Travis Macy, 2013 Leadman Champion Interview
Travis Macy won the 2013 Leadman Series, a combination of five trail running and mountain biking events held in Leadville, Colorado over the course of two months each summer, in a combined record time. After completing the series with a 20:15 at the Leadville 100-mile trail run, Travis agreed to the following remote video interview. In the following interview, Travis talks about his strengths and weaknesses, what hurt most in this his first 100 miler, and where we can expect to see him in the future.
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Travis Macy, 2013 Leadman Champion, Interview Transcript
iRF: Congrats on your Leadman victory and course record. Leadman is a series of diversity, requiring speed and endurance as well as mountain biking and trail running abilities. Talk about your background as it pertains to Leadman events. What strengths and weaknesses did you bring to the series?
Travis Macy: Well, that’s a great question, and you’re right, I think doing well at the Leadman does require being good at both biking and running and kind of a range of distances from 10k to 100 miles. Looking at my background, I think the first thing is that I have an outlook that works well for this kind of racing. When I was growing up, my dad was doing ultra runs and adventure races. One of his favorite sayings was, “It’s all good mental training.” I really do think that’s true. To do well in the longer stuff, first you have to have a positive outlook, but also you have to be flexible and ready to adapt to adversity. Probably that was my greatest strength. Other than that, I do have a background both in running and in biking. I ran competitively in college and, in the last three to four years, I’ve raced as a pro mountain biker in addition to doing some XTERRA professional races and a number of long adventure races over the last 10 years. With those things in mind, I’ve been able to do a lot of long stuff. Also, as an endurance coach, I’ve seen what works well for athletes and I’ve seen a lot of things that don’t work well. My own experience as an endurance coach has definitely informed what I’ve been able to do out there.
As far as weaknesses, I did The North Face 50 Championship last year in San Francisco in December. I did okay. I did 6:44 on a slightly shortened course. I was fairly happy with that time. But I really realized at that time that a glaring weakness was my downhill running, in particular the muscular specificity to prepare the legs for a lot of downhill pounding. So that’s something I’ve been working on really just on a weekly basis since December. I think that paid off for me at Leadville. My legs held up fine throughout the race.
iRF: I think you’re a pretty regular person, too. You have a wife and kids who hopefully haven’t disowned you this summer, and I think you’re a teacher. Balance—is there any? How do you keep it in this summer? How do you keep balance in general?
Macy: Life really is a balancing act, I think, especially if you’re trying to achieve excellence really in any area. It’s going to take some work and it’s going to take some sacrifice. For me, I’m not willing to sacrifice family time. That’s my first commitment. I’m also not willing to sacrifice my work as a professional and that means that other things have to get cut out a little bit in order to fit in the training and racing. As most of you know out there, it takes a lot of early morning runs and late nights. But, if you’re truly committed to something and really passionate about something, that kind of stuff really isn’t that hard. When it is tough in the training, that’s when you’re really getting in some good mental training that will help you out later on in the race. Our life is a little bit chaotic. I have to give a lot of thanks to my mom and my mother-in-law for taking the kids at a variety of times and also just to my family for supporting me. The Leadman Series this summer—we kind of made multi-part family vacation to Leadville. We have our little old trailer that we pull behind the truck. We camp out. With two kids under 2.5 years old, every night before the race or after the race or whatever wasn’t a great night’s sleep, but that’s part of the deal. It worked out okay.
One other piece about the balance is using the limited time that you have available for training—really using that efficiently. I’m not this Ironman triathlete that has time to train 25 or 30 hours a week. Typically my training is somewhere between eight and 15 hours a week and that’s with the running and the biking. That means I’m really not running that much. I looked through my training log and I typically ran 40 to 50 miles a week through the winter, spring, and summer to prepare for Leadman. It’s not that high mileage, so really the focus has to be on quality. Everything I do is in the hills and it’s all between 7,500 and 10,000 feet and quite a bit above that all up and down hill. There were a lot of weeks where I logged 20,000 to 30,000 [feet of] vertical climbing. In a fairly short amount of time you can really squeeze in some good quality, doing focused interval sessions in specific heart-rate zones. I think that kind of stuff really pays off in squeezing quality into your limited training time. So that’s definitely been big for me.
iRF: I first heard of you this spring when you set the Zion Traverse FKT. It’s been since reset by Mike Foote and Justin Yates. Was that your first ultra-distance run? Did you start ultrarunning recently to get ready for Leadman or did it come about before Leadman was on your mind?
Macy: I haven’t done that much ultrarunning, but it’s always been part of my plan. It was always just sort of a question of when I would get to it. The timing kind of worked out right. After college I had some good opportunities for adventure-racing sponsorship and racing around the world and doing some neat things in that area. That was kind of my focus for 10 years. Just recently with little kids coming, I’ve been able to simplify a little bit to do a bit more of the local stuff with more specified focus on the running and endurance mountain biking. So really for me, Leadville was kind of a homecoming. My dad did the race for the first time in 1988 when I was five years old. I think I’ve been planning on doing it since then. I was glad to knock it out this time. I’ve done a couple other ultras. I’ve done a couple international events. In adventure racing, we have the trekking sections of ultra distance and kind of ultra time, but I really haven’t done too many. Within the last year I’ve done The North Face 50 in San Francisco, that Zion Traverse FKT attempt in the spring, and then Leadville this summer. I’m looking forward to more. I’m glad that I can say that just a few days after Leadville. I’m definitely psyched to get in the game here.
iRF: So, you ran 20:15 at the Leadville 100 this past weekend in your first 100 miler. People would long for that result in any of their 100’s, I’m sure you realize. You’re actually quite new to ultrarunning, but you’ve done a lot of expedition length adventure racing. Is your endurance past your biggest asset for this past weekend?
Macy: When I think about assets leading to a time I was happy with, like you said 20:15 for my first 100, I think there are a few of them. Definitely the endurance or ultra-endurance experience played a huge role. I’ve finished 10 expedition-length adventure races, dozens of other adventure races, stage races, a lot of 100-mile mountain bike races and 24-hour mountain bike races, 24-hour adventure races. So I’ve definitely experienced racing in those conditions, in that time. That said, as you guys know, running 100 miles is different than biking 100 miles or biking for 24 hours or adventure racing for 24 hours. So, in some ways I definitely was untested which did lead me to run what I think was a fairly conservative race and really just focusing on taking care of myself.
Some of the other assets I had out there, like I said, was a specified training program where I got in a lot of quality and a lot of vertical. Some good altitude was helpful. I think I had a great nutrition and equipment set up out there. I was using Vitargo S2 as my primary energy source. It’s a carbohydrate powder. I’m really happy with the Hoka One One shoes. I think those things really have revolutionized the sport of ultrarunning. The Ultimate Direction stuff is great; I was really happy with the pack out there. Then also I’ve really gotten into the compression stuff. I feel like a big runner geek, but I really like the CWX compression shorts and sleeves and socks. I think those things were helpful to me as well.
One final piece… as you look at the transition with ultrarunning in the past, it was simply if you could just keep running, you would often win the races. The sport has transitioned so that speed has become a very significant component. I remember when Matt Carpenter set the record at Leadville—his amazing record that still stands—that summer he said that within the same summer that he did Leadville, he also wanted to be able to break 25 minutes for a five-mile run. That kind of stuck with me. I didn’t do any timed five-mile races or anything, but just that leg-speed component is very significant and that is something that was a component of the training plan all summer. I think having a bit of that high-end speed and the overall strength was another asset that I had out there.
iRF: You just set a new Leadman course record. Which of your performances were your strongest and which ones were the weakest? That is, the dudes who are racing your times in the future, where are they going to find the slack and/or some tight times?
Macy: I think probably my key to Leadman this summer in both training and racing was consistency—really never getting too far in a hole in a race or outside the race so that the training could be maintained. As far as the individual races, I was really happy with the marathon performance. I did 3:38. I finished second overall. I would have liked to have won the race, but I was glad to start off the series with a bit of a buffer over the competition. Both of my bike times were decent. I’ve done faster previously in the 50 bike and in the 100 bike, so there’s probably a little bit of room there. The 10k is probably kind of a wash. My strategy with the 10k was really just to jog it. I figured I could have gone 10 minutes faster in the 10k but potentially been a few hours slower in the 100 due to hammered legs, so I really just cruised it. I think really what it comes down to is the 100-mile run. Honestly, I think my record can be broken. I know next year that Tim Waggoner, who previously had the record, I think he might be thinking about it. My good buddy Dave Mackey may give it a shot. If Dave gets out there, watch out because he’s a great biker. We all know what he can do running. So really, I think the place to gain time will be in the run.
iRF: So what was most painful in your first 100 miler?
Macy: Really, the greatest physical discomfort out there was chafing in a variety of areas throughout the race. I was really glad to have Sportslick with me out there during the event. I still had a challenging experience with regards to that which wasn’t surprising. That happens in these races.
As far as advice to 100 miler newbies there are really two things. On the physical side, Dave Mackey told me the night before the race, he said, “Trav, if you think you’re going out too hard, you probably are.” I think that was good advice. I took it to heart and went out pretty easy. Mentally, I really tell them, “Just go for it.” I think a lot of people approach 100 milers or long races thinking, Oh, I need to do so many 50s first or I need to do this or I need to do that or I want to do a 100 miler four years from now. I tell them, “Just do it. If you believe you can run 100 miles, then you can.” That’s the key. The key to it is committing to it and simply going out there and doing it. My advice is just do it. If you think that a coach can help you, connect with a coach and do that or just learn about it through the community and through other people. Get out there and crew people, pace people. Really, just do it. The only thing that will hold you back from finishing a 100-mile run is if you doubt yourself. If you believe in yourself and you go out and do it, you absolutely will.
iRF: Future aspirations? What’s next as soon as the swelling in your legs from running 100 miles goes down?
Macy: That’s a good question. The next race that I do have scheduled is called the Epic Mountain Challenge. It’s a running/mountain biking multi-sport race in Pagosa Springs in October. I’ve got that approximately six weeks after Leadville. I’m hoping I will have some good strength leftover. I’ll definitely need to do some polishing for speed and VO2 Max. Hopefully I’ll be recovered. As far as after that goes, I don’t have a set plan. I’m sure I’ll be doing something. I always have an idea in the fall about what I want to do the next summer. Oftentimes, that changes. We’ll see. I like doing these ultras. I’d like to do more races like Hardrock and UTMB which are enticing to me. I like uphill running, too. I’d really like to go to Europe and do some Vertical K events that are there and some of the other races there. I’ve done a lot of racing in Europe for adventure races and mountain biking. It would be great to do some more of the ultra runs and mountain-running races over there. I really like the FKT running as well, and giving a crack at another one of those would be a good time, too. We’ll just have to see.
I’d like to wrap up with a couple final thoughts on applications of adventure racing to ultrarunning. First one in gear is stuff like this. This is the light system I used. It’s called AyUp Lights. This is a biking-headlamp company out of Australia. The lights were initially made for mountain biking. You put one on your helmet and one on your handle bars. You can see they’re really small and light and most of all, super, super bright. I like to wear them for running as well. You just take one of them instead of two as you would for biking. It’s plenty. I tell you what, it absolutely pays off. You can really see the technical trail. Also, when you’re out there running with everyone else, your light is brighter than everyone else’s, so that means that you get to see while everyone else sees the shadows instead. Again, that’s Ayup Light. I’m very happy with them.
Kind of a final point of applications from adventure racing to ultrarunning, it’s really one kind of about perspective and mindset. One thing that makes people successful in adventure races, is that they expect that sometime during the race, something is going to fall apart. You’re going to get lost. Your crew is not going to show up. You’re going to get hurt. You’re going to get sick. Something isn’t going to go as planned. I think that’s a pretty healthy mindset to bring in to an ultra run. Really just the idea that you plan very well, you plan in a detail-oriented way, but when things do fall apart or don’t go according to plan, you don’t worry about it. You just keep hammering. You just go. That really makes all the difference.
I think sometimes if people are coming from a road-running background or road triathlon background where you really are able to control everything in a shorter kind of race, if you try to do that in an ultra run and try to control everything, it can really backfire on you because you really can’t control everything. Some things aren’t going to go according to plan, and you’ve got to be ready for that. I think that’s the main thing that adventure racers or people that have experience doing other stuff can pull in. Like I said, you plan well and you get ready for the event, but once you get there, you know that things may not go according to plan and you can’t let that affect you. You can’t let that mess you up. You’ve just got to keep on hammering.