The Casual Champion - Page 4
Meltzer attempted his first trail ultramarathon in 1996. That year, he registered for the Wasatch Front 100, a beastly race for even seasoned trail runners, with its 26,882 feet of climbing, oven-like heat and shivering, nocturnal cold. The rookie Meltzer accomplished his goal of cracking 30 hours. "I finished in 28:27," he says.
After that first ultra, Meltzer became obsessed with training. "The next year's race couldn't come soon enough," he said. "I was in it to win, but my IT band locked up at 82 miles and I walked it in. I did 23:35." That placed him seventh. Finally, in 1998 Meltzer ripped one. He lopped another three hours from his finishing time, snagging his first-ever ultra win with a course record 20:08.
Meltzer explains in his very popular blog, www.karlmeltzer.com ("1200 new hits per week," he says): "Ultrarunning became my life." Since then, he says, "Most of my days since then have been focused on, `I need to get my run in first, then I can do everything else.'"
Meltzer's day may always begin with a run, but that's not to say he's a slave to a training schedule. While other elite trail runners follow clearly defined plans, Meltzer eschews such regimens like a brewmaster recoils at skunky beer.
"I like quality over quantity," he says, "and I run what I feel like running that day. I try and run just below the level of being tired."
Torrence sums up Meltzer's approach: "To hell with the adage of peaking and tapering. Just run. That's how Karl thinks and works."
Meltzer admits he doesn't cover the same mileage as most—if not all—of the sport's other elites. "Those guys are doing 100 or more miles per week," he says. "Tony (Krupicka) does around 200. Is that good? I don't know. Not for me."
Meltzer's base miles are a modest 75 to 80 miles per week. "I'll run hard two or three times a week and try to get in as much vertical feet as possible."
How about the track? "I hate the track."
One of Meltzer's staple runs is a mountainous loop that links Alta and Brighton ski areas in the Wasatch Mountains. "It's a 14-mile loop, above 8500 the whole time," he says, "and it goes up to 10,500. It's 3400 total feet of climbing." Meltzer typically covers the circuit in 2:10.
"I think Karl has perfected his training, and he knows his body better now," says Hal Koerner, another friend and winner of several 100-mile ultras himself. "You need to have a laid-back approach to something that is so inherently long, if you want to remain in it long term."
Meltzer brought his laid-back demeanor to France for the 2007 Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc. The 163-kilometer circumnavigation of the Mont Blanc massif is Europe's answer to the Hardrock 100, and Meltzer made the trip with some concern. "It was my sixth 100 of the year, and I didn't know how my body would handle it," he says.
Stateside, many Americans expected Meltzer or one of the other talented American entrants—Scott Jurek or Koerner—to win handily. Some expected a new course record.
Long after Jurek and Koerner dropped from the race, Meltzer climbed into second place by mile 60 and soon closed the gap on frontrunner Nicholas Mermoud of France. Many Americans, up late and closely following the online updates at home, predicted a Meltzer surge at the end, just as they'd seen at other major 100s.