Straight Talk with Joe Grant

At 1:30 pm on August 26, ultrarunner and coach Joe Grant pedaled up his Gold Hill driveway after summiting Longs Peak around sunrise that same day. He hadn’t slept in 36 hours and he’d been on the move for 31 days, eight hours and 33 minutes completing his self-designed “Tour de Fourteeners,” an unsupported, solo, self-powered link-up of 57 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks. Not only did Grant complete this impressive feat, which involved riding his bike between peaks and then running up and down as fast as he could, but he also recorded the fastest known time, smashing Justin Simoni’s previous record (34.5 days) by over three days. Grant pedaled 1,100 miles, ran and hiked 400, climbed approximately 100,000 feet, touched the top of 57 peaks, carried very little gear, and wore the same t-shirt and shorts through all of it in an effort to keep things simple. The point? He wanted to inspire people to pursue local adventures under their own power. We caught up with Grant, who has begun working on a film about his odyssey, to learn more.

Why did you choose this style?

A couple years back, Justin Simoni did it in the same style. That resonated with me. By using the bike as a travel tool and running the peaks, I could leave from my doorstep, explore my backyard, carry a minimal, but reasonable amount of gear, and travel relatively quickly between peaks, while still going slow enough to enjoy the trip.

What was your motivation?

I live in Colorado. The Fourteeners are iconic. I’ve been considering linking them in some manner for years. With all the traveling I do, I don’t get to explore Colorado as much as I want to, so committing to this was a good way to ensure that. I also wanted to promote self-powered local adventure and a different way of exploring your local environment.

Was beating the record a personal goal for you?

Justin is a great athlete and artist and I connected to his approach. He gave me a reference, a starting point, and I enjoyed exploring my own capabilities, my physical and mental edges and the personal challenge of pushing my limits. I wasn’t focused on the record. I wanted to push myself because I like that raw state when you’re so tired and working so hard that you reach a new level of mental acuity.

What was your high point?

There were so many it’s hard to pick one. Sometimes within one day, I’d experience the full range: I’d wake up to rain, but then pop out on the peak and it’d be sunny or I’d see a rainbow or goat, and a huge shift would occur. I’m generally a pretty stoked guy, but when you’re working this hard, you’re so on edge that little things become much more notable. The lows can be intense, but so can the high for simple things … you gain a huge, new appreciation for things that are mundane. That’s why I seek out these opportunities to put myself in this position where I am raw, vulnerable and super open—no inhibition, no holding back, very intense.

Low point?

Mount Antero, the trip’s halfway point. Something triggered a mental shift … I felt fatigue from the previous two weeks and started thinking about what was ahead. It’s not a hard peak, but I broke down. I’m not exactly sure why …. Maybe it was the familiarity? On the peaks I didn’t know, I was focused and on point, whereas I let my guard down on those I knew really well. I didn’t anticipate that. I thought the technical peaks would be the toughest, but it was the grind and the wear and tear of it all that caught up to me.

What kept you going?

The weather on the trip was very chaotic, but even when it was snowing or pouring, I knew it would pass…everything passes. My process was a bit like that: Accept the situation, what the moment holds, and know it’s going to pass. There’s a sort of relaxation that comes from that. As much as I adapted to the rhythm of the weather, I also adapted to the rhythm of these highs and lows.

How do you bring that back from the mountains?

The profundity of it is the simplicity: You are in control if you want to be … you can change your outlook if you want to. But, it’s not like I’ve discovered something new. This is a tool that works and there’s nothing extraordinary about it. It’s not a magical state, it’s a very simple adjustment of mindset.

Why do you coach?

I like developing relationships and helping people become confident that they can do whatever they want. There shouldn’t be a huge barrier to entry for ultras and I love giving people the tools and confidence to enjoy time on trails.

What did it feel like to finally come home?

I started and finished from home so I put the bike in the shed and it was sort of like I’d just been gone for a ride. Of course, I felt a huge sense of completion, but also a huge sense of relief when I realized I didn’t have to get up the next day and stay so focused. Just sitting on the couch and eating felt so good.

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