each other, really interested in how everyone was doing – not where they placed, but how they felt physically, mentally and emotionally. It didn’t matter who came in first. What mattered was being able to finish the stage. The cheering, clapping and yelling as each runner crossed the day’s finish line was heart-felt.
When Councilman Brent and Kathy Chamberlain visited an evening camp for G2G, they found everyone was truly concerned for those runners out on the trail until late, and were thrilled as each runner crossed the finish line. They said, “We were amazed at the diversity of the participants – young to older, slim to not-so-slim. It became obvious that one of the most important attributes the runners could have was the right mental attitude, and a tremendous desire to finish.“
One of the runners with a tremendous desire to finish was Gregory Castle. Castle knew the day-after-day demands of G2G would be his biggest challenge. When he passed Best Friends at dusk almost 25 miles into the “long stage,” there was an emotional greeting by his wife and many employees. Tears flowed, and Castle still faced another 28 miles to the end of the long stage at Elephant Butte. The Sand Dunes loomed ahead.
Castle had planned to stop at dark and sleep through the night, but he said, “I just didn’t sleep. I rested a couple of hours, then went on. I tried to sleep, but just couldn’t.” When he reached camp, it was 3 p.m., 31 hours from when he’d started the long stage. As he passed under the finish banner, all hands were clapping and cheering him. He had conquered an amazing challenge.
At the end of the race, Castle was second from last. As the oldest competitor (the other 72-year-old dropped out the first day), he stayed in the race, fighting fatigue and working hard to reach his goal. He kept his promise to finish the race – as a symbol of the endurance needed to “Save them All” – the marathon task at Best Friends. As more and more runners dropped out – 25 in all – Castle became one of the last in the pack, competing for nearly 78 hours over six days.
Many of those who dropped out did not leave. They stayed to help. Some ran in subsequent stages (just for fun), but they wanted to be there to support those still determined to finish. They, too, added to the magic.
Todd Seliga’s experience was shared by many. “My tentmates were awesome; the camaraderie was amazing. It didn’t matter to most runners where they placed each day. What mattered was that everyone wanted everybody to get through,” Seliga said.
Seliga was among the first in line to greet people as they finished each day. His infectious smile seemed to beam even brighter with each day. He loved his tentmates and socializing with the runners and support team. He placed 15th overall! Seliga was happy to not be carrying his usual 35-pound pack of gear. Two days after finishing the race, he would once again be on foot, doing his job patrolling in the Grand Canyon.
Mike McTeer, who said he’d be elated if he crossed the finish line last, placed 18th! He had trained very hard. He had come a very long way in five years. When asked at the final celebration in Las Vegas how he would describe his experience, McTeer said it was indescribable. “Even if I sat in front of my computer for a day and tried to write about it, the words would not be there.” His “beyond words” experience was mirrored by many of the competitors.
Michele Graglia, the overall winner said, “The word magical sums it up. It was an experience of a lifetime!” Graglia averaged 5-¼ miles per hour during the race. That is lightning fast. Most of us “normal” people couldn’t do even one mile at that pace. When asked if it was difficult, he seemed so relaxed and pain-free, he replied, “I suffer a lot to go fast. I could have slowed down and perhaps suffered less intensely over a longer period of time, but I run to push myself. Just because I smile doesn’t mean I don’t suffer.”
He loved the challenging terrain, including figuring out that he could navigate the Sand Dunes best by putting his shoes on his hands and digging his bare feet into the sand as he clamored up the endless dunes. While sitting and listening to the local duo Ron Jones and Genevieve Hannon sing western songs, framed by a gorgeous sunset, Graglia couldn’t keep the tears from his eyes.
The Chamberlains were delighted with Graglia’s graciousness. “He got up from his sleeping bag where he was resting and spent about 20 minutes visiting with us. Although he was the top competitor, you wouldn’t have known that from visiting with him. He was not boastful in the least. “
At the Las Vegas closing ceremony, everyone was smiling and happy – a joyous celebration of food, awards and dancing. Marjorie Casse (Belgium), who was tormented by blisters and in such pain that tears streamed down her face much of the time, cried as she was met at the finish line in each camp, still determined to finish. She devised some comfortable “moccasins” from her stack of e-mail and some tape, to give her swollen feet a rest in the evenings. But at the closing ceremony, she danced the night away, a light-footed muse in bandaged but otherwise bare feet.
Colin and Tess Geddes gave out awards (Kanab Wonderstone carvings) to the top male and female, the top winners in each age category, and to several others for a variety of special accomplishments. This year’s top female, Chantal van der Geest (Netherlands) came in third overall, the highest female ranking in the three editions of G2G.
If you would like to see more photos and details of how the runners did, you can go to: http://www.g2gultra.com. You’ll also find information about next year’s event.
Volunteering is a tough and joyful experience. Some runners want to return to volunteer. Some volunteers want to run G2G next year. Some volunteers want to do it again next year.