Join me today on Elevation Trail as Karl Meltzer chats with me about everything from running 100 milers “off the couch” to how the Speedgoat 50k is a good beginner ultra for newbies. Hope you enjoy the show.
Over the last 30 years, running the “big ditch” has inspired men and women to see just how fast it can be done. The rim to rim to rim, double crossing, out-n-back, or simply r2r2r is a substantial overnight hike for most people, who must already possess a level of fitness the average American will likely never attain. To run the r2r2r in a day takes the adventure to a new level, a goal that has been plunked into most trail runners’ bucket lists. This brings us to the crème de la crème brimming the rim of the canyon, the elite who train and plan for the undertaking in the hopes of having everything come together to set the FKT (Fastest Known Time).
Peter Bakwin’s site on FKTs briefly covers the men’s FKT accomplishments,
Allyn Cureton held the R2R2R record for 25 years at 7h51m23s, set in an actual race on 11/9/1981 (S to N to S Kaibab trails). Races have long been banned in the National Parks. The record was finally bested on 11/10/2006 by Kyle Skaggs, 7h37m. Kyle had to run a little extra due to a bridge being out. A year later (11/10/2007) Dave Mackey ran 6h59m56s, for the current record. Dave reported being held up for several minutes on his ascent back up the South Kaibab by a mule train.
Over the weekend Dakota Jones eclipsed Mackey’s record by 6 minutes, reaching the south rim finish in 6:53. Brendan Temboli, one of a group of runners who started with Dakota said, “The weather forecast was not promising going into it. woke up to ~3″ of wet snow, lots of wind… hit the trail around 6:45am and within a few mins of dropping in elevation conditions improved a lot. north rim was very snowy too.” Epic day. Congratulations Dakota!
Pinhoti 100: In the woods of Alabama, Karl Meltzer solidifies his already granite-hard legacy with his 31st WIN at the 100 mile distance at the Pinhoti 100. Meltzer ran unchallenged, breaking his own course record crossing the finish in 16:42. Pinhoti was his fifth 100 miler of 2011, two of which he won (Massanutten being the other). He ran a steady solo race, staying on or under 17 hour splits. Second place, Joseph Czabaranek of Shalimar Florida, was a distant 2.5 hours behind, crossing the line in 19:10. Jamie Anderson rounded out the top three in 19:16. Last year’s champion, John Dove, regrouped from some mid-race problems to finish 4th in 20:38. For the women, Jill Perry, fresh off her win at Oil Creek 100, dominated the field for the win in 22:16 and 7th overall.
Mt. Masochist 50 Mile: Eric Grossman is an instructor and he held class on Saturday with hard-earned lessons for his competitors at the Mt. Masochist 50. Running his personal best in his sixth MMTR, Grossman hit the finish line in 6:58:22. His star pupil was Brian Rusiecki, who came charging in for 2nd, just 1:12 behind in 6:59:34. Paul Terranova earned 3rd place in 7:09. Sandi Nypaver continued her winning form shooting to the line first on the tough 54 mile course in 8:05. Alyssa Wildeboer came in a distant 2nd in a hair under 8:34. Young Dacia Reed rounded out the women’s podium in 8:48.
Like a shark, the Speedgoat must keep moving to stay alive. Even with a bulging disc, suffered during Hardrock this year, he continued to stay active during recovery with long hikes. Karl is back this weekend to run the Pinhoti 100.
In its 4th year, the Pinhoti 100, is one of those secret gems. The point to point course boasts 16,200 ft of climb on mostly (80 miles worth) singletrack trail, gnarled with roots and rocks hidden under fallen leaves. It’s like a day/night-long run in a booby-trapped forest. Karl comments about the race on his site, “It is very well organized to boot. Todd Henderson, the RD does a great job marking and has great aid station personnel.” The race is full with 132 registered runners ready to enjoy the Pinhoti trail as they “make their way over the highest point in Alabama while navigating over rocks, through creeks and across beautiful ridge lines of the Talladega National Forest.” [race website] The high point of the course, Mt Cheaha at 2,413 ft, is also the highest point of Alabama. [Wiki site]
Karl Meltzer set the course record here two years ago with a 17:12. He says, “I feel great. I’ve put in five weeks of training at 10,000′, so I’m ready for sure.” The only person to have come within two hours of that time is John Dove from Georgia, who’s run all three previous installments of the event. John’s best time was en route to his win here last year in 19:01. John will have his hands full trying to fend off Pennsylvanian Angus Repper (past wins at Sawtooth 100 and Virgil Crest 100) and Kentuckian Troy Shellhammer who’s had a nice little season with a 16:12 at Umstead 100 and 7th place at UROC 100k.
For the ladies, Jill Perry from New York looks strong coming off her win last month at Oil Creek 100. Is she recovered enough to muster the power to race hard against young Tennessean Sarah Woerner? Sarah is the defending champion at Pinhoti (24:42) and has put together a solid season filled with sharp performances at a variety of distances.
The weather forecast looks nearly ideal with partly cloudy skies, highs in the 60s and lows around 40. Hope everyone has a safe, fast, and fun race.
Anyone who says East Coast ultras are easier than western ones hasn’t run races like Massanutten 100 or the Grindstone 100. I cut my teeth on ultrarunning in the East, running in NC, SC, VA, WV, DC, and FL and I can attest to the fact that the East offers some of the gnarliest trail and stiff climbs in the country. I wrote an article about East vs West for Ultrarunning magizing a couple years ago that compared and contrasted the two. With a perfect weather forecast of 45-70 degrees and dry, this Friday sees the start of the 4th annual Grindstone in Swoope, VA (139 registrants at this point). The race features a unique 6PM start time that ensures all entrants, including the winner, will run one full night. Karl Meltzer set the standard in 2009 with an 18:46 run that still stands as the course record. Sandi Nypaver set the current women’s record in 2010 with her 23:05 effort.
With 23,200 ft of climb crammed into the out and back 100 mile course, Grindstone stands up with races like Wasatch and Bear 100s as among the US’s most difficult at that distance. Indeed, the event website states it best in its opening description, “Grit, endurance, temporary loss of sanity. You might need all these if you want to finish, well, just keep in mind this is, without a doubt, the hardest 100 miler east of the 100th meridian.”
I asked Karl Meltzer his thoughts and whether there’s anything that stands out in his mind about the Grindstone event, since he’s run most of the big 100s in the country and certainly has run all of the most difficult ones. Karl responded, “The only thing odd is the start time, but the venue is great for that. 12 hours of darkness is alot longer than most races, especially for the front runner. It’s well run and marked extremely well. Clark Zealand the RD does a great job. Also great shirts for finishers from Patagoochi. Rare in this sport.”
If running 12 hours straight through the night over technical singletrack doesn’t give pause to potential applicants, then the elevation profile will do the trick:
Forget about the massive climbs and descents in the middle of the race, that 4,500 ft descent over the last seven miles of the race makes my palms sweaty. If you don’t pamper your quads during the race, you’ll certainly pay the price in the form of agony over the final miles.
There are 15 aid stations and a live webcast updating runners’ progress through those stations. Live updates at www.eco-xsports.com.
As always, we welcome comments and would love to hear readers’ predictions for men’s and women’s contenders, personal experience with this race, opinions on how this stacks up against the tough 100s in the US and/or Canada, and any other thoughts on this event.
Trail Runner’s Ultra Race of Champions 100k (UROC) is getting a lot of coverage on the interwebs. Other than a potentially meaningful race in Bend, Oregon this Saturday, specifically the Flagline 50k, picked for the second year in a row as a USATF Trail National Championships, the gathering near Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday the 24th seems to be on several people’s radar, for several reasons.
Change is major theme in the current trail and ultra running discourse. This statement might be misleading since people, especially groups and communities of people, are often involved, whether they know it or not, in some phase of their own individual and congregation’s transformation, evolution, renovation, etc. One can call it whatever she wants: there is always change in the air, and we are definitely talking about more than seasonal change (though that’s a nice metaphor).
One of the big topics of change getting volleyed about in this spirited discourse includes the rise of professionalism in the sport (especially in the American version). This includes (among other things) the role of sponsorship. Clearly more money invested in the sport will impact race organization, competition, and the winnings and other bonuses made available to elite athletes. This professionalism will “enhance” races in other ways, such as media coverage, which can only be good given that more people will “see” the sport, including America’s impressionable youth. I was telling my friend the other day, “How cool would it be to have your kid want to be the next Scott Jurek.”
The Comrades Marathon may be the extreme of this embrace of growth and professionalism in ultra running; look what that could do to the “value” of a race. Massive media attention, including full television coverage and winnings that reach six-figures mean there is an example we can certainly target for the elite level of competition. Though sponsorship capital on the European race scene doesn’t seem to reach the levels of Comrades, that off-road running contingent (which really spills into the general population) over there certainly uses another currency that can logically translate into money: Interest. The well-documented international Team Salomon seems to very much exemplify this kind of change going-on in the sport.
Not having a database of race statistics to pull from, we could still safely say the American ultra sport is growing in interest. The sheer number of MUT races that meander across the lands is staggering. Just according to Ultra Running Magazine “There were 554 ultramarathon races held in North America in 2010.” Of course, what about the number of runners signing-up for these 554+ races? There are several hundred examples we could cite with a few clicks. It’s great news. How can we not see this type of individual and group interest very encouraging? Furthermore, who doesn’t have an ultra running blog? This alone may be the best place to look in order to illustrate not just the growth of the sport, but growth’s predecessor (and the point of this paragraph): the interest in the sport. And it’s some of the discussions on these blogs where one will find so many perfect examples of change bouncing around.
A big discussion for some time has been the need for a true national or even world championship trail/mountain race. Having thought at length about this topic, talked with many people and read many different perspectives (including trying to find all of the current sanctioned “championships” that exist), this aspiration seems admittedly plagued with difficulty. Tradition is a very formidable foe to change. The sport of ultra running is traditionally low-key, and almost uneventful. The trail racing elite has emerged over the years, but the larger trail community doesn’t necessarily thrive on fierce competition among other runners; it’s not the driving force. Races are spread-out, happen throughout the year with very little sense of series organization or tournament style (other than a few like the North Face Endurance Challenge and the evolving Montrail((Patagonia?)) Ultra Cup ((?))). Instead, there are simply some classic races, a few with huge followings; most people are well read on these traditions. Races more become opportunities to congregate and run together for several hours with the hopes of just finishing (certainly of PRing), of enduring several degrees of fatigue and pain. Sure, there are different levels of tradition among these hundreds of races and often stemming from these traditions are real races, even among the mid to back of the pack runners. Be that as it may, as it stands, there is no one race or race series to rule them all.
One of the best people to ask about this desire for championship race change is Geoff Roes. The man behind the Alaska Mountain Running Camps has been outspoken on this issue, even writing in January of this year, following his 2010 UROY selection, which he won with the help of winning the hugely traditional Western States 100, “I think the discussion of what effect a true championship race would have on the sport is a moot point. I think that there is such a high demand for this that it is absolutely going to happen within the next couple years. It’s a simple aspect of a free market that when you have a large demand for a product/service that is not available, someone will provide a product/service to fill that void.” This is a definitive stance on an issue to which many industry folk might balk. This is pulled from his blog. The post is brilliantly illustrative of a how one of the top mountain ultra runners in the world feels about the lack of a true MUT national championship. He literally lays it out in this fiery piece.
Jump ahead to September 21, 2011, on the eve of UROC. Geoff is preparing to travel to compete in the first running of a race organized to crown a champion ultra runner. The design follows perhaps that of the North Face Endurance Challenge, which caters, at least more than other “championships,” to the front of the race, the elite runners. What’s remarkable was how the race has received instant credibility and heavy criticism: the classic mixed response to change.
What is worth pointing-out is Roes’ role in the formation of UROC. Back in January he wasn’t just talking the talk of change at the championship level. And remember, this is a guy who has competed in the sport’s most competitive races, namely WS100, several other American classic ultras (Wasatch, Hurt, Bear, Masochist, AR, etc.), including the competitive North Face EC series, culminating in the fiercely competitive San Francisco race. Come to think of it, perhaps Roes sees the NF EC championship and maybe UTMB as legitimate world championships, but what is still in need is a definitive national championship. Hence, he helped the organizers of UROC in recruiting the “champions” for the race on Saturday, in effect “designing” a championship race. What does this mean? Given the idea that organizing such a race faces a lot of difficulty, given the staunch tradition that defines the sport of ultra running, the problem with finding land and permits with which to facilitate, etc., we have to focus instead on the intent of the race, the fact that Roes has become a true ambassador, even steward, of ultra running (in a previous post we suggested he become the Czar of the sport, seriously). Because the sport, as he himself argues (in support, referring to several discussions he’s had with several elite ultra runners), needs this change. This weekend, one could say, is Roes walking the walk.
If the race doesn’t go-off without a hitch, with runners going off-course, with complaints of too much road in a supposed trail championship, with complaints that runners were forced to hurdle Oktoberfest revelers in route to the finish, still we believe that the bigger picture here remains intact, that the sport/community (driven by its leaders and enthusiastic congregation) is in the midst of massive change. And that Geoff Roes is playing a big part in the positive changes occurring in the sport. When we asked him about his thoughts of the race just days from the start-line, he told us,
“I think UROC will be really exciting. I have no real expectations or goals for myself but it’ll be fun to see how the race plays out in terms of the kind of interest it gets in the running media/blogosphere. UROC certainly has some kinks to work out (as all new events do for the first few years), but I do think it’s taken a bold step forward that no other ultra races have been interested in or willing to take at this point. That is they were willing to say here’s a race that will have a primary focus on the race at the front of the pack. So much so that they are actively recruiting top-level runners to take part in their event. To my knowledge they are the only ultra currently doing this. This approach doesn’t appeal to everyone (far from it), but shouldn’t be seen as a problem. There are so many ultras in the world today, any runner interested in racing should have no trouble finding dozens that appeal to them. The lack of diversity in the style of ultrarunning events is sometimes quite shocking, but I think events like UROC (and other new events that actively do things a bit differently) are helping to create a bit of diversity, and a bit of excitement, in an otherwise very homogeneous sport. This isn’t to say that the style of existing events don’t appeal to me (I wouldn’t have run almost 30 ultras in the last 3 years if I didn’t enjoy the existing events), but at some point many races start to feel like they have been designed to be as much like the typical race as possible. I think the trend in the coming years will be events that actively try to be different than the typical ultra. I think UROC is just one example of this and I think this trend is terribly exciting for the sport.”
Enough said? Almost. We just have to highlight the read here on such a seemingly monumental event. Granted, the race may not be perfect or “appeal to everyone (far from it),” but when a runner of Geoff’s caliber talks about a the sport being “very homogeneous,” that he is interested in “helping to create a bit of diversity, and a bit of excitement,” that’s compelling. Hopefully people are thinking big picture here, mind-set, paradigm shift, etc. Traditions are strong and flourish because people care about them and therefore continue to derive a lot of meaning from them. At the same time, change is natural, powerful, and inevitable. UROC is just one of many examples of change happening in the sport today.
And the race itself. Anyone reading this has seen iRunFar’s and Karl Meltzer’s terrific previews. Not much more to be said here other than to reiterate that actually picking a podium seems very difficult with the suspicion of late season fatigue and the ever so probable accompanying cold. Inside Trail does suspect that this race could go be won be any number of dark horses (like a Jon Allen, Scott Gall, and Michael Owen), especially if some of the favorites are not 100%. So, keep your eye on that. And clarification of the 100k course reveals that some 37 miles appear to be either dirt or paved road. Naturally, this may favor a runner like Mike Wardian and other marathoners with that kind of speed. Tis the season, late September, so we just hope that the runners are all there, feeling 100% and ready to rock and roll.
If one yearns for the grassroots, rustic 100 miler of yore, then look no further than the Bear 100. The bare nature of Bear is by design. Race Director, Leland Barker, is old school and likes his race that way too. Leadville, especially under new management, seems to cradle the runners, providing everything, short of carry them to the finish, for a fairly easy out-n-back jog. Bear is a stark contrast and I, for one, love it. The Bear 100 began in 1999 with 17 starters and zero sub 24 hour finishers. Last year there were 157 starters and a record 17 sub 24 hour finishers. You may get the idea that it’s a tough course and you’d be correct. The course begins in Logan, Utah and, after an obscene amount of climbs and descents, it finishes at Bear Lake in Idaho. It’s both stark and harsh. Did I mention I love it?
The whole production starts with the no nonsense website that provides the essentials (schedule, location, important updates), then moves on to the race briefing, with the emphasis on “brief” where participants have the pleasure of characters like Errol “Rocket” Jones, Phil Lowry, and Leland Barker casually mentioning things like, “The course should be marked well enough to follow” and “watch out for herding cattle”. I literally had just found a spot on top of a picnic table to plop down and the briefing ended with, “We’ll see you folks at 6am. Thanks for coming!” A short, funny story of how laid back this whole thing is: Last year’s Bear was my first 100. I was nervous (scared) but confident enough that I bought a belt, ready to attach my new finisher’s buckle. I was so excited the day before the start and could barely relax long enough to think straight. At the end of the pre-race briefing Leland wraps up then says, “Oh yeah, I forgot to order the buckles. I hope you all understand.” I received my buckle on the verge of Thanksgiving, six weeks after the event, fat and lazy from taking a month off of running. My custom belt barely fit but I wore the buckle proudly for a week, then realized it was fairly uncomfortable wearing a heavy, brass buckle and stiff, leather belt. That’s an indication of the relaxed nature of the event. The whole experience is such a bright image in my memory that I was one of the first to register again this year.
The course is marked well enough, save for the errant and angry ATVer who may re-route or otherwise vandalize sections (extra adventure at no cost). Frankly, the difficulty and beauty of the course overshadows any worries about race organization. The race begins with a hands-on-knees, 4,000 ft climb at which point you top out close to or just after sunrise and are rewarded with an amazing view of Logan, UT way down where you began the day. The first 50 miles take up roughly 15,000 ft of the 22,000 ft total climb. It’s a nice thought when you’ve reached Tony Grove aid station at 52 miles, knowing you’ve completed so much climb and ‘only’ have 50 miles and about 7,000 ft climb left. I won’t go into the hideousness of the final 9 miles of the race. Let’s just say, aspirin and ice will be your ankles’ friends for a while.
On to our predictions we go:
Nikki Kimbal – From Bozeman, MT. The women’s record at bear is 23:37, set by Rhonda Claridge, who is the only woman to run under 24 on the new course (since 2009). Only two women in the history of the race have run under 24. Look for Nikki to run two hours faster than that.
Jane Larkindale – From Tucson, AZ. If Nikki takes too long to sneeze on the course, Jane will pounce. After running undefeated in 2010 with impressive times at such races like San Diego 100 and Zane Grey 50, she hasn’t laced up the trail racing shoes this year. She’s either going to be incredibly fresh or stale, no middle ground.
Ellen Parker – From Seattle, WA. Ellen should round out the top three. She ran to a 4th place in 26:18 at the tough Pine to Palm 100 last year and has had a light year of racing in 2011 with a 3rd place at White River 50 in July.
Men: (Note that part of tradition for the race is that the Race Directors, Leland Barker and Phil Lowry run the course to drop markers but start an hour earlier than the rest. Leland is damn fast and is regularly in the top 5. I don’t count him in the results due to the different start times)
Nick Pedatella – From Boulder, CO. After a two year hiatus from the top step of the podium, this is Nick’s race to stand tallest at the awards ceremony. His true potential competition would’ve been Karl Meltzer but after a bold run at Wasatch earlier this month, Karl is resting his back injury and will be at the Bear in the capacity of crew for Mrs. Speedgoat. At just 26 years old, Nick has built solid experience, including eight 100 mile finishes; not just finishes but solid performances: 5th at Hardrock, 14th at UTMB, 6th at Leadville, 6th at Wasatch, and 2nd here at Bear 100 where only Geoff Roes crossed the finish before him. Even when he has a bad day, he seems to hold it together for finishes most runners would kill for.
Todd Gangelhoff – From Morrison, CO. I’m going out on a fairly sturdy limb here in this pick. Karl and others will likely disagree and place some of the untested speedier guys in front of Todd but, as I mentioned to Karl, Todd reminds me a lot of Erik Storheim in terms of running style, speed, and toughness. Those are the ingredients for success at Bear. I did a big 6.5 hour run at 12-13,000 ft with him two months ago and he lead the way with an impressive base of fitness.
David La Duc – From Oakland, CA. David’s put together a big season, capped with an 18:01 run at Western States. He’s a quick guy and prolific racer. It’ll be interesting to see how he runs in real mountains. I’m obviously guessing he’ll do well.
Mick Jurynec – From Salt Lake City, UT. At some point in the picks, I have to go with someone familiar with the area and Mick is the hometown guy. A couple of key indicators are his runs at Wasatch 100 last year (5th in 22:21) and Squaw Peak 50 this year (3rd in 9:25).
Gary Gellin – From Menlo Park, CA. Gary is full of speed. Way Too Cool in 3:35, Firetrails 50 in 6:43, Quicksilver 50 in 6:29, White River in 7:11… the list continues. One thing that stands out as a 22,000 ft speed bump in his way is the lack of any race beyond 50 miles. 100 miles isn’t just double 50 miles. It’s a different world and it’s impossible to extrapolate, for both the spectator and the runner, what will happen. Giving him 5th here on this course, with these experienced guys is giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Tim Long – Boulder. It seems odd giving myself odds but, looking at the entrants objectively, I have to give myself a place in the mix somewhere. This will be my 5th 100 miler since June (San Diego, Hardrock, Grand Mesa, Leadville so far). This has also been the longest break between 100s (five weeks), so I’ve been able to get into a real training block following a two day rest after Leadville. I ran 23:05 for 9th overall here at Bear last year. It was my first 100, so I was cautious, made mistakes, ran off course, and enjoyed the day like nothing I’ve ever experienced. So, my enthusiasm, fitness, and focus on this particular race has to count for something, right?
|If you look behind you in a race and see this…|
|You are now one place lower and this is your new view.|
It’s a unique name that brings one word to mind: “Speedgoat”. Running and finishing a 100 mile run is a life changing experience. Winning 30 of them is mind numbing. The accomplishments Karl brings to each race emit a shield of awe around him at the start. That shield is broken only by the Speedgoat’s gregarious, straight-forward, yet fun personality. He doesn’t care about the awards, the accolades, or the admiration that seems to drive so many egos. He wants the challenge and the competition and loves to hear someone say, “That would be impossible”. Because, for Karl, nothing seems impossible. Case in point, on his speed record attempt on the Appalachian Trail in 2008 he came up against debilitating Anterior Tibialis Tendinits that would cripple normal men. It all started with the wettest week in history in Maine where rivers swelled and were uncrossable at times, slowing him down. He developed trenchfoot, which made him pull his toes up, putting stress on the anterior tibialis, causing the eventual tendinitis. With the record slipping away and hundreds of thousands of steps to reach the finish he should have given up, most would. Hell, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t stop. Karl realigned his goals and pushed on with no motivation other than to finish what he started. That’s the kind of competitor and man we’re talking about; someone who can never be counted out. At 43 years old, he continues to be one of the most feared 100 milers in the world.
|Karl Meltzer upon completing the 2,064 mile Pony Express Trail, averaging 50+ miles a day and stamping it with his personality by running a sub 24 hour 100 miles on the last day to finish.|
Karl graciously took the time to sit down for an interview and here’s what the Speedgoat has to say…
FF: Karl, thanks so much for taking the time to share some of your experiences and thoughts with us. Your schedule is packed, as usual, and I’m grateful to catch up with you in the midst of the season. First, what is your race schedule this year? What are the goal events and what is the overall goal for the year?
KM: My first goal was to win at least 1-100 miler in 2011. Winnning Massannutten made it 12 years in a row with at least one 100 mile win. From this point, I would certainly want to win another. Hardrock for sure, would make the 6th time to win that one. Comp is tough though, so a good run to the finish is what I have in store. If I run well, I’ll have no complaints. UTMB, Wasatch and Bear, I’m just running for fun. I’ll do well, at UTMB and I’ll be ready. Top 10 at UTMB would be great, and most of the fast americans are going there, so it’ll finally be a chance to race against my fast buddies as I”m not qualified to get in Western States where most of them run
The rest of the year, I am running UTMB, August 27, Wasatch 100 Sept 10, and Bear 100 Sept 24. These 3 100s are in a 5 weeks span, so like running C2M and Antelope Island in 6 days, this 3 will also be tough. I’m interested to see how I do with these three tough races in a row.
FF: A crazy year of racing for most but seems to be the norm for you. What’s your home life like? Give us some insight into a day in the household of Mr. and Mrs. Speedgoat. Do you watch tv, work a “regular” job, go out to eat much?
KM: I get up mornings and take care of my clients first, it’s usually pretty early,then go run. Mrs. Speedgoat has the real job and works at an arcitectural firm Monday thru Friday, but has alot of freedom to have fun and play too. After running, I usually eat, take a short nap, then play in my backyard. I like gardening, so that consumes time. I also check email and client consultation throughout the day. During summer months, I also play golf a few times a week. My handicap is about a 5, so it’s a great fun sport for me. If there were any other sport I would like to be a pro at, it would be golf.. I don’t have a “regular job”. coaching, running and the Speedgoat 50k provide just enough income to live a fun life without any real stress. I rarely go out to eat, it’s expensive, but when I do, I am not afraid to spend. I would hate to have to look at a menu and not order something I want because of what it costs, which is why we rarely go out to eat. My wife is cool with that. I like to cook as well, so I fire up some fine meals at home.
FF: Sounds like a busy schedule to me! Looking back, what was your first ultra race? What was the first win? What is the most memorable race (or long distance run) you’ve done?
KM: First Ultra was the Wasatch 100 in 1996. I finished it in 28:26 after being lost for 1.5 hours at mile 92. I never thought about quitting, only about getting to the end. My first win was the Wasatch 100 in 1998 setting a record of 20:08. When I told some friends at Snowbird I worked with, they weren’t surprised as I love to run, and would always focus my day around my run. I still do that today, but don’t work at Snowbird.
My most memorable run is a tough one, but finishing the AT in 2008 after dealing with so many issues was quite satisfying. Also just winning my 30th 100 was huge for me. It’s gonna be tough for others to reach that point if they don’t run 8 100s a year the way I’ve been doing it the past 5 years. Some were not as competitive, but the times were always good, never did I slow down or sandbag a race. I always run my best when it counts.
FF: “Flash in the pan” comes to mind with standout ultrarunner names who burst onto the scene and then vaporize, never to be heard from again. You’ve been consistently at the top for 15 years. Who were your top competition in the early years? How have you managed to keep your body (and mind) healthy over the years? I mean, it’s not like you’re just running two big events a year; you’re getting out there month after month competing at a top level. What do you attribute to that kind of longevity and durability?
KM: Addiction is the bottome line, winning never gets old. 🙂
It is true that alot of fast ultrarunners come on the scene quick, win a few races, then dissapear. I love to run, I love to compete, and I won’t kid you, it’s pretty cool to be a sponsored ultrarunner who doesn’t need a real job to get by. I only survive barely, but I’ve always been that way, so why get a real job? I will live on the edge till I die. I only work to live, I never live to work, that’s overrated.
Eric Clifton was the first guy I wanted to race. He was the man, along with Ian Torrence in the mid 90’s. both still run, but not as fast as they have in the past. I think one of the reasons I’ve done so well, is when I was about 34, I started focusing on running 100s, simply because I didn’t have to run as fast, I could just run all day, and that’s what I like. I also like hard races, and training in the Wasatch mountains is a great place to train for that, so I put my head down and started racing 100s. Never thought I would win 30. At this point I’ve run 49 of them. Hardrock is my 50th coming up, and it would be pretty special to me if I won it. If I don’t, then I’ll go to the next one and try again. It’s just an addiction.
I also contribute my longevity to smart training. I don’t overdo my mileage, some would say I don’t train enough to run 100s. 🙂 but, if you have a good mindset and have been running for 30+ years like I have, it becomes all mental, and I have a pretty good base, wonderful support now from my wife Cheryl, and the desire to keep trying ot raise the bar.
Funny thing is too, that I’ve always like softer shoes, it started with the Montrail Vitesse, and now with Hoka. I think I would be a good experiment on longevity running in soft shoes all my life. My joints are in great shape and feel this has been a real reason for it.
FF: Your longevity and ability to maintain the high quality of racing makes you key figure in every race you toe the line at, no matter who else shows up. What are your feelings on “championship” races like Western States 100, UTMB, and Northface Challenge? Are they meeting the need for a true championship? What would you like to see in an event that could legitimately be deemed “championship”?
KM: Championship races are great. The problem is that in Ultrarunning is many RD’s are very old school and won’t let in certain runners at the last minute, and maybe that’s because they feel pressure from the mid packers that feel it’s not fair. I don’t think top runners should completely expect this, but at the same time, it’s tough to enter a race 8 months early, hope to pass the lottery, then crush it all year and not be able to get in the competitive race because we didnt’ send in our money on time. Saving a few spots, as Matt Carpenter suggests would be a good idea. Another problem is that with no prize money and alot of races out there, it doesn’t matter which one I run, I do it for fun. yup, I’m competitive, but I don’t ever want to be forced to run a championship race if I don’t want to. Western States is the exception, I would love to run it, but am only qualified to enter the lottery, even with winning 30 hundreds. I think that’s wrong, but still, I’m not gonna fight it, it is what it is. Western especially, without prize money, and allowing runners that can compete at front not getting in, cannot be called a true championship. NF50 I don’t really know there policy on that,and haven’t really explored it because I like100s, they are alot different and with alot more variables. UTMB does let the best runners in, even at the last minute, and even allows the top runners to be seeded, which means in Chamonix with 2500 runners, and tens of thousands of spectators, we get to jump in the front of the start line at the last minute as opposed to sitting there for 2 hours. ( runners not seeded at UTMB will sit at the start line in the front that long just to get a good start). The road is narrow and singletrack is not far from the start. The only thing UTMB is missing is prize money, why they don’t have that is beyond me. They do drug test though, which is a european thing. You would think if people were gonna cheat, there would be prize money. Stay tuned for a big purse race next fall, it’s in the works right now, but we’ll see. UTMB in my opinion should be the big dance. Europeans are far more into their individual sports, unlike the US where it’s mostly couch riding and watching football, baseball, basketball….It’s different there, and would be a great place because there is simply better comp. Euros are passionate about these runs and bike races, the US doesn’t care much.
FF: You and long time friend, Scott Mason, started and organize the Speedgoat 50k, likely the most difficult 50k in the world (from personal experience, it’s brutal). How did that come about? What have you learned from the experience of being a race director? It’s sold out this year now, correct?
KM: I was actually the founder of the race. It all started when I was working at Snowbird and talked with the Events director, a guy I’ve known for 20 years now. We chatted about it while I was working serving him margaritas. I told him I could easily get 100 runners here the first year. We had 112 the first year, and now it is closed at 250 runners. I plan on making it the go-to race, one that is so hard,it hurts everyone. 🙂 I created the course, one that I would train on, so others can see where my success comes from. I try to keep it somewhat unique with great prizes, and now prize money which comes directly out of my pocket. I knew having my name attached to the race would bring in alot of runners, and the SLC area is loaded with lots of ultrarunners, I know mostof them now too, so I knew if we had a great course, the runners would come.
After the first year, the race was changed over to my website and I am the sole owner. The first year, Scott and I split it because he had the website. We made our separation just for business reasons, not on bad terms, it was all good, but we had to do it to make it more fair.
Being an RD, especially the first few years is tough, so many things can happen, and it takes alot of organization. It’s pretty dialed now, and Scott and many others help tremendously to make it happen. without the volunteer support, like most races, it could not happen, and Snowbird is super psyched with what we have going. It’s a great relationship, even though I don’t work there anymore.
FF: Shortly after putting on your 50k, you’ll be heading to France for the UTMB (a 100 mile race in Chamonix). What are your thoughts on that race this year? Lots of the top Americans will be there with you. Who, besides yourself, do you think has a decent shot at top 5?
KM: I’ll pack up and go to France, but not until the 21st of August. The past two years, I”ve gone over with my wife Cheryl and visited Germany and Switzerland. This year, we are both still going, but for a shorter time. Geoff Roes, Nick Clark and Dave Mackey probably have the best chance at top 5, but don’t count me or Scott Jurek out, we’ll both be ready.. I won’t race in the front early, but the course gets tougher after mile 65 and may work well for me this time. I will be as ready as ever when the time comes. Any way we look at it, it’ll be more competitive than Western because of the European contingent. The only Europeans here for WS are Killian, Jez Bragg and only a few others. I think all the top americans that have a chance will be in Chamonix, with the exception of Tony K, but that’s only because of his injury….which is a real bummer, he would be a favorite for sure.
FF: You put up some amazingly accurate odds for races on your site, http://www.karlmeltzer.com. Who’s your pick for winning UTMB?
KM: I think Killian is gonna win again, and Geoff will be close. It’s a real hard call. After we see how Killian responds at WS my odds will be up and I’m sure there will be alot of jibberish about it.
FF: Finally, do you have any long distance runs, like the Red Bull Human Express and Appalachian Trail, planned?
KM: I do plan on running the AT again, but not sure what year, I hope next year, but if I do it again, it’ll be planned differently and more stealth, not a big production like last time, which skewed my performance a little bit, not to mention a million other things. I also may do 5-6 long trails in one summer. Long Trail, Colorado Trail, JohnMuir, and a few others with Red Bull, but none of this is set in stone, only set in my mind.
FF: Thanks again for your time. You’ve been a standout inspiration to me since I started running ultras and I appreciate all you’ve done for the sport. Have some great runs the rest of the year!
Please visit Karl’s site for his current odds on this Saturday’s Western States 100 showdown. www.karlmeltzer.com