Karl Meltzer Interview: King of the Hill
|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, 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