Montville ultrarunner returns to role as 'coach'

After spending the summer competing in ... and completing .. the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, Steve LaBranche was back to work as Montville High School's cross country coach on Tuesday. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
After spending the summer competing in ... and completing .. the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, Steve LaBranche was back to work as Montville High School's cross country coach on Tuesday. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Montville — Steve LaBranche, Ultrarunning Grand Slammer, was back to Steve LaBranche, Montville High School boys' and girls' cross country coach on Tuesday afternoon.

And despite the fact he had run 400 miles competitively this summer in four separate 100-mile races and is the proud owner of only two remaining toenails, when the high school girls' race began there went LaBranche, sprinting across the Montville baseball field to cheer on his team.

"It's an inspiration and he ran four of them," said Montville senior captain Annali Nelson of LaBranche's achievement. "When he first said he was doing it, I thought it was crazy. Then I realized, you kind of need a little crazy."

LaBranche became only the second person in Connecticut history to achieve the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, joining Jerry Turk of Guilford (2009). LaBranche completed the feat Saturday at the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run in Utah, finishing in 31 hours, 15 minutes, 46 seconds.

He was one of 11 runners to finish the Grand Slam in 2017 and one of 348 finishers all-time. His cumulative time was 110:23:49, placing him 174th on the all-time list.

LaBranche, wearing the belt buckle he received for finishing Wasatch within the 36-hour cutoff, was surprised by his runners with a cake following the tri-meet against Waterford and Montville.

Nelson and her mother Marcy helped crew for LaBranche at the Vermont 100 Endurance Race in July, while fellow senior captain Jayden Colon was one of LaBranche's pacers, accompanying his coach for the the final miles in Vermont.

"I got to see a different kind of race," Colon said. "It's a lot slower, but it's a lot about the mental game. It's more about, 'How much can I push until I don't have anything left in the tank?' ... He had been awake for over 24 hours. That's not human. It's extremely impressive. It's something I didn't think was achievable.

"And he's an extremely good coach. He definitely keeps us together. He really, really expects us to treat each other as a family. For me especially, I've gone from not only being a runner, but to being a leader."

LaBranche said he's been asked repeatedly what his next undertaking will be. He has no desire to run another long race for now. He said the Wasatch race was the most difficult and his feet were "destroyed" from the number of uphills and downhills. Instead, his answer consistently focuses on coaching his team. 

"As I told my kids, 'You can achieve more than what you believe you can achieve. Create stretch goals,'" LaBranche, a Montville High School graduate, said. "I did this for the same reason, I wanted to find out what my limit is.

"I've been trying to think, how do I say thank you to all the people who contributed. I don't know. I don't know how to say thank you enough."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

 

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