Paul and Meredith Terranova Celebrate an Epic Year
photography by Brian Fitzsimmons
If you’re connected in any way to the running community in Austin, then chances are you’ve heard of Paul and Meredith Terranova. Paul made running headlines in 2012 by completing the “Grand Kona Slam”—a title coined in honor of his finishing the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (four 100-mile races: the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, Vermont 100 Endurance Race, Leadville Trail 100 Run, and Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run, all officially finished in the same year) and the Ironman World Championship in one year—and Meredith is known not only for her own impressive multi-sport feats but also for guiding numerous endurance athletes to success through her nutrition business, Eating and Living Healthy, LLC.
The Terranovas are a power couple, the Barack and Michelle of the athletic community. Their passion for sport, for life—and, most importantly, for each other—has propelled them to enviable success in their athletic and professional careers, as well as in their relationship. The couple has weathered the ups and downs of marriage and credits their achievements to their ability to balance their lives through compromise and relentless support of each other in pursuing their goals.
Meredith Meets “Pool Man”
It’s the classic story of boy meets girl, with an athletic twist. In 2002, Meredith Novy was at her neighborhood pool in Houston, in training for a sprint triathlon. Paul Terranova, new to the triathlon world himself, showed up at the same pool at the same time. It wasn’t Paul’s smile or the light in Meredith’s eyes that drew them together, however—it was their proximity in age. “[At the pool] it was either kids playing or older people…and up came this person who was my age,” Meredith explained. “We struck up a conversation.”
“I like to say she was checking me out in my Speedo,” joked Paul.
There might have been some truth to Paul’s assertion: Meredith sheepishly admitted that after getting Paul’s phone number, she couldn’t remember his name. “I was telling my friends about him and they asked, ‘What’s his name?’ and I couldn’t remember,” she laughed. “I put his name as ‘Pool Man’ in my phone.” After a bit of stealth on Meredith’s part, she finally figured out Paul’s real name but kept his nickname in her phone for a while.
The two became “pool friends,” chatting with each other in between laps. It was Meredith who made the first move, asking Paul (an engineer) if he would help her hang some heavy, decorative mirrors she had recently purchased. In exchange, she offered to make him dinner (“Sneaky, very sneaky,” whispered Paul). Eventually their friendship grew into something more, and the two were married in 2004.
Early in their relationship, Meredith’s athletic pursuits had expanded to include the sport of ultrarunning, to which she immediately became hooked. She competed in the inaugural Bandera 50K and finished her first 50 miler at Rocky Raccoon in Huntsville. At the time, Paul was competing in marathons and triathlons and dabbling in adventure racing—a combo of trail running, kayaking, and mountain biking—but he had no interest in joining Meredith in an ultra. “He always said he had done his time on the trails in Ranger school in the Army,” Meredith joked.
Learning to Compromise—the Hard Way
Meredith continued to work her way up the ultrarunning ladder, completing a 100K and finally setting her sight on her dream race: the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. Meanwhile, Paul had begun training for an Ironman. Life, however, threw the couple a curve ball in 2004 and again in 2005, teaching them valuable lessons about self-sacrifice and compromise. In 2004, Meredith had already submitted her name to the Western States lottery when she realized that the race fell on the same day that Paul was competing in his very first Ironman in Coeur d’Alene, ID. Wanting to support Paul on his big day, she decided to withdraw her name. “And that was a really selfless thing to do,” said Paul. “In the selfish pursuit of sport, that’s a pretty unselfish move…to take your name out of consideration and take your chances the next year.”
Unfortunately for Meredith, however, she was not selected in the Western States lottery in 2005. Making the most of her disappointment, she decided instead to pace at the race for a friend while Paul, now an Ironman veteran, competed in the Ironman 70.3 at Buffalo Springs Lake in Texas. His results there ended up qualifying him for his first Ironman World Championship, and Meredith was devastated to have missed his moment. “I remember I was on the phone asking, ‘Did he get it? Did he get it?’…I was sitting in the car crying because it was such a big thing and I had missed it. That’s when we realized that we wanted to be there for each other’s big deals.” The two decided then that they would alternate big race years so they could be there to fully support one another. “It’s easier to support somebody when you’re not totally enmeshed in your own thing,” Meredith explained.
The Intriguing World of Ultrarunning
It wasn’t long before Paul, inspired by Meredith’s ultrarunning journey, became interested in the sport himself. He was fascinated by the ultrarunning environment, as well as by the challenge of pushing one’s body to the limits. “[I wanted] to push that limit of running,” Paul explained. “The chance to go run four hours or five hours or even longer was something that intrigued me.” In 2006, Paul began to train for his first ultra, competing at the 50K in Bandera. “I wanted to work my way up from 50K to 50 miles, to a 100K, to 100 miles,” he said.
First, however, Meredith was determined to finally have her day at Western States. “We had settled on the fact that I was going to get my ass to the finish line,” she said. “It was my dream race. I wanted to have the great day, and then I didn’t care what [Paul] did after that. I wanted to finish Western States, and then I wanted to be done with [running] hundreds.” After two disappointing results (a “Did Not Finish”—DNF—in 2006 and 2007), Meredith’s moment finally arrived in 2010. She finished the race in less than 24 hours and earned her silver belt buckle, further inspiring Paul in his own ultrarunning journey. “[Meredith was] the one breaking the ground on the trail running; I’ve been the beneficiary of learning from her experiences,” he said.
The Grand Kona Slam
What many would call a crazy idea—four 100-mile races (the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning) and the Ironman World Championship (an event of 140.6 total miles: 2.4 miles swimming, 112 miles biking, and 26.2 miles running), all in the same year—started sanely enough. “I knew I wanted to do a 100-mile race,” said Paul. “And then I thought if I’m in shape to do one, maybe I’m in shape to do three more. And then having previously qualified for Hawaii at Ironman Cozumel…put me in the position that, if I got pulled in the lottery for Western States, I could link up all five events in one calendar year, and that’s the way it happened.”
Paul had always been something an overachiever. From 2008–2010, he had managed to train for an Ironman while holding down a full-time job, commuting to Dallas for work on a weekly basis, and attending business school. But along with the desire to be successful at work and excel in triathlon, Terranova found another deeper motivation in his ultra training. “Trail running is different,” explained Meredith. “It’s family, it’s community. To go for a run on the trails, you’re one [with nature]. There’s the saying, ‘If you can’t solve your problems on a five-hour trail run, you’ve got big problems’: It’s the truth.”
“When we’d go out to California for [Meredith’s] attempts at Western States, we’d stay at a friend’s place, and he’s got a shadow box with his Hawaii Ironman finisher’s medal, his Boston Marathon medal, and his Western States sub-24 hour belt buckle,” Paul said. “I thought that looked pretty nice.” Paul also had a friend who had completed the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning himself: “[I was inspired by] getting to hear his stories of going to all these different places, how neat that would be to do your first one,” he said. Thus, the term “Grand Kona Slam” was coined: The Terranova’s friend, Bryon Powell (founder of www.irunfar.com), came up with the name on a trail run the day of the Western States lottery, after Paul had shared with him his “harebrained” idea.
When in Doubt, Listen to Your Wife
Paul’s selection in the Western States lottery meant that he had the chance to act on his big idea. In addition to Western States, Paul would be competing in the Vermont 100 Endurance Race, Leadville Trail 100 Run, and Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run. Western States proved to be the most challenging because—as the couple joked—Paul didn’t listen to his wife. As a nutritionist and endurance athlete herself, Meredith knew she would be a valuable asset in managing Paul’s nutrition strategy. “I always joke that it’s bad for business if either of us has a bad race day and it’s nutrition’s fault,” Meredith laughed. Although she was pacing another friend at the race, she left specific instructions for Paul’s crew at Mile 62 regarding his nutrition. “[I said] to give him Mountain Dew…a piece of pizza, because I knew he needed the calories; change his shoes; give him some Tylenol, and go.”
“I did two of the four,” laughed Paul. “No [change of] shoes and no Tylenol.” When Meredith saw him at Mile 99, he was in pain and walking. “Which is as fast as I could go,” Paul interjected.
“I was like, ‘What are you doing?’” exclaimed Meredith. “‘You’re going to have to pick a spot; you’re going to have to run.’ So we picked a spot and trotted it in.”
“I shuffled,” admitted Paul. After Western States, said Meredith, she made a decision for the rest of Paul’s races: “I said, ‘I’m pacing or crewing. You’re going to listen to me!’” Sure enough, Paul’s next 100-mile race in Vermont was four hours faster—and his recovery was easier as well.
A Celebration of Life, Love, and Sport
Paul and Meredith both agreed that although 2012 was a whirlwind, it brought them closer. Instead of scrambling to find time together, the two found creative ways to connect around their hectic schedules. “We would always do a once-a-week trail run together with the dogs,” Meredith said. “One of the things we did pretty frequently was in the evenings; we had our bikes set up [on trainers]…and we’d [talk] through our days.” Paul also noted that their extensive travel throughout the year gave them quality time they might otherwise not have had.
The Terranovas believe that Meredith’s finish at Western States in 2010 and Paul’s athletic feats in 2012 were in many ways a celebration—not only of their successes, but of how far they had come as a couple, having gotten through some difficult times in previous years.
Perhaps the most affirming moment for the couple occurred during Paul’s last ultra of the Grand Slam, the Wasatch Front. Meredith paced him over the last 25 miles, a difficult stretch of steep, sandy hills. “I actually took a hard fall,” said Meredith. “I was bleeding and slow to get up.”
“She said, ‘Leave me!’” interrupted Paul. “But we were in the middle of the Wasatch Forest.”
Meredith continued: “I figured I’d shake it off…stop at the next aid station. I saw him go a little ways and then saw his headlamp turn around. I yelled, ‘You need to go!’ And he yelled back, ‘No!’ I yelled, ‘Why not?’ And he yelled back, ‘Because you’re my wife!’”
“I couldn’t leave her,” admitted Paul.
“So then I knew I was going to have to shake it off and get up,” laughed Meredith.
Paul asserted that he could not have made it through each race without the love, friendship, and support of Meredith. He also emphasized that the support of his family was equally crucial. His sister was part of his crew, and her children, along with his parents, were part of his cheering squad. Paul even brought his brother in law—who was deployed in Afghanistan at the time—along for the adventure by carrying his unit badge with his water bottle at every race.
Paul’s crew also played a vital role in his success. “When we were picking people for pacers, it was people we all wanted to be around the whole weekend with no sleep,” said Meredith. “[Race day] can be one of two experiences for everybody: You can finish the race and hate everybody around you, or you can celebrate. It’s still going to be hard. It doesn’t change anything.”
Commemorating an Epic Year
Of the twenty-five participants who entered the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning in 2012, only 15 completed it. The official finishers were all men, ranging in age from 32 to 61 years of age. At 38, Paul was the third youngest, the only Texan, and the only participant to include the Ironman World Championship as a final fifth event. Although he has not yet set up his shadow box of awards, his hardware from 2012 is in a safe place. “My friends gave me five beers—one for each race—in order of increasing alcohol content. A little carrot for each race,” he chuckled. “Each of the medals is nestled with its respective beer.”
Meredith believes that the shadow box is Paul’s to make; however, she did commission a piece of art to be forged out of iron in commemoration of their epic year. “We have a logo, ‘The Grand Kona Slam,’ with a runner in the mountains. It’s going to go over our fireplace,” she said. The artist was a non-athlete, which was important to Meredith. “An athlete would’ve focused on the times [of each race], but it’s a piece of art; it should bring up a conversation. Someone should look at it and be able to ask you what it’s about.”
Although their race goals for 2013 have not [as of this article] been solidified, a repeat of the Grand Kona Slam isn’t on Paul’s radar for the immediate future: “There’s lots of other slams out there to do,” he laughed. Meredith continues to run ultras, swim, and compete in the occasional triathlon, but she is done with 100-mile races for now. The two are confident, however, that their love and support for each other will help them tackle whatever their next adventure brings. “Life is short, and you realize that, hey, the time is now to live…when you have the opportunity, take advantage of it,” said Paul. “We can be supportive of that in each other.”
Earning Those Buckles
The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning began in 1986. Runners must preregister for the Grand Slam and then complete the four races in the same calendar year. Since its start, 234 people (34 of them women) have completed the series 266 times. Of those, 14 Slammers are from Texas. They are Roy Haley (’90, ’91), Kitty Williams (F, ’90), Tyler Curiel (’98), Neil Hewitt (’98), Robert Tavernini (’00), Juan Humberto (’03), Dennis Thompson (’03), Letha Cruthirds (F, ’03), Juan Humberto Galvan (’03), Doug Gimenez (’04), Stephen Hudgens (’04), Drew Meyer (’10), and Paul Terranova (’12).
Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (June)
Tread where history was made. The oldest of the four races starts in California’s Squaw Valley and follows a path through beautiful forests, valleys, canyons, and streams charted by gold prospectors of the past in California’s Squaw Valley. This was originally a horse race!
Vermont 100 Endurance Race (July)
The Vermont 100 is a shamrock-loop course comprised of mostly dirt roads and Jeep trails, with stretches through the Vermont forest and a climb and descent of over 14,000 feet.
Leadville Trail 100 Run (August)
Coined as the “Race Across the Sky,” this run takes place at 10,000 feet and wends its way through the Rockies. There’s also a mountain bike race, the Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race, the weekend before the run.
Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run (September)
This event, which winds through the beautiful Wasatch Mountains in Utah, is held Labor Day weekend every year. Runners should be prepared for some climbs; there’s a cumulative elevation gain of almost 27,000 feet throughout the race.
Web Exclusive: Chili with Wild Game Meat and Smoothie Recipes
by Meredith Terranova
Meredith Terranova doesn’t just cook healthy dishes for her husband, Paul; she has an entire tome, Quick and Healthy Cookbook, of recipes that she put together for her nutritional clients. Here are two of her delicious, nutritious, and easy to prepare recipes.
Chili with Wild Game meat
This recipe makes a large pot that stores in the refrigerator for about a week and freezes in containers for at least three months (makes at least 8 servings).
2 lbs. ground buffalo, venison, elk, or any other gamey meat (all are VERY lean; increase quantity if you prefer your chili to have more meat than beans!)
2 cups onions, chopped
3 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chiles
1 green pepper, chopped
2 cans (14 ½ ounces) diced tomatoes (no salt added)
1 can (14 ½ ounces) stewed tomatoes (no salt added)
1 package chili seasoning (you can use any brand, hot or mild, but it is much easier to use one packet of pre-mixed seasoning versus purchasing and measuring all the spices. **NOTE: Make sure you buy the seasoning that has each of the spices and salt separated so that you can leave the salt out**)
3 cups no salt added red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (you can also use black beans, black eyed peas, or a mix of all three)
4-5 cans (14 ½ ounces) tomato puree (or more if you prefer the chili to be soupier rather than thick and meaty)
• In a large pot over medium heat, brown your meat.
• Once the meat is browned, add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are soft (you can add a tablespoon of oil to prevent scorching).
• Add all of the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly.
• Cook over medium heat until bubbling hot.
• Taste for seasoning. If the flavor is not strong enough, you can add extra hot sauce, chili powder, or cumin.
• If the chili is too thick, add extra tomato sauce to desired consistency.
Nutrition Per Serving:
Calories: 431cal, Fat: 6g, Protein: 35g, Carbohydrates: 50g
Make the following changes for a Vegetarian Chili Option:
Omit the meat in the recipe
Add three additional cups of beans
Add 1 red pepper, chopped
Add 1 orange or yellow pepper, chopped
Nutrition per Serving:
Per Serving: Calories: 354, Fat: 0g; Protein: 19g; Carbs: 76
Smoothie: 2 servings
5 medium strawberries (you can also use ½ cup of any berry)
1 cup almond milk (you can use any milk product of choice)
2 scoops 100 percent protein powder (whey, rice, pea, hemp—your choice)
ice (depending on how thick you like your smoothie)
Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until thick and smooth. Divide between two glasses and enjoy!
Nutrition per serving: 159cal; fat 3g; protein 23g; carb 11g
(Nutrition will vary based on protein and “milk” choice)
Meredith’s Slideshow Video for Paul’s Kona Grand Slam 2012
16 weeks, 5 races, 540.8 miles