Karl Meltzer embodies excellence at the 100 mile distance. Few have ever excelled at the distance for so long. Over the past decade and a half, he’s racked up 32 100-mile victories. Following his victory at the 2012 Antelope Island Buffalo Run, Meltzer’s notched at least one 100-mile win every year for the past 13 years.
In the following interview, Karl talks about running flat versus mountain 100 milers, his 100-mile nutrition strategy, his one essential piece of advice to first-time 100 milers, his post-100 recovery, what he likes about his Hokas, and where we’ll see him racing next.
Karl Meltzer’s 32nd 100-Miler Victory Interview Transcript
Karl Meltzer: 32, yes.
Meltzer: Yes, No one’s got 32 yet.
iRF: Not even close, right?
Meltzer: No, not even close. I think Ann Trason is the closest.
iRF: Not only 32 100-mile wins, but 13 consecutive years with 100 mile victories. That’s some longevity.
Meltzer: 13 years winning a 100 miler at least once. That’s kind of my thing. I’ve got to keep winning them.
iRF: You did it today in 15:28?
Meltzer: 15:28. I shaved a snappy 3 minutes off the record. Not much, but it’s kind of what mattered when I came around that last corner, just trying to get under 15:31.
iRF: With 32 100-mile victories and a couple extra races on top of that, you’ve run anything from really fast runs at Rocky Raccoon to Hardrock and UTMB. Can you share a little bit about the differences between running a “flat and fast” 100 miler and running a really mountainous one. Do you prepare differently? Do you approach it differently mentally?
Meltzer: Preparation wise, I usually run the flatter races early season because my training in the winter is easier training. During the summertime I’m running up and down Little Cottonwood Canyon and things like that, around Snowbird up at higher altitude. So I focus my flatter races early season and the mountainous ones in the summer. It’s been working pretty well. It’s entirely different to run races like this or Rocky Raccoon or anything flat probably… it almost seems like it’s harder than running mountain races because there’s no variation. You just have to run every step and it’s hard to run every step. You walk a little here, there are a couple hills, but it’s hard to run the flat terrain.
iRF: I don’t think everyone realizes it, but in a race like a Hardrock or Wasatch or UTMB, you’re walking, you’re mixing in some fast hiking. Even you when you’re winning it.
Meltzer: Probably walking 35-40% of it in Hardrock and some of those races. If you’re coming to a race like this and contending for the win, you’re running every step, little hills and everything. That just takes its toll and hammers you. This kind of race it’s so easy to go out too fast because it’s so flat and you want to run every step like I did today.
iRF: You planned to go through the first half in 7 hours and the second half in 8 hours?
Meltzer: Yeah, the first 50 miles I went through in 6:33. That was a little quick. But you know, I felt good. It wasn’t a problem. I was just cruising. But at the same time I paid for it later. I think had I gone out at 7 hours, I’d have run about 15 hours instead of 15:28. But that’s ok. To me, it’s really about the win. Racking up those wins, who knows, maybe I’ll die with that record. It’s getting up there, 32 is a lot.
iRF: Do you approach your nutrition differently in a shorter faster 100 than a mountain 100? What is your nutrition plan?
Meltzer: Fueling plan is pretty much gel, across the board, and water.
iRF: Do you do gel on a schedule or just by feel at this time?
Meltzer: On a schedule. About every 25 minutes I take a gel serving. As long as I stay ahead of that I’m fine. If I don’t stay ahead of it or I fall behind, then I have issues. But I look at my watch every time I take one and think, “Ok, 25 min from now is whatever time.” I stick with that and it works. It works for me. It doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. I don’t eat any real food from the table. I think I had a half an orange this time because I had a big lead and I was standing there and picked at it. Gels work.
iRF: I know in a slower 100 you do Red Bull, do you do Red Bull in something like this?
Meltzer: Yes, it’s not just gel. It’s a combination of Red Bull, soup bullion, salt caps, but basically it’s mostly liquid stuff. I consider gel liquid.
iRF: You’ve won 32 100s and you’ve been coaching for a couple years, what is your key piece of advice for someone running their first 100?
Meltzer: Patience. We’ve all heard it before and even I fall victim to going out too fast like I did here today. Patience is really your friend especially the first time you run a 100. You’ll find that rookies who can hang with the front or who are pretty fast, they’ll hang with the front of the group for 25 miles and then they’ll just fade off. If they’ll start a little slower and keep the fueling going, they’ll have a much better finish in the end. That’s the thing. The best 100 comes in your last 30 miles, not in the first 30. So if you can prepare yourself to run well in the last 30, that’s the difference.
iRF: You’ve won 32 100s, you’ve set Hardrock course records, you’ve set Wasatch course records, what’s fueling you? What drives you?
Meltzer: It’s an addiction. I’ve run a 100 miler 54 times. For me, the 100 mile distance is the “ultimate” distance. I’ve run 50k’s and 50 miles, too, but those are mostly training runs. What fuels me? I like to do it. I like to win. I like to yak about it at the end. I like success. It feels good. Winning never gets old. I don’t care who you beat. Like Antelope Island here, the competition wasn’t strong today, but it wasn’t for me really about that. It was about having a good run. I could have walked the last 6 miles and could have still won the race. But I kept up whatever I had, I was moving pretty slow, but at the same time I still pushed it to run a solid time. I like to at least see what I have instead of backing off the throttle. So even if there’s not competition, I still give it my best effort. I’m pretty proud of that. If there’s not competition it’s easier to just back off the throttle and just win if there’s no one there.
iRF: So you gave it all you had today?
Meltzer: I gave it all I had. Like I said, I went out a little too quick, but you know…
iRF: Where are you giving it your all next?
Meltzer: Ice Age 50 mile is coming. That’s a flatter 50 mile in Wisconsin, I believe. Then Pocatello 50 mile and then Hardrock. But again, Ice Age is a flatter race so I’ll train on speedier terrain around home until that race and from that, hopefully I’ll recover quickly and head to the mountains.
iRF: Speak to that. What does your recovery entail? What are you doing the next couple days, the next couple weeks? Do you take days off?
Meltzer: I’ll take my dog for a walk the next couple days to move my legs. Yes, the way I feel now, I’ll probably take Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday off. I’ll take walks, and I’ll keep moving around the house because I don’t like to sit still. I’ll start running when my body feels it’s ready. It might be a 3 miler.
iRF: So you’re not going to push it. When you start running you’re not right back to the training?
Meltzer: No, I mostly just feel how my body feels. I may recover in a week. I may recover in 2 weeks. It all just depends on how I feel. It’s all about feel for me; instead of saying, “Well this is your perfect training plan.” Everyone’s different, and as long as you understand how your body works, it’s easier to recover faster [if you listen to your body].
Overdoing it is a big mistake I’ve seen a lot of people do. If they have a great race and let’s say they feel great on Tuesday, they’ll start banging out, banging out, banging out miles and all the sudden two weeks later they have this low period where they’re tired again. They’re not really recovered from three weeks ago. So you want to recover in a week and a half then get back to training if you can. There’s a fine line of doing too much right afterwards. That’s what I try to avoid.
iRF: You definitely like racing against good competition. You’ve run a bunch of Hardrocks – 8? 9?
Meltzer: I’ve start 9 and I’ve finished 6.
iRF: You’ll start your 10th Hardrock this July and I think you’ll agree that it will be the stiffest field you’ve ever raced? Are you looking forward to that in particular? How are you approaching it?
Meltzer: Absolutely. I’m looking forward to seeing how I stack up. As I get a little older, I mean, I’m 44 now. If the field starts as it is, you’ve got Hal [Koerner], Geoff [Roes], Tony [Krupicka], and Dakota [Jones]. Those four alone are a crazy field. But you know, if I can stay within an hour or two of those guys, I’d be pretty psyched I think. At the same time, I’m fast enough to beat them all, too, if it all clicks.
iRF: Is this the same direction you had the course record?
Meltzer: No, Kyle Scaggs has the record in the direction we’re running this year. My record, 24:38, is a great time going the other way. My best time in this direction is 26:39, which was in 2001, 10 years ago.
iRF: So are you going to shoot for getting in under that?
Meltzer: My goal is to break that time and if I do that, I’m satisfied. And if I come in 10th, then hey, I come in 10th. But it would be cool to say that 10 years later I ran my faster time there. I am getting a little older and that’s not an excuse by any means. In a race like that, it’s a slow race. We’re racing at 4 miles per hour. We can all go 4 miles per hour. So it will be interesting. The young kids might all blow up, they may not. I don’t see Geoff blowing up. Geoff’s pretty smart. And even all the other guys: Hal, Tony, Jones, John Basham, a bunch of the other guys. I think it will be a really competitive race. It might come down to the last climb. Who knows?
iRF: I don’t think we’ve really spoken about it before, but now that you have a couple years experience in Hokas, what draws you to run in Hoka One Ones and what are you running in these days? Are you running in the same model all the time?
Meltzer: I’ve mostly run in the Hoka Bondis. I’ve always liked a soft shoe. I used to go way back in the day to the Montrail Vitesse if anybody remembers that shoe.
iRF: I think some people still want that shoe.
Meltzer: Some people still have them! Those were a great shoe for me at that time. And then there was this period where there really wasn’t a big, soft shoe out there. They became sort of like boots, in my opinion anyway. And then Hoka came about and they’re soft and they’re comfortable and I put those things on and I was sold. I’m really psyched that those came around. I’m psyched that Nico [Mermoud] contacted me. It was pretty random. But the Bondi is my favorite so far. I’m sure we’ll develop other shoes in the future.
iRF: Is it comfort during the race or recovery?
Meltzer: I think it’s a combination of both. As for comfort during the race, I have no blisters today. My feet don’t feel like they’re hammered. And I’ll recover faster because I have a softer shoe, I just didn’t pound my body. Although I feel crippled at the moment and I can barely move, my body will recover faster because they’re softer. I see too many people in little shoes, and that’s ok, but I think the recovery time takes longer because of it. Just my opinion, you know.
iRF: I wish you a speedy recovery and congratulations on your 32nd win. We’ll see you in Silverton in July.
Meltzer: See you in Silverton in July.