Friday, September 2, 2011

Interview with Karl Meltzer

Note to reader: I've long-wanted to feature interviews with high-profile ultrarunners on my blog. For this first interview, the choice of who to "talk" with was an easy one.

Karl Meltzer, also known as "Speedgoat," lives in Sandy, Utah and is probably the ultrarunner I admire the most. He has won a record 30 races of 100 miles and has 54 total wins, including wins at Hardrock (5 wins!), Wasatch Front (6 wins!), Bear (3 wins), San Diego (3 wins), Coyote Two Moon (2 wins), Bighorn (2 wins) and Massanutten (3 wins). He also holds the record for the most 100-mile wins in a single year (6 in 2006), earning him Ultrarunner of the Year. The 43-year-old has gone for speed records on both the Appalachian Trail and Pony Express Trail and is still going strong more than 15 years into his brilliant career. His sponsors include Red Bull, Hoka One One,, Dry Max Socks, UltrAspire, 1st Endurance, Black Diamond and Ryders Eyewear.

Karl was my coach throughout my 2011 Leadville 100 training and coaches other athletes, as well. Following Karl's advice, I took 2 hours and 12 minutes off of my 2010 Leadville time--going from 24:47 and 92nd overall in 2010 down to 22:35 and 29th overall this year...all while running a little less mileage in training and amping up the quality. I still have a ways to go in achieving my goal of a sub-20 at Leadville, but it's fair to say 2011 was a major improvement and I owe a lot to Karl.

I hope you enjoy the interview!

WH: Karl, thanks for the taking some time to talk with me and share some insights with my readers. The reason I asked you to coach me for Leadville is that you have what I describe as "mojo." You have the mental game of a 100-miler down pat. My guess is that it's your mental edge and confidence that have led to those 30 victories at the 100-mile distance and propelled you forward during your grueling Appalachian Trail and Pony Express Trail adventures. Have you always had the mental game down and, if not, how did you develop it?

KM: To say I "developed" mojo is kinda funny. All my life, I've had the attitude that we never really know what's around the next corner, so why stress out about what "could happen," when we never really know? When I was younger, I may have stressed out a little bit before races, but I've learned over the years that it's just a waste of time thinking about it. Just go start and see what happens. Training-wise, it's easy to get out, so that part is not a big deal. The good mojo comes from just enjoying what I do, instead of feeling like I "have" to perform. I just run the races and see what happens at this point. The mental power has really improved after I ran a few 100s in a row, starting in about 2005 when I would stack a few together and see what would happen. Although this is not the way to run a PR, it's a great way to get strong mentally because I have no pressure. I would always say to myself, "It'll be over in 15 hours, so why bother worrying about it? I'll be sitting in my chair with a brew before I know it." Also, after the Appalachian Trail run in 2008, 100 miles became an easy distance to complete. Not easy to win, but easy to complete. The perspective on how far it is really changes after running 40-55 miles a day. Makes it easy.

WH: You've said before that you don't run the miles that some of the other elite guys do. But yet you've won a ton of big races over the years--from Hardrock, Bear and Wasatch to San Diego, Massanutten and others. What's an average week of training like when you're gunning for a big race like Hardrock or Wasatch?

KM: On typical weeks when I'm not recovering from something else, I run about 70 per week, then taper about a week and a half, really listening to how tired my body is. The taper week varies on distance and difficulty. One of the key things with my training is that EVERY run is in the mountains and very hilly. Usually up for an hour or more, then all down. Or 1500'-3000' climbs all the time. No treadmills, no real "structured" speedwork. The speed comes from practicing on technical trails on technique on how to go faster and how to deal with rocks. In the Wasatch Mountains it is very rocky, so technical running is everywhere. Get good at that, and run races that are technical and I do well. If it's too smooth, I can still do alright, but I thrive on terrain I run all the time, like Hardrock, Wasatch, and Massanutten. These are all super rocky, so they're good for me. I don't necessarily seek out competitive races like I should; I seek out races I know will be tough and that I'll enjoy. It makes no sense to me to do what others think I should do. I am me, and will run what I like to run....for I may die tomorrow. :-)

WH: The history of ultrarunning is littered with flash-in-the-pan stories--guys who exploded onto the scene and then disappeared after a few amazing races. Guys like you and Eric Clifton, who win for a long time, are rare. What's been the secret to your longevity?

KM: As you know I don't really run a ton of miles, which keeps my body happy in terms of injuries. When I feel something is wrong and can't figure it out on my own, I go to my doc and get a real diagnosis. I'm not a big fan of Internet diagnosis, because although the info is great, we still can't diagnose something without a doc's examination. I don't do educated guesses on injuries or conditions. Looking back at my running logs, over the past 15 years, my miles have increased super slowly, so my "build up" phase has been over years, not months, making me less susceptible to injury.

I think a lot of "flash in the pan" guys just find another thing to do and get sucked into a "career." I have always wanted running to be my way to make money to survive. I'm not a guy who cares much about becoming a millionaire. Ultrarunning will never pay all the bills by itself, no matter who you are (maybe Kilian). What I do is work to live, not live to work. Coaching has made my life a lot better than it was financially, but I'm still not gonna get rich. I don't care as long as I can survive. OK, I got a little off subject there.

WH: One of things I'm starting to think about with my ultra training is incorporating some fast walking into the mix--just a little, though. Anton Krupicka recently talked about this on his blog. Bottom line is that in an ultra most of us are going to hike a few sections, especially the big climbs, so it seems to make sense to me that fast walking should be part of training. Does your training include any hiking?

KM: Absolutely! I hike A LOT, and practice walking 4mph uphills that range in the 600'-700' per mile grade. I can fly uphill hiking fast. It keeps the heart rate a little lower and saves the energy level for later. No one runs every step (unless it's Rocky Raccoon), so training to hike fast is very important. It's not about speed, it's about perseverance and being stubborn for a long time to succeed at 100s. At big races, you'll see me walking early in some sections that are completely runnable, but I'll jog by you later cuz' you ran it all early. It happens a lot. Once in a while when it gets steep, hike fast and work on being efficient with the stride. It's hard to walk faster than 4mph and be comfortable, but practice it enough and you'll walk by some people when they are running.

WH: In your judgment and from your years of coaching and racing, what’s the #1 mistake ultrarunners make in their training and/or racing?

KM: When folks run their first 100 in particular, goals on time and how fast they plan to run it can sometimes be a bit lofty. Goal #1 should always be to finish the damn thing. :-) 100 miles is a lot tougher than 50. A lot of people don't understand that until the first try at 100. Some will do great, but it's always hard to tell just from training. It's so mental after mile 60. People go out too fast, but that's the obvious answer. Training-wise, I don't like to see folks go do a 10 hour run every weekend, then do real small, easy stuff all week because they are tired from the 10-hour effort. I would rather see runners be more consistent with miles, and throw in some faster running. Not necessarily in a circle, but more on the trails and terrain they will race on. I feel it's best to run courses that runners feel is their strength for their best success.

WH: Generally speaking, what’s your race nutrition strategy?

KM: A lot of gel, particularly EFS drink and some random gels, along with Red Bull, Nuun at aid stations (never carry it cuz it's messy), Saltstick electrolyte capsules, and chicken bouillon if I have crew. Also, some ibuprofen if needed, but never a lot or more than 400mg every 4 hours. Use the 100mg per hour rule. That's it, pretty simple. I haven't had a stomach issue since 2004 at Hardrock, and that was short-lived.

WH: This year (and really toward the end of last year with the North Face 50-miler in San Fran) we've seen Salomon Running field a team that has absolutely dominated in major US races and internationally, as well. Kilian Jornet of Spain won Western States. Julien Chorier of France won Hardrock. Ryan Sandes of South Africa won Leadville. And recently Kilian yet again won Mont Blanc, where we saw a number of high-profile DNFs from Americans. In each race, Team Salomon was there in full force for highly coordinated logistical, crew and pacing support--a level of organization we might expect to see in the Tour de France, not ultrarunning. Is the Salomon model the wave of the future in competitive ultrarunning? And how can US elites, who don't get such support, funding and logistical organization (yet), compete against the Salomon machine?

KM: Salomon simply hunted down the best mountain runners in Europe, made a team, put together a decent budget and spread the love. The fact that they beat all the Americans doesn't mean much really. At Western States, Kilian should have won; he is the best on the planet right now. The fact that he's Spanish makes no difference, only that he could get in WS easily the first time cuz' he's not from the US. Now he's set. At Hardrock, I was not healthy, Nick (Clark) was tired (from Western States), and Dakota (Jones) is a rookie. Joe (Grant) is also a rookie. Either way, Chorier didn't break my record, and even with the added two miles still would not have. So they didn't really come over here and break records; they just won and were focused on one thing. We Americans want more and more, just like the fat guy at McDonalds getting the supersize. Europeans want less at once, but a better result. Different culture. Why didn't Chorier run UTMB? They probably said he was tired. I wouldn't even think twice about running UTMB if I were Chorier; he should have been long recovered. It would have been interesting to see what he would have done at UTMB. Sandes' time at Leadville was an hour behind (Matt) Carpenter's (record setting time in 2005). An hour! Salomon certainly has made a statement, no doubt. But it doesn't necessarily mean their shoes are the best. :-)

Companies have to pay athletes enough money to be athletes. That's the bottom line. If an athlete gets paid enough to pay his mortgage, buy his food, and save a little more money, then said athlete can just train. We Americans all have jobs and careers, and some have families to provide for. We need to make money. I can't personally say if Kilian, Julien, Iker, Miguel and Ryan have regular jobs; maybe they do. You would have to ask them.

WH: Last question. You're the founder and race director of the Speedgoat 50K, considered the toughest 50K in the nation (it's on my to-do list). You're also coaching and running competitively and in recent years have gone for the speed records on the Appalachian Trail and Pony Express Trail (completing both). What do you see yourself doing in 10 years? And when can we expect a book :)?

KM: In 10 years, I hope to be playing more golf, working less, and maybe writing a book. Who knows? Right now I live for the moment and don't worry about what comes next. As long as I can survive today, I'm fine. I would also like to hike the AT with my wife when she turns 50. I also plan on returning to the AT in due time to try and break the record again, but I'm not sure when. It depends on funds, support, crap like that. In 10 years, I can guarantee I'll still be running. If I'm not, I'll be dead. I also hope to someday sell the Speedgoat 50K and make my millions. :-)

WH: I lied. One more question. For those interested in your coaching services, is the way for folks to contact you?

KM: Yeah, is for my coaching service.

WH: Thanks again Karl!

KM: My pleasure!

All rights reserved. No part of this interview may be reproduced or reprinted without the express written consent of Wyatt Hornsby.


  1. Great interview. Nice choice of questions and tons of insight. I think we would all love seeing more of these. Thanks!

  2. Thanks, William!

    I am really excited to have interviewed Karl and posted our exchange. Karl are a super guy and the ultrarunner I probably most admire. I'm planning more interviews with some of the top guys and gals in the sport, provided they agree to "talk" with me. One of my other long-term goals is podcasts...and eventually video.


  3. One more's the back?

    Nice job, Wyatt.

  4. Am just and average 1/2 and marathon runner but really enjoy checking in on your blog. Great writing & race recaps, and interview here.
    Don't think I will ever become an ultrarunner, but doesn't stop me from getting fired up for my measly 15'ish mile "long" runs after reading your posts.

  5. Work to Live - not live to work - Really like that reply! What a super interview!!

  6. As William said, great interview! Really enjoyed some of Karl's replies too - "I'll be drinking a brew in 15 hours so why worry, Work to Live and not live to work" - some really good stuff!

  7. Excellent interview Wyatt. Thanks for posting.