Known as the Speedgoat, Karl Meltzer of Sandy is the most accomplished ultra-runner in the history of the sport. Karl was the young age of 28 when he ran his first ultra- the legendary Wasatch 100. Two years later he won the Wasatch 100 in record time, at the age of 30, and since then he has won 48 endurance races with 24 of the wins at the 100 mile distance. He is also since become the all time winner of the Wasatch 100 with 6 victories to his credit. In 2006 he won an astounding 6- 100 mile races, 4 of which were record times, and 4 victories coming in a span of 8 weeks. Last summer, Karl set out to break the record of travel through the Appalachian Trail- running 2176 miles, with 500,000 feet of climbing in 54 days, 21 hours and 12 minutes- for the 4th fastest through-hike ever. Although short of his goal of breaking the record, he still has designs on being the fastest across this legendary route. In addition to his professional racing pursuits- Karl also offers his expertise and service as an ultra-running coach and consultant.
In between training runs and skiing at Alta, Karl gave us some insight into his running world via an e-mail interview in spring ’09.
Where is your favorite place to run?
KM- Alta, Snowbird, the San Juan Mountains in Colorado, the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming- generally any high alpine mountain range is great. When the mountains are buried in snow, the southern Utah desert is simply an incredible place to run- the Needles district in particular.
What is your favorite event or race?
KM- The Hardrock 100 in the San Juan’s of Colorado, because of how tough the course is and the simple beauty of it. Also, Tour de Mont Blanc in Chamonix France…nothing compares to this race. It is huge with over 3000 runners. The race is like the Tour de France. The entire towns come out to watch and cheer like no other race on the planet…mountain race that is. It ain’t no Boston Marathon.
What is your most memorable race?
KM- Running and winning the Hardrock 100 in 2001, when everyone expected me to. I broke the record by 3 hours. The current record in now three hours below my time from that year, but at the time- I was a hero.
What is your most forgettable race?
KM- Any race that I did not finish. There have only been a few.
Any races that you haven’t run that you would like to?
KM- Next year I may do 12- 100’s that I’ve never done, so those 12- whatever they are are on the list. I would like to return to Mont Blanc in a few years, fresh and ready- I have some unfinished business there. I still haven’t run the Western States 100, the most competitive 100 in the US. I hope to include that in my schedule next year.
What is the most exotic place you have raced?
KM- Hong Kong- twice, the Trailwalker 100k. Four man teams run together over a brutal 100k course around Hong Kong. It’s mostly trail, with 1000 teams of four. Our team won in 2002, then placed 9th in 2004. I ran with Scott Jurek, Brandon Sybrowsky and Nate McDowell in 2002. We broke the record by a mere 5 minutes. In 2004 our team was Hiroki Ishikawa, Hal Koerner, Brandon, and myself. Hal had some issues and we finished 9th overall.
How does the international ultra scene compare to the U.S.?
KM- Kind of the same, but inn Europe the scene is more focused on the runner completing the course on their own. In the US- we have pacers, crew, and all kinds of help. I agree with the Euro scene- I like to do these races on my own now. I used to be different, but now see more satisfaction in racing myself without a crew.
The Wasatch 100- how does it stack up against other 100’s?
KM- Wasatch is tough, but for me being a local, I don’t consider it that hard. As far as vertical gain, its right up there. Only a few races have more vertical gain. For most runners, who only run one race per year, it’s the pinnacle of their season. I’ve now finished 10 of them, so it’s no big deal for me now; it was however, when I first started doing this.
What is your favorite section of the Wasatch?
KM- The last 25, because it’s the toughest terrain, which is where I thrive.
KM- Francis Peak Road to Bountiful B, there is some dirt road here. I hate roads, even dirt.
The Speedgoat 50k (a race he hosts at Snowbird), how is the event going?
KM- The Speedgoat 50k is the toughest mountain 50k in the U.S. This is my opinion, but with the altitude, the rocky terrain, and the steep and brutal climbs- it is very hard.
Is the event growing?
KM- Yes, of course. Many people who run it are there just to finish it, and to finish is in itself an accomplishment. There are no personal records set on this 50k course.
What are your plans to chase the AT (Appalachian Trail) record again?
KM- Yes, in 2011, if it all falls together with a support crew. But this can be tough- it takes lot of time and effort to put it together. I have some unfinished business there.
KM- As far as terrain, Maine and New Hampshire are by far the toughest. Maine is 281 miles of rooty, nasty rocks, and the hills are relentless. I like to say they marked the trail, and then people walked on it to create it. It’s no easy path. But otherwise, the mental strain of getting up every morning at 4:30 am and walking and running all day – it wears on you. It’s exciting at first, but becomes more and more difficult the further you go. After a few weeks, it becomes routine, and although it’s tough, I eventually got used to it. In some locations, it was tough (for my crew) to meet me, so the crew had to be excellent map readers, which for some can be a struggle. My crew was great and never missed me…not once.
What would you do differently next time on the AT run?
KM- I would go more stealth. The RV we had was a great luxury most of the time, but sometimes it was tough to get it to remote trailheads. That made it tough on the crew as well. Not many things really ‘went wrong’, just the fact that I was injured with tendinitis in Vermont, and that I was stopped for 4 days to recover- ruined the ‘record attempt.” At that point, with no carrot in front of my nose, I constantly asked myself why? But when I finally finished the trail, it was very rewarding and I was happy to have gotten it done. I would rather do this out of a pickup truck, sleep in a motel once a week, and wing the rest. I could stop at places where a 4WD vehicle could go, and get a few more miles in each day. We had to stop a lot where the RV was available to park, which in the long run hurts- because every mile counts.
What is the most memorable part of the AT run for you?
KM- The AT is often referred to as the “long green tunnel.” In Maine, it was truly a tunnel, very lush and green, and incredibly beautiful without having any open views. The mushroom clusters were also amazing.
Any other interesting experiences?
KM- A few huge rattlesnakes made me jump. There were a million experiences that are hard to explain- go to www.karlmeltzer.com and check out my Maine to Georgia page.
What does a typical weeks worth of training involve for you?
KM- Running about 70 miles a week at altitude, with about 18,000 feet of climbing.
What is the longest distance you have run continuously- where?
KM- The AT is of course the longest overall distance, but I’ve done 38- 100 mile races, that’s the longest distance I’ve ever ‘raced’. I’ve won 24 of them, more than anyone else on earth.
What is essential gear for you on a long run? Non- essential?
KM- First Endurance Gel and water is essential. Non-essential would be extra clothing for the most part. Many people carry way too much stuff. I like to think I’m a minimalist; I carry as little as possible, making it simple.
What does your race gear consist of?
KM- A fanny pack with 2 water bottles, EFS drink in the bottles, some electrolyte capsules…as little clothing as possible, and that’s it. Oh Yeah, headphones too.
What is on your playlist, some of your favorite music- that you listen to while running?
KM- Strangefolk, a mix of tunes I don’t even know the names to. Mostly upbeat music with rhythmic tunes.
What advice would you give on choosing a pair of shoes?
KM- Just buy a pair with a generous amount of room in the toe box so as not to get toe-bang. A low to the ground base always good to prevent rolling an ankle. LaSportiva makes several that worked well for me on the AT- the Fireblades and Lynx are my favorite.
How often do you wear through and replace shoes? How many pair did you go through on the AT Run last year?
KM- I go through shoes about every 200-250 miles. About a pair a month. On the AT run I went through about 10 pairs of shoes.
What has- in your opinion- been the biggest advancement or improvement in gear since when you began racing?
KM- Nutrition for sure. First Endurance makes stuff now that is pretty much rocket fuel. The perfect vitamins, replacement drinks and fuel for during the race are now so perfected. Back in the day it was potato chips, m&m’s and junk candy. Gear has also become more efficient and comfortable too. No more inefficient and uncomfortable fanny packs!
What is your favorite post-race meal?
KM- A glass of Ultragen recovery drink from First Endurance, and then some greasy food. Pizza, a fat burger and onion rings always looks good.
KM- NO- not even after the AT. I took a few weeks off, but certainly I deserved it. I didn’t always want to run after that, but burnout is another level. I am so addicted to running, that when I take a day off- I feel guilty.
What steps or procedures do you take in the few days before a race to prepare yourself?
KM- It sounds crazy, but because I have run so many, I typically don’t think about the race until the day before. It takes me about an hour to get my gear and fuel ready for a 100 mile race. Many people get all hyped up and can’t sleep, whereas I sleep like a rock. I run a lot of races ‘stealth’ now, meaning I have no crew. The challenge of having no crew helps me to focus better while I’m racing.
What are some of the main differences in the racing scene now from when you started?
KM- Ultrarunning has become more popular over the years; many more people enter events, and it makes it harder for most people to even get an entry into a race. Lotteries and other methods prevent many runners from even reaching the starting line. I’m one of the lucky ones, because I’ve won most of the races I still enter, many of them give me an entry because of being a previous winner. It certainly is easier for me.
Any inside tips or knowledge for someone running their first ultra?
KM- The only goal should be to finish, at least with the first few, depending on the distance. If it’s 100 miles, then the goal is to finish. A 50k is finishable for most. As I am also an ultrarunning coach, I see a lot of runners with expected times for 100’s. Finishing is the reward- the time is really irrelevant until you’ve run a few and can gauge how fast you can do it.
Efficiency is obviously important in ultrarunning- any tips?
KM- Get out of the aid station! Sitting there is wasting time. Limit complications and drop bags so you don’t have to think, and let the crew you have do the thinking for you.
What is the hardest part about endurance racing and running?
KM- Getting through 100’s can be mentally challenging for most people. I have run enough now that I can get off of the couch and get it done. 100 miles seems relatively easy to finish, especially after the AT.
What are your future goals for racing, or other running goals you’d like to accomplish?
KM- Win more 100 mile trail races. I currently have the most wins on Earth with 24, but I hope to continue to build on this. This year I am entered in 7- 100 mile races. I also hope to break the AT record on my next attempt, Many things hindered progress this year. I can improve greatly on my experience and time.
What is the most rewarding thing about racing/running?
KM- My trophy room–downstairs. It’s pretty big!