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If ultrarunning is getting younger, someone forgot to tell Meghan Arbogast.
In a sport increasingly dominated by fresh talent off the road or track, Arbogast, 55, of Cool, California, is racing long distances on the trail as well as ever, despite competing against women 20 (or even close to 30) years her junior.
Most recently, at the Western States 100 in June, she placed sixth—40th overall—in 20:30:11. She was just three minutes behind fifth-place Alissa St. Laurent, 31, and 10-and-a-half minutes ahead of seventh-place Bethany Patterson 37.
Perhaps more impressive, though, is that in a sport whose brightest stars often burn out quickly due to overracing and overtraining, Arbogast has been going strong for 20 years.
“[I started running] consistently in my 20s,” she says. “I did my first ultra in 1996.”
We caught up with Arbogast to learn how she still manages 120-mile training weeks, how often she thinks is too often to race and what she does on the side—nutrition, strength and so on—to keep running strong.
Trail Runner: You said you started running consistently in your 20s—when did you start competing on trails and in ultras?
Meghan Arbogast: I did my first ultra in 1996 but hated it. I was very focused on getting my marathon times faster, and didn’t like the slowness of the ultra. In 2003 I returned to ultras, and fell in love with them this time. I had reached my fastest marathon time and was ready to branch out.
TR: What is your weekly mileage, and what do you do for long runs and workouts?
MA: Today I run anywhere from 60 (taper or recovery) to 120 (mid-training) per week. Long runs are anywhere from 20 to 50 miles.
I generally do a speed session on the track once per week and one tempo run of six to 10 miles. It all varies with races and other runners’ schedules. I’m pretty disciplined within a workout, but I skip some weeks if there isn’t someone to work out with and I’m not too close to a race.
TR: What do you do for easy days, and how often do you take them? Do you take many full days off?
MA: Every day I’m not running long or doing speed, I run as easy as it takes to feel easy. Anywhere from six to 15 miles. I rarely take a rest day. If I find myself falling down a bunch in one run, then I’ll take a few days off. It has been a year since I’ve felt that tired.
TR: Has your overall mileage, and the frequency with which you run workouts, long runs and easy days, shifted since you were younger?
MA: My training hasn’t really changed from when I was younger. I am still able to handle high volume with some intensity. I really do not try to run fast on easy days.
TR: You’ve shown enormous racing consistency over the years; eighth at Western States in 2006, sixth in 2016, for example. What tips do you have to race consistently well for a long time?
MA: Don’t overrace!
TR: How much racing is overracing? How often do you race?
MA: I race anywhere from every two months to [every] three months. [I have] no real rule, but I do separate the distances, so maybe a 50K one month, then a 50-miler or a 100K one to three months later. I don’t like to race too close to a hundred, on either end. [But] I don’t have a rule. I just look at a race and see if I think I can actually be prepared for the distance. I don’t want to just do a race to do it. I want to be at the start line fresh and excited and ready to put the hurt on.
TR: How do you prevent injuries?
MA: I found a very good physical therapist that really helped me work on my weaknesses and biomechanics. She has been truly instrumental in my longevity.
TR: Do you do any ancillary strength or core work—“prehab” —to avoid injuries?
MA: I don’t do a lot of it anymore. I work on good mechanics while running, which keeps me strong. I do like to stretch as it feels good. I also keep a tennis ball handy in the car to sit on if I have some tightness in my glutes or hamstrings, or even in my back.
TR: What is your approach to nutrition?
MA: I like to eat food that is close to its original form [and] not too highly processed. I eat pretty much everything, but I don’t [like] so much sugar. Generally, I eat eggs and toast for breakfast, and a latte. For lunch number one, sometimes just some dinner leftovers of meat and veggies. Second lunch, maybe some fruit and yogurt. For dinner, lots of veggies and grilled meat. I drink beer and wine daily, but don’t generally eat desserts.
TR: What advice do you have for moderating training and racing for longevity?
MA: Being moderate in everything—eating, racing, training, sleeping—and not getting caught up in the”‘fear of missing out” mentality [is key]. Races come and go, so I just ignore a lot of the hype and social media, which I feel contributes to early burn out, repeated injury and disappointing performances.
TR: When you do line up, you often race well against much-younger competitors. What advice do you have for racing, especially in 100-milers?
MA: 100 miles is so, so, far. Be patient, stay within yourself. Eat, drink, stay comfortable. Don’t get dependent on your expected splits. Do your best to enjoy the experience and the outcome will likely better than trying to hit some standards. If you are well-trained, then the times and places will take care of themselves.