Just past 6 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Sunday March 16, Hungarian-turned-Floridian (and U.S. citizen as of 2008) Katalin Nagy eclipsed the 200k/124-mile distance during the South Carolina 24-Hour Race. In doing so, the 34 year old set a new 200k American record with a time of 20:01:06. The previous record was set by Jamie Donaldson in 2009 at 21:01:28. We sat down with Nagy to learn more about her and her record-breaking performance.
iRunFar: Kate, you are now a 200k American record holder, but I think a lot of people in the ultrarunning world probably don’t know who you are. So who is Kate? Where are you from?
Katalin Nagy: Originally I am from Hungary, but I live in Sarasota, Florida.
iRunFar: How long have you been there, in Sarasota?
Nagy: I think nine, or almost 10 years.
iRunFar: What brought you to Florida? Was it work related?
Nagy: Yes, work. I have my own business. I manage luxury houses here, in Sarasota, which includes house cleaning, house watching, personal service, and pet care.
iRunFar: Nice. I guess that allows for plenty of time to run.
Nagy: Uh, yes, I think I have enough time for running. Or I make the time for running.
iRunFar: When did you start running? Have you run all your life?
Nagy: Honestly, I started running when I was 14, but that was just a hobby level: once a week, for just a short distance, because I liked running very much at that time. And then, I just continued this kind of hobby level run until five years ago. So then I met John Pyle and I started running with him. I was running on the treadmill only at the YMCA. [John] just came over to me and invited me to run. It took him by surprise when I said yes. [laughs] [Author’s Note: John Pyle was actually with Katalin during this interview.] He helped me… I ran in my first marathon in 2010, in Budapest. So that’s my story.
iRunFar: [laughs] And how did you do in your first marathon in 2010?
Nagy: I did 3 hours and 19 minutes.
iRunFar: Wow! And have you run many marathons on the road since then?
Nagy: No, it’s unfortunate. After this marathon I was injured, I got an injury, but not because of the running. I was trying to help my friend, she was moving out of a place, and I pulled my quad. So I couldn’t run for nine months after this marathon. Then, of course, I healed up and I continued this running.
iRunFar: And your coach, you have a coach?
Nagy: Yes, my coach is Hungarian and he lives in Hungary. His name is Oliver Lorincz.
iRunFar: Does he coach lots of runners?
Nagy: Yes, yes, especially in Hungary, yes. He is a very good coach.
iRunFar: So you ran your first marathon in 2010 and I think your first ultramarathon was 2011?
Nagy: It was 2012.
iRunFar: 2012, okay.
Nagy: 2012, yes, that was almost two years ago. That was [the Keys Ultras 50 Mile] and I did… 7 hours and 45 minutes. I guess. And I won. Bad day so I think I was lucky.
iRunFar: Is that your best 50-mile time?
Nagy: No, last year I did the same race, the same 50 mile, and I did 7 hours, 10 minutes.
iRunFar: So you had run some 50-mile races. Did you move to the 100-mile distance before the 24-hour event?
Nagy: It’s funny I have never run the 100-mile distance. I never did. I ran a 100k [race] last year, but I never have run 100 miles.
iRunFar: Very interesting. Why did you decide to go to the 24-hour distance? Was this your second 24-hour race?
Nagy: Yes, this was my second. Last year [in] October was the first one [at the 24 The Hard Way].
iRunFar: The reason I ask is, most people don’t jump from 50 miles or 100k to the 24-hour event. They usually run 100 miles or 12-hour races.
Nagy: Yeah, well I ran last year, I didn’t jump to 24 hours–that was a big jump–but last year I did 132 miles in Hungary. There is a really famous race in Hungary called Ultrabalaton. All along the lake, we have to run along the big lake. So I did [that] last year, and won, 132 miles, and I did 22 hours and 47 minutes.
iRunFar: 22 hours?
Nagy: Yes, and 47 minutes.
Nagy: That was the big jump [from] the 100k to [the 132-mile race].
iRunFar: Okay, wow. It sounds like you have a natural talent for the further distances.
Nagy: You know, I really love [running], I really love what I’m doing. You know what I mean? I think maybe it’s the passion. I don’t know.
iRunFar: What about training for the race last weekend. Had you been training for several months?
Nagy: I have had [Oliver Lorincz] as a coach since a year and a half ago, and all the time since then I’ve been training and never stopped.
iRunFar: So a year and a half.
Nagy: Yes, but not just for [the 24-hour race], but training for something. Before this I ran 50 miles, 100k, so I was always training for something.
iRunFar: Do you use kilometers or miles when you think about how far you are running [in training]?
Nagy: When I’m training, I’m running for the time, not for the distance.
Nagy: I think I do, usually, 15 hours, or 16, or 14 hours. But I’m running… around 100 miles per week. One hundred miles per week, yes.
iRunFar: Do you try to bunch that up in a couple days, maybe do a five-hour run one day and then a three-hour run the next day? Or do you spread it out?
Nagy: Every weekend is a long run, the longest run. Saturday and Sunday are the longest runs. Every Monday is always a rest day. Tuesday to Friday there is some speedwork and some shorter runs.
iRunFar: How short?
Nagy: It’s not really short. I’m running 1.5 or two hours per day, weekly, Tuesday to Friday. And I’m running with pulse control… how do you say it? Heart-rate monitor.
iRunFar: One last thing with training, what do you find was most beneficial from your training in preparing you for the 24-hour run?
Nagy: Yes, the long run and the speedwork, it’s helpful for my training for 24 hours. I don’t know. The speedwork and… all of it.
iRunFar: And I take it that the amount of time you spend running every week was probably very important in preparing you? And it sounds like no less than 1.5 hours [a day]–that’s a lot of running!
Nagy: Oh yeah, it is a lot of running. Yes [laughs], it’s a lot!
iRunFar: Let’s talk about the race. Leading up to the race on Saturday, did you have any goals going in? Set any records or qualify for anything?
Nagy: I didn’t have any goals for numbers, for the mileage. My goal was to keep my position on the U.S. 24-hour team.
iRunFar: You had qualified for the U.S. 24-hour team?
Nagy: Yes, I did. I ran 124 miles in Oklahoma a couple of months ago [at the 24 The Hard Way]. And I think I was the fifth woman on the team. So that’s why I choose this race, I wanted to keep my position on the team.
iRunFar: Did you stop after 200k last weekend?
Nagy: I stopped. That was a little break. My goal was running until the 100-mile distance. I was thinking, Just change my shirt and take a little break and everything. But then my friend said, and Joe Fejes said, maybe I could break the 200k record. So I said, Okay, so I’m going to run until 200k, which is 124 miles I guess. After that I took a little break, but you know I just started to be–maybe it was a mistake, I don’t know. I started to feel dizzy and I had an upset stomach, and I started freezing. I’m a Florida girl so it was cold for me in the morning. So then I just continued for two hours running but of course I was getting slower. And then– that was such a mistake–at around 22 hours I just sat down. I couldn’t stand up anymore. [laughs]
iRunFar: What was your total, then, by the time you sat down?
Nagy: I think a little bit over 133 miles.
iRunFar: I think I saw your 100-mile split was under 16 hours?
Nagy: Yes, 15 hours and 20 minutes.
iRunFar: 15:20. So those last hours were pretty tough?
Nagy: Oh, yes.
iRunFar: But you broke the [200k] record by, was it an hour?
Nagy: Yes, an hour. And I didn’t know that–if you were going to ask–I didn’t know that, it was a surprise for me, too. I really enjoyed this run until 200k. I really enjoyed it. You know that was my first 400-meter track run. I have to say I like that.
iRunFar: Yeah, a lot of people struggle with a race of that kind–you just keep going around and around and around. But you, mentally, find it easier?
Nagy: Mentally I was okay with it. The weather was perfect, in the daytime, of course in the daytime. It was warm and sunny and the weather was perfect, lots of people were there, I really enjoy that. But in the morning it was cold for me so that was really bothering me.
iRunFar: During the race, what were you using for fuel?
Nagy: I didn’t eat real food. I ate protein bars, energy gel, of course water, electrolytes.
iRunFar: Is that something your coach helps you with, your plan for nutrition during the race?
Nagy: Yes, he did. We always talk about [that] before the race and about strategy for the race.
iRunFar: What did Oliver have planned for you in terms of pacing? Were you trying to stay comfortable or run faster in the beginning?
Nagy: Yes, I had [a strategy]. He says to target my heartbeat.
iRunFar: So you base your pace on your heart rate.
iRunFar: You try to stay in a certain range so your heart rate doesn’t get too high.
Nagy: Yes, yes.
iRunFar: So are some of Oliver’s other athletes performing as well as you?
Nagy: Yes, in Hungary, yes. He has really good runners, yes of course. There is a lady, Szilvia Lubics, who has won the Spartathlon twice and who won many races in Hungary and Europe.
iRunFar: How did you get connected with Oliver as a coach?
Nagy: I contacted him because I heard a lot about him. I wanted to try to find a coach because I knew I really liked this thing, the ultrarunning. I knew that if I wanted to get better, I needed help. So I heard a lot about him and then I just wrote him about coaching. It happened 1.5 years ago.
iRunFar: One other question about the race itself. Were you pacing with anyone or running totally on your own?
Nagy: I was running totally on my own.
iRunFar: Did you have a chance to talk to Zach Bitter afterward–he broke the American record as well.
Nagy: Yes, he was great. I saw him–he was just flying. Yeah he was good, really good.
iRunFar: Did you speak with him afterward?
Nagy: No, I didn’t try, I didn’t try. [laughs]
iRunFar: [laughs] No, you were trying to get feeling better.
Nagy: [laughs] Yes, yes.
iRunFar: Well how are you feeling now? Are you starting to feel better?
Nagy: I’m much better, much better. I had many blisters on my feet, but now I start training again.
iRunFar: Oh good. When did you start running again?
Nagy: I ran once after the race, but just easy, just jogging, short, for an hour. I will start running next week, for six days [a week], back to the training.
iRunFar: So you took four or five days off [after the race]?
Nagy: Yeah, something like that.
iRunFar: You mentioned you had blisters, which is bound to happen when you run that far, but what shoes did you wear?
Nagy: I always wear Hoka. I really like [them].
iRunFar: I just bought a pair myself, they’re great.
Nagy: Yeah. You know the first time when I started running in Hoka it was really strange for me because I feel like I’m taller than usual, but I really like it after that.
iRunFar: Which model do you wear?
Nagy: I wear the Hoka Kailua.
iRunFar: So looking ahead, you are going to start training again so you must have some plans to compete the rest of the year?
Nagy: Yes. My next race is in Key West, the Keys 100, which is 100 miles. And then end of September I’m going to Greece, I’ll do the Spartathlon. Then after, I hope… not hope–I’m going to the [IAU] 24-Hour World Championships. That is the plan for this year.
iRunFar: Should we expect to see you on the trails anytime this year or next year?
Nagy: I like running on trails… yes, of course, I’m going to do trail runs, too. I will see.
iRunFar: With the Keys 100, are you going after any times there, any goals?
Nagy: My goal is to finish around or under 16 hours because, at that time, I think it will be really hot and sunny, so I cannot say, ‘I am going to run 15 hours,’ because I don’t know how I will feel. At that time in Florida, it is really hot, especially this race with no shade.
iRunFar: Yeah, it’s already getting warm there [in Florida]. Is there anything else from you? I think we covered a lot of ground.
Nagy: What can I say? I want to say something. I’m not that kind of runner who focuses just on running. I enjoy my life but… there are many runners who just focus on running and there is nothing else in their life, but I just enjoy it. Maybe in two years I stop running, or maybe I’m running 20 years later, too. I don’t know–I just enjoy it.
Maybe it’s too much information about me, but I’m going to say, just five years ago when I started running, I broke up with my fiancé after 13 years… after that I started running this much and I met John [Pyle] and he helped me from the beginning.
iRunFar: You think you are different as a person–and maybe better quality of life–since you started running more?
iRunFar: Well what was the impetus, what was the cause, for you to start running so much more and to start competing? Is there a reason you changed from a casual runner to an American record holder?
Nagy: I don’t know. How can I say? I had more time and I didn’t know what I could do with the free time, so I think that’s why I started running more and more. Then I met John and I ran with him for a lot of time and I really enjoyed this. And I started to enjoy, in the race, the fellowship and everything. So that’s why I was running more and more. I just really enjoy it.
iRunFar: Well it’s been very enjoyable. The ultrarunning community will definitely know who you are now.
Nagy: Thank you for the interview. And the other thing, can I say something about the race, about the last two hours?
iRunFar: Of course.
Nagy: I just want to say I’m happy with my time, of course, with the 200k. I broke the record. But I feel–this makes me upset about the last two hours, not because of my time, I’m happy I’m on the team and everything. But inside I feel a little bit bad because I didn’t fight to the end. You know what I mean? So maybe that’s more information, because I feel so bad about [sitting down and stopping after 22 hours]. Of course on my next 24 hours I’m not going to sit down. I’m 100% sure.
iRunFar: Well, it sounds like you probably hope to run further at the 24-Hour World Championships.
Nagy: I think I will, yes. [laughs]
iRunFar: We’ll look forward to seeing how you do.
Nagy: Thank you.