Karl ‘SpeedGoat’ Meltzer, a legend in the ultramarathon world shares the mental approach that helped him achieve the title of ‘Winningest 100-mile runner on the earth’, having won 38x 100 mile races.
Karl describes his most recent challenge: Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in record time as: “Not only man versus clock, but man versus nature...and man versus self".
He completed the 2,189 mile trail in just 45 days and 22 hours and 38 minutes. Averaging 48 miles daily, he ascended 465,000 feet in total elevation gain, ran through 19 pairs of Hoka One Speedgoat trail shoes and consumed 380,000 calories
Karl is also an Ultramarathon coach, helping others achieve their running goals, and in this episode he outlines his top mental tips for the ‘Average Joe or Joanne’ runner.
Q: Rundamentalists How did you prepare for the Appalachian Trail challenge?
Karl: This event had a lot of media coverage post-run, however, most people are not aware that I have been chasing this thru-hike record for nearly a decade. After two previous attempts on the AT in 2008 and 2014, Karl had a little “unfinished business” to attend to. I realized that physical ability and willpower alone were not enough and that the key to success is planning and recon. This time I researched the trail thoroughly and did test runs on the trickiest sections so that I would be familiar with the route and terrain during the actual run. The support crew is also critical to success. Our crew and I mapped out our strategy for every inch of the trail. I was confident we would be successful….if we executed on the plan and avoided injury.
Q: Rundamentalists: What mental techniques did you employ?
Karl: For a challenge like this you have to break it down into bite sized pieces, you cannot focus on the whole. I also had a mental pacemaker…..by following the itinerary of Jenn Pharr-Davis (the previous southbound record holder) I knew where I had to be day by day. The first 19 days went extremely well. A shin injury slowed me on day 20, but I was nearly 50 miles ahead if JPD, so I didn’t panic and continued to maintain my disciplined approach.
Q: Rundamentalists: Do you use mantras?
Karl: When the going gets tough (which is frequently), I focus on the thought that “this will be over….it will end”. “Just keep moving….just keep blinking”. “no regrets”, “it doesn’t always get worse”.
Q: Rundamentalists: Were there any particular low points and how did you cope?
Karl: Generally, I reflect on how lucky I am to have this great opportunity – ‘who gets to do this?’
Whilst I tend to think ‘it’s all about me’ - I am also aware of my support crew and the people following my progress via the Red Bull online tracker.
There was one time when I was feeling very negative and had zero energy. I realized that I just had to take a break even though this would cost time. After a tough night sleeping, a 20-minute nap, and some motivating words form Ultra legend David Horton, I was able to shake it off and get back on the trail. You have to really want it, and deal with the dark moments when the demons start to flood your brain.
Q: Rundamentalists: And high points?
Karl: The positivity of the support crew is essential, and knowing that I would see the crew at the next checkpoint is always a strong motivator.
Thinking of all of those people that work 9-5 in an office cubicle - “it’s me having fun in the woods”; “no cellphone – totally off the grid.”
On the final day, I was feeling strong and decided to finish the trail. We covered 85 miles. Scott Jurek joined along for the final 31 miles from Neels Gap to Springer Mt. I could ‘smell the barn’ and could easily have run another 30 miles past the finish. However, I also had to remain disciplined – even though I was ahead of schedule, I could still fail, there could be extreme weather, a nasty fall etc.. (Rundamentalists note – Karl broke the record by nearly ten hours).
Q: Rundamentalists: The Appalachian Trail was a solo record breaking challenge, do you still like to compete in races?
Karl: I have always been competitive and in my signature distance the 100 miler. I have 57 wins under my belt, 38 at the 100 mile distance. I do realize at the age of 49, I have to play to my strengths. The younger, fast runners will finish ahead of me on an easy flat course. My advantage is now to tackle the more challenging terrain where the mental attributes of patience, discipline, experience and pace are critical. My competitors are friends – but I love to win. I am not going to hold hands and cross the line together. In a close race, I will still always chase the victory.
Q: Rundamentalists: What is your next challenge?
Karl: Currently, I am injured with a broken wrist, but of course I have future plans.
My next race is the Georgia Death Race 68 – this will help me gauge where I am at. I will then target the Hard Rock in July.
A big goal would be to return to the Appalachian Trail and record the fastest time for the Mount Katahdin to Mount Washington stretch. This is a super hard 322 miles of constant technical challenges.
Q: Rundamentalists: You have taken up coaching – how do you approach this?
Karl: I really enjoy sharing my experience and helping others. I always try to explain that the most important thing is to “have a good time”. So much of endurance running is ‘between the ears’ and we therefore concentrate on building the mental toughness essential to success.
Q: Rundamentalists: I read in your bio that you love golf – this is not the typical cross training sport for an ultramarathoner?
Karl: Yes – I had a 2 handicap at High School and broke the world record for playing 230 holes in 12 hours in April of 2016.
Navigating a golf course is mentally similar to working out the best route across a complex trail. Golf is also a wonderful recovery sport and a great way to relax.
Q: Rundamentalists: What advice would you share with the ‘Average Joe or Joanne’ runner about the mental side of running?
· Break every race into pieces
· Don’t expect overnight miracles – experience has to be earned
· Failure is the foundation of future success
· Think efficiency – not speed
· Pace is vital – “hold back the reins”
· It always hurts – suck it up
· Train to run smartly – not fast
· Avoid negativity, thrive on difficult conditions
· Build your mental toughness by believing in one’s self
· Remember your brain is your engine
· Always keep raising the bar – set big goals you will be proud of
· You only live once
For more information about Karl and his ultramarathon coaching services check out his website
For the full story on Karl’s Appalachian Trail challenge including video footage, check out the Red Bull site: http://atrun.redbull.com/karl-meltzer-appalachian-trail/p/1
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