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Greg Salvesen and Infinitus 888K – The Black Hole of Ultrarunning

Greg running the Boulder Bad Ass 100.

If you Google Infinitus 888K, you are not going to find out much. There is a rudimentary website, a short, cryptic video, and a Facebook page. That is all. No course profile, no photos, no description or information on the event. To some extent, it is more obscure than the famed Barkley Marathons. It’s like the black hole of ultrarunning – an event exhibiting such a strong gravitational pull that no information can escape from it.

Greg-Infinitus
Greg still going strong after several days during the Infinitus 888K.

A week after the event, sitting in one of the ubiquitous coffee shops of Boulder, Greg Salvesen recounts to my exactly how he won this crazy race that covered 551 miles* in just over 8 days (the race had a cutoff time of 10 days). “The key to the race was taking care of my feet and keeping them dry. On the lower loop, there was this ‘swamp of despair’ that you had to pass through twice, and that is what took everyone out. It was about 2 miles of just pure muck and if you didn’t have a solid foot care plan, it just ruined your feet.”

Greg is no newbie to running events like Infinitus 888K. In 2014 he ran a 100 mile race each month except for September, when the Mogollon Monster 100 was cancelled half way through, starting with the brutal HURT 100 in Hawaii in January and continuing throughout the year, running a different 100 miler each month until finishing up with the Boulder Badass 100 in December before running the HURT 100 again to complete the cycle.

“I’m not the fastest runner, but I’m really intrigued by going long distances and seeing what I can do. After last year’s 12 hundred milers I started to read about pedestrianism and six day events. It’s crazy to think that the American record was set in 1888 by James Albert who ran 621.75 miles in six days!”

Events like Infinitus 888K may just be the perfect thing for Greg. The race consisted of running two loops that traced a rough infinity symbol through the Vermont woods, involving several decent climbs and as Greg kept repeating the “swamp of despair – a marsh that sucked you in and didn’t let anyone out unscathed.” As a graduate student at the University of Colorado studying Black Hole Astrophysics, Greg is intimately familiar with infinity, black holes, and strong gravitational fields that don’t allow any light to escape; just like the “swamp of despair.”

Greg_Infinitus_night
Greg checking in during the middle of the night during the Infinitus 888K.

“There is nothing like Infinitus. There are some stage races, but I really like the idea of the clock always ticking. When I found out about it, I got to thinking, ‘Maybe there is something new and exciting here.’” After running for 8 days and 19 hours it is hard to tell if Greg had any pivotal experiences, but he did find something – a strong sense of community and a bond with the other runners.

“I’ve already been getting a lot of pressure from the other runners at the race to come back next year. You get really invested in how the other runners are doing in this kind of race. You want everyone to finish; there is a huge community aspect to this type of race. We were all in it together.”

That sense of community and the bond formed between runners is what I took away from Greg. Although he had just won one of the hardest and longest races in the United States, he was almost more interested in talking about his pacing duties at the upcoming Bighorn 100, where he is going to help his friend finish their first 100 miler.

“It’s more about the community, to see someone you know. There is not much elitism in our sport, and really, everyone is rooting for everyone else.” Greg is signed up for the famous Hardrock 100 later in July, and although he will be racing, he will also be rooting for everyone else running the course.

“People asked me why not run the Colorado Trail or something like that instead of these infinity loops. I didn’t have a good answer for that question. At the time, my answer was that logistically it was easier. But now, having done Infinitus, I was surprised with how heavily invested I became in how other people were doing in the race. You got to know these people over days and come to really like them. Everybody has redeeming qualities that get at the heart of who they are and replace any iffy first impressions that you may have of them.”

Greg - Bad Ass 100
Greg running the Boulder Bad Ass 100.

The presence of a black hole can be inferred by studying how the black hole interacts with light and matter in its vicinity. It’s through the observation of how light and matter behave near a black hole that we are able to detect or learn anything about them at all. Talking with Greg a week after his win, it is obvious that just like black holes, he is more vested in the interaction with other runners and the larger community stemming from such events than the actual event itself. Maybe races like Infinitus 888K are the perfect event for Greg, and maybe it is the black hole of ultrarunning – you wouldn’t know anything about the race if it were not for the larger community of people revolving around it.

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* Although the race was advertised as 551 miles (888K), a last minute course change resulted in a slightly shorter race, which according to Greg’s watch was around 530 miles.

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