Karl Meltzer’s 2006 Ultrarunning Season

AJW's TaproomIn 2006, Karl Meltzer ran 10 ultramarathons, among them eight 100 milers and six wins. He was actually on his way to winning his seventh at the Chimera 100 Mile when severe weather caused a mid-race cancellation. In late December of that year, Karl was named UltraRunning Magazine’s (North American) Ultrarunner of the Year.

Karl began his 2006 season early at the HURT 100 Mile in Hawaii. At the pre-race briefing, legendary Hawaiian ultrarunner Akabill Molmen challenged the field when he said, “I don’t think anyone will ever break 24 hours here. In fact, I’ll give $1,000 to anyone who does.” That was clearly all the incentive Meltzer needed and he went on to win HURT in a then-course-record time of 22:16. After the race, true to his word, Akabill presented Karl with $1,000 in cash.

After a few easy months and a mediocre (by his standards) 17th place finish at the American River 50 Mile, Karl traveled east for the notoriously rocky Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 Mile. In what he would eventually say was one of his two best races of that season, Karl ran a blazing-fast time of 17:58 and finished second to a virtually unknown (at least in the United States) South Korean runner named Sim Jae-Duk.

“He just hammered the whole way, ” Meltzer recalls. “It was a style of racing I hadn’t seen before. We were pretty even on the rocks but he smoked me on the roads.” To this day, Jae-Duk and Meltzer have the first- and second-fastest times ever run at MMT and are the only two runners to have run under 18 hours.

Karl Meltzer during the 2006 Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 Mile. Photo: Aaron Schwartzbard

Two months later, Karl won his fourth Hardrock 100 in four attempts in an excellent time of 27:07. He recalls running with a group for about the first 40 miles and then steadily pulling away. “By that time, I had Hardrock pretty much dialed,” he remarked.

Karl traveled to the Leadville Trail 100 Mile in August and had his most disappointing finish of the year, taking seventh when he ultimately had to walk the last 13 miles after succumbing to blisters on both feet for the first time in his life. His memory of the race, however, was not all negative, as he laughed about descending off of Hope Pass and encountering the then-unknown Anton Krupicka, “I said to the guys I was running with, ‘Who the hell is the naked guy. He looks like he’s going to totally blow up.'” Of course, Krupicka instead won the race and the rest is, as they say, history.

After recovering from Leadville, Karl launched into what, to me, was one of the most extraordinary two months of ultrarunning ever with dominating wins at the Wasatch Front 100 Mile, The Bear 100 Mile, the San Diego 100 Mile, and the Javelina Jundred.

Karl and soon-to-be wife Cheryl at the 2006 Wasatch Front 100 Mile. Photo courtesy of Karl Meltzer.

Originally, he hadn’t even intended to run Javelina but a challenge from then Grand Slam record holder Joe Kulak convinced him to sign up. “Kulak said he’d buy me a six pack if I broke his [then] record. So I did.” Meltzer also set a course record at San Diego, running 15:48. This record still stands.

Looking back on that season now, 13 years later, Meltzer made several observations. First, he said he never did any training runs longer than about 15 miles. Mostly he just ran on feel and went from event to event. Additionally, while he worked hard on his climbing, often hammering 2,000- to 3,000-foot ascents, he kept his training steady. “I knew I just needed to keep it even keel. I knew the fitness was there.” Finally, Karl felt like he had momentum on his side and he wanted to take advantage of it, “You just never know what might happen, so I just kept it going.”

In the end, Karl still smirks a bit reflecting back on the Ultrarunner of the Year voting that year, “Hell, I only won the thing by two votes. I knew if I didn’t win that it was total bullshit.”

Bottoms up!

Karl Meltzer’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week has to come from the Speedgoat himself:

“My favorite brew would have to be Natty Light. It’s a smooth, refreshing beer… as long as it’s cold. What makes Natty Light so great? It’s about as light at Utah’s powder. Natty Light in Utah is 3.2[% alcohol by weight], so I’m able to drink more of them.”

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

Do you have memories from Karl Meltzer’s 2006 of racing? Did you race with him at an event or spectate a race at which he was running? Leave a comment to share a memory.

There are 36 comments

  1. Markus

    Karl is still the man when it comes to trail 100 milers. Last spring he won his last two.
    His reasonable approach to training miles is probably a big part of his success story.

  2. David

    those shorts :)

    This was around the time I got into ultrarunning and Karl was clearly one of the top two guys in that era (Jurek being the other). Good times. Glad to see he is still out there competing in – and winning! – races. What an inspiration!

  3. Kevin C.

    I ran a 50k at the US National Whitewater Center in NC in 2017. Karl won the inaugural race out there years earlier. The steepest climb on the course is named Goat Hill in honor of him. He ran again (and won again) the day of my race. Karl lapped me near the end on his namesake Goat Hill. As he passed me, he took out an earbud and said “nice shoes”. I was wearing his signature Hokas. I consider that the coolest moment of my running career.

  4. Olga N

    Karl coached me for my first ever 100 mile finish (it was 2013 Western States). I came to him in January that year, having only ran two 50 milers and a couple of 50ks before. My results were quite mediocre, middle of the (female) pack runner. He never made me run more than 14 miles in training. One week before the race I learned that it was going to be 100+F year, and I totally freaked out. He told me – it’s Western States, it’s supposed to be hot! Suck it up and run, you are ready :)
    I ran sub-23 and 12 female, and it till date it was the only 100 miler I really nailed (I finished 5 more since then). He might not be the most known coach out there, but somehow his strategy just works. I still admire him, and will always think of him as of the best coach I’ve ever had :)

    1. speedgoat

      You are too kind Olga! It’s a big mental game with 100s and knowing how to strategize and stay positive is the key to success. Sure, we have to do the homework too, but it’s what’s in between the ears that brings success, and perhaps a few tips….

    1. speedgoat

      about 60 miles per week with nearly 12-15k of climb, depending on what season. Vertical can sometimes be higher during the summer too. Not one day on the track, just fast climbing cadence to create speed. I run a little less now, but figure with all the miles under my legs, 100 miles is hardly far and never intimidating anymore, even if I’m “off the couch”..

  5. Pete

    Whatever happened to Sim Jae-Duk? With a performance like that in Virginia, you’d think we would have heard me more from him in following years.

      1. Quigley

        This 2013 NYT article on “The Korean Forrest Gump” – Sim Jae-Duk – is amazing. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/09/world/asia/south-korea-marathoner.html Wow. I had heard Sim Jae-Duk’s name before, because I have tried to run and stumbled to a very slow and painful finish at Massanutten. From the NYT: “Massanutten race officials and runners recall him as a “total unknown” who spoke no English except “Water, water!” and “Thank you!” But Mr. Sim has become something of a legend among South Korea’s amateur marathoners, whose population has exploded in the past decade. He has been nicknamed the Korean Forrest Gump …” “He follows a spartan routine. Six days a week, he gets up at 5 a.m. and starts his day with an apple and 50 chin-ups. He runs 12 to 15 miles a day on a treadmill or on the road. Some days, on his way home from work, he runs mountain trails that overlook the cranes and dry docks of Geoje, the center of South Korean shipbuilding.”

        “Mr. Sim got his start running after six years of nine-hour workdays inside the ships, breathing chemicals and dust through a face mask. His respiratory system was so weak that in 1993, doctors recommended surgery to help him breathe. “Because of breathing difficulties, I always kept my mouth open, looking like an idiot,” he said. He also lost most of his sense of smell. (On race days, he asks fellow runners to smell his lunch box to check if any food has gone bad.) But Mr. Sim, a determined man if there ever was one, refused an operation. “Instead of surgery, I decided to run,” he said. “I decided that, even if I died, I would die running, with my lungs full of air.” His lung capacity, measured in 2003 at 69.5 percent, now registers as normal, he said.

        Despite still working five or six days a week at the shipyard — he now repairs welding machines — he runs three marathons a month; in spring and fall, as many as seven. In all, Mr. Sim has run 210 amateur marathons since 1995, and finished all but three of them under three hours.”

  6. Alex

    What a difference 13 years makes; hardly any cars cramming the Lambs’ Canyon underpass on race day!
    In all seriousness, Karl is an absolute inspiration and a great reminder that bigger (mileage) isn’t necessarily better.
    Now, the real question is when can we expect to see a Hoka Speedgoat golf shoe?

  7. AJW

    Good point. Although keep in mind he was there pretty early and most of the crews were busy clogging up Big Mountain at the time. Still, you’re right, the busy-ness of the ultra experience has certainly changed in the last 14 years.

  8. Ryan Hogan

    Just at the tail end of David Goggins’ audio book “Cant Hurt Me”…is it phenomenal by the way!!!…but he mentions Karl a few times in it. Your amazing Karl!! I am very happy to hear that his training miles were not extremely high!

  9. Ryan Hogan

    LOL!! No doubt you are my man! (I guess I should have specified for that particular year leading up to events)
    So were you relying on your past experiences and recovery between events to carry you through each one since they were all scheduled close together? Hence my amazement when I saw your longest training run was 15 miles!!

    1. speedgoat

      Ha, my miles are lower now even, simply because I focus on being recovered for each run, instead of pounding myself into the ground which creates just more soreness for us older runners. Doing 100s is easy, it’s the training that’s tough.

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