Michael Wardian – The Running Man on IRUN4ULTRA

“He keeps running and running. Michael Wardian just never stops. Many runners have been given the tag, ‘Forest Gump’ and in 2016 we certainly witnessed a couple of real life ‘Gump’s’ in Pete Kostelnick and Karl Speedgoat Meltzer who respectively set two new records: Running Across the USA and setting an FKT on the Appalachian Trail. Kostelnick and Speedgoat produced two remarkable performances, but Michael Wardian raced 47 events in 2016, he raced 1,254-miles in total and in the process, he set 2 World records, had 8-victories, 22-podiums, 31-top ten placings and 26 ‘master’s’ victories. Wardian is a man on a mission and 2016 is not an unusual year… this committed husband and father of two races like this, year-in and year-out.”

Read about Michael Wardian in my article for IRUN4ULTRA  HERE

The Ultimate Equipment Guide to Desert Multi-Day Racing – Hints ‘n’ Tips

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Desert running brings many challenges and running in a desert for multiple days brings a whole new set of challenges. Over 30-years ago (1984), Patrick Bauer, filled up a pack with food and water and trekked off alone into the Algerian Sahara to cover 350km’s on foot in a self-sufficient manner. Little did he know at the time, but this journey was the start of something incredible, the Marathon des Sables.

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Also read

Top Tips To Better Multi-Day Running HERE

Multi-Day Food On The Cheap HERE

MDS as it is affectionately known paved the way not only for multi-day desert racing but ‘all’ multi-day racing, be that in snow, ice, rainforest, jungle or the mountains. If multi-day racing was the mafia, MDS would be the Corleone family and Patrick Bauer would be the Godfather – Don Vito Corleone.

All multi-day races have followed and tried to replicate the MDS format, however, the reality is, I have yet to experience a race that matches the size, the scale, the organisation and awe-inspiring splendor of what Bauer and his team have created in the Sahara. Ask anyone, despite experience, despite achievement, MDS is usually ‘on the bucket list!’ It’s fair to say, that MDS is directly attributable for many new ultra-runners. You see, MDS offers more than just running, it offers a challenge, it offers something quite unique – the Sahara and the MDS strips the runner back to basics and deprives them of all luxuries so that they are stripped raw. Runners find themselves in the desert.

 

The 32nd Marathon des Sables takes place in 2017 and runners all over the world are wondering and asking the question, “What equipment do I need for the MDS?”

This question is the same for many other desert races but I need to be clear, not all races are the same. For example, MDS requires the runner to be completely self-sufficient. This harks back to Bauer’s pioneering expedition in 1984. The runner must carry ‘all’ they need for the duration of the event, the only exception being:

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Bivouac – A simple tent cover is provided at the end of each day and this tent must be shared with 7 other runners.

Water – Water is provided in bivouac and out on the course but is rationed.

Anything else the runner needs must be carried – pack, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, food, snacks, luxuries etc.…

The above format is very similar for races such as the Grand to Grand in the USA, Racing the Planet races such as Atacama, Gobi and so on.

So, items discussed in this post directly relate to a ‘self-sufficient’ race in the MDS style. To clarify, races such as Big Red Run in Australia and The Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun in South Africa are ‘semi’ self-sufficient races and therefore runners can carry far less items and often bags are transported each day and therefore the runner can run light and fast. However, please keep in mind that many of the kit items and needs directly relate and are transferable.

The Detail

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Let’s be clear, it is important to note that equipment will not make you complete any race. What it can do is make the process easier and more comfortable. Equipment is something we all must take to any race and finding out what works and doing the research is part of the fun.

If you want to increase your chances of completing your chosen race, commit to the training required, get your head in the correct place and then finish off with the appropriate equipment for the job. Far too many stress about what equipment they need and neglect the appropriate training.

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Multi-day racing in its purest form should be very simple. However, over the year’s deciding what equipment to take has become increasingly more complicated.

It shouldn’t be complicated and in all honesty, it isn’t!

Here is just a simple list of absolute essentials, one could say that this list is mandatory:

  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Buff
  • Jacket
  • T-Shirt
  • Shorts/ Skort
  • Socks
  • Shoes
  • Gaiters
  • Rucksack
  • Sleeping Mat (optional)
  • Sleeping bag
  • Head Torch
  • Flip-flops or similar
  • Toilet paper
  • Personal medical kit (feet etc.)
  • Spot Tracker (supplied at MDS, optional at other races)
  • Road Book (supplied)
  • Salt Tablets (supplied)
  • *Food for the required days
  • **Mandatory kit
  • ***Water

Optional items:

  • Warm jacket (usually down that packs small and light) – I consider this essential and not optional
  • Stove and Esbit fuel blocks
  • Sleeping bag liner
  • Spare socks
  • Walking Poles
  • Goggles
  • Spare clothes (?)

Luxuries:

  • Mp3 player
  • Phone
  • Solar charger
  • Kitchen sink…

Perspective:

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Any multi-day race has (arguably) five types of participant:

  1. The elite races who will contest the high-ranking positions.
  2. Top age groupers who will look to race for a high place and test themselves overall.
  3. Competitive runners looking for a challenge.
  4. Those who wish to complete and not compete.
  5. Newbies who are out of their comfort zone.

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When one looks at kit and requirements, it’s easy to think that the needs of the top elites in group 1 will vary from those in group 5. I would arguably say no! All the runners need the same things; they all must carry the same mandatory kit and they all must carry the same minimum food requirement.

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I think the differences come with experience. Novices and newbies will more than likely prepare for the unknown, the ‘just in case’ scenario. Whereas top runners will be on a minimum, the absolute minimum. Groups 2- 4 are a mix of groups 1 and 5 and they fall somewhere between.

So, for me, groups 2, 3, 4 and 5 should (where possible) aim to be like group 1. The only key difference comes with shoe choice. Runners who will spend much longer on their feet and out on the course will most definitely need a shoe that can withstand that pressure and the shoe must also be good for walking. Groups 2-5 never fully appreciate (often until it’s too late) how much they will walk in a desert race.

EQUIPMENT IN DETAIL

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When looking at equipment, I am going to provide a brief synopsis and then some recommendations. I will then supply ‘my’ equipment list.

Hat – A hat is essential to keep the sun off your head; options exist that have a neck cover built in to avoid that delicate area that will almost certainly be in the sun all day.

Sunglasses – So many choice, but you need a good pair that has ideally a large lens to protect the eye. Some desert specific sunglasses include a brow pad that helps stop sweat dripping in your eye. Do you need prescription? If so, I use prescription Oakley and they are excellent. Do you need goggles? Yes and no. If you have good sunglasses with good coverage, then no. However, should a sand storm hit, it can be uncomfortable. Goggles guarantee no sand in the eyes.

Buff – A buff or even two are essential. One around the neck helps keep the sun off and you can also wet it to help reduce core temperature. In wind and sand storms, the Buff is lifted and protects mouth, nose and sometimes eyes. A spare Buff is a luxury but worth considering.

Jacket – Jacket choice will depend on sleeping bag choice. If you are using a light bag, a lightweight down jacket is an essential item. Look at Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer, Yeti Companyon Strato, Mont-Bell Plasma 1000 Down, Berghaus VapourLight (not down) and/ or PHD custom made.

T-Shirt – It’s not rocket science, you will have been running in a shirt already, if it works, why change it? I read countless arguments about should it be black or white – you know what, it doesn’t matter. Look at the elite runners, they are often sponsored and have little or no choice on colour. Comfort however is key.

Shorts/ Skort – Same answer as T-Shirt.

Socks – Getting the correct socks are key for any race and like I have said for shirt and shorts, if you have socks that work, why change? So many options exist but for me I am a firm believer in Injinji toe socks.

Shoes – Shoes are personal and must be suited to you, the individual. Consider your gait (neutral, supinate or pronate), consider time on feet, consider your weight, consider how much you will walk (and then double it) also consider shoe drop and how much cushioning you need. It’s impossible to recommend any one shoe because of these variables. You will see top runners using a lighter shoe, remember, these shoes only need to last 20-30 hours. However, you may well need a shoe for 40, 50 or 60-hours. Do you need a trail shoe? No, you don’t need a trail shoe but I would say that many trail shoes are more durable as they are designed for the rough and tumble of variable terrain. Do you need an aggressive outsole? No, you don’t, but I do think some grip is better than none and therefore I would use a trail shoe over road. Protection? Toe box protection is a good idea as deserts include lots or rocks, far more than you may think. Do I need a size bigger? Shoe sizing does depend on what is ‘normal’ for you. I always recommend a thumb nail of space above the big toe, you don’t need any more than this. Recommendations of going a size is bigger is bad advice in my opinion. A shoe that is too large allows your foot to move, a moving foot causes friction, friction causes blisters and the rest is the same old story that I see at desert races all over the world. However, I would recommend a shoe with a little more width in the toe box, this will allow for some comfort as the days progress. If you are prone to feet swelling, discomfort, blisters and so on, get a strategy sorted before you head out to your chosen race.

Gaiters – Are essential and they should be sewn and glued on to the shoe to guarantee that no sand can enter. Raidlight, MyRaceKit, WAA and Sandbaggers make versions of gaiters.

Rucksack – A rucksack is one of the most essential items for the race as it will hold on your kit for the duration of the event. Many versions exist and the type of pack you choose depends on many things: Male/ Female, Small/ Large, Tall/ Short and so on. Some packs just don’t work for some people. You also need to consider if you need a front pack to hold essential items. How will you drink on the go? How much do you plan to run in comparison to walk? I have some simple advice:

  • Keep the pack as small as possible, if you have a bigger pack you will just fill it.
  • Keep the pack simple – far too many packs are over complicated and messy
  • Keep the pack light
  • Make sure that drinks are accessible, easy to use and don’t bounce
  • See how the pack feels full with all food and then see how the pack feels with 5-days food missing.

Raidlight used to be ‘the’ pack for a multi-day race but that has changed in recent years. For sure, Raidlight are still one of the main options, however, the WAA pack is a ‘go-to’ at many races and the Ultimate Direction Fastpack is slowly but surely becoming a favourite. New entries to the market are coming from Salomon and OMM have been making packs for multi-day adventures for years.

Sleeping Mat (optional) – Inflatable, Foam or no mat. I’m a firm believer in taking a mat, the weight v comfort is a no brainer. I would also choose an inflatable mat even though it does run a risk of puncture. However, with good admin, good care, in years of using inflatable I have never had an issue. A foam mat is guaranteed to last the race but for me a large and cumbersome. OMM make a very thin foam mat that they use as the back padding for their packs – this may be a god option for the real minimalist runner. Look at products from Thermarest, Sea to Summit, Klymvit and OMM.

Sleeping bag – Like the pack, a sleeping bag is a key item is it is likely to be the largest and heaviest item (except food and water) that you will carry. A sleeping bag is important as a good night’s rest is key for day-to-day running. If you are on a budget, Raidlight offer a ‘Combi’ that is a sleeping bag that converts into a jacket. You kill two birds with one stone and the price is a bargain. However, for me it has downsides – it’s large, heavy and offers limited flexibility with temperature regulation. I will always go with a sleeping bag and down jacket scenario is this for me provides less weight, less packed size, more flexibility and the option to get warmer at night by wearing the jacket inside the bag. Problem is, this comes at a price. A lightweight down bag and jacket will be more than likely three to four times the price of the Raidlight Combi. Also, consider your size, shoulder width, height and so on. Some bags are very small whereas bags such as PHD and Yeti can be purchased in small, medium or large. Recommended bags are PHD (custom or off-the peg), Yeti, Western Mountaineering, Haglofs, OMM (not down) and Raidlight.

Head Torch – Don’t compromise, you need a good head-torch that provides enough light for running in a black desert at night. Don’t use rechargeable or a torch with gizmos. You just ideally need variable power, a red-light option so you don’t disturb others at night and it will either take AA or AAA batteries. Recommendations are Black Diamond, Petzl, Silva or LED Lenser.

Flip-flops – Free slippers that hotels give away are popular as they are small, fold and are lightweight. However, they don’t stay on and they don’t protect from thorns or stones. Cheap, lightweight plastic or rubber flip flops work for me. I have seen some improvised flip-flops made from run shoe insoles and some string. It’s that group 1 to group 5 scenario again!

Personal medical kit (feet etc.) – Foot care is essential and although many races have a medical team on hand to look after you and your feet, understanding how to do this yourself is key. learn foot care and treatment and understand how to tape your feet. Ready-made foot care kits are available such as this at MyRaceKit here

Spot Tracker (supplied at MDS, optional at other races)

Road Book (supplied)

*Food for the required days – (see clarification below). Food is very personal and it’s imperative you find out what works for you based on your size, gender, calorie burn and speed of running. The front runners will use carbohydrate and fat as fuel as they will run at a faster pace and therefore they will potentially fuel ‘during’ each stage with carbs. However, as you move through the pack going into groups 2-5 the need for fat as a fuel is more important and therefore ALL runners before heading out to any multi-stage race should ideally have taught their bodies to use fat – we have an unlimited supply of this fuel! Post run it’s important to repair, we need protein for this and re-stock energy supplies, we need carbs for this. Dehydrated meals for many runners form the basis of a morning meal and evening meal. Many options are available, some people can eat anything, others are very particular. Keep in mind allergies such as gluten intolerance and decide in advance will you go hot or cold food. For me, the additional weight of a Titanium stove and fuel is worth it for hot food and a drink. We sampled some dehydrated food in 2015 HERE. In 2015, my partner Niandi Carmont ran Marathon des Sables and we worked hard to reduce pack weight to the minimum and we made sure we dialed food choices in to provide her with her desired calorie needs but also keep weight low.

As an example:

  • Dehydrated Meals x6 672g
  • Dried Mango 93g x 4 372g
  • Porridge 59g x 7 413g
  • Coffee 1g x 10 10g
  • Peanut Butter 33g x 5 165g
  • Honey 21g x 8 168g
  • Mini Salami 10g x 10 100g
  • Tropical Mix Bag 194g
  • Sesame Bites 27g x 6 162g
  • Dried Banana Block 270g
  • Mixed Nuts 200g x 2 400g
  • Macademia Nuts Bag 153g
  • Cranberries Bag 175g
  • Pitta Wraps 296g

Total Weight 3550g

**Mandatory kit – see clarification

***Water – see clarification

MY EQUIPMENT LIST

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It’s important to note that equipment must be specific to the race you are doing and race conditions. The list below is an example of equipment for Marathon des Sables. However, if I was going to Atacama or the Grand to Grand (both self-sufficient) I would be looking at a heavier and warmer sleeping bag and a warmer jacket. Temperatures at night get much colder than the Sahara. The Grand to Grand can also have rain. If a rain jacket is on your list, the inov-8 AT/C Stormshell at 150g is hard to beat.

It’s important to note that equipment will not make you complete any race. What it can do is make the process easier and more comfortable. If you were looking for a one-stop solution, I would say that if you went away and purchased the equipment list below, you would have a comfortable and successful race. The exceptions come with shoes, that is personal and food. Food choices below are personal but a good example, you must find what works for you.

Also, note that minimum pack weight (on day one) at MDS is 6.5kg. So, you can keep purchasing lighter and lighter and then find that you are too light. I have done this. The plus side of this, is that lighter equipment allows you to take more food and/ or more options – again a good thing. For example, in my equipment list, I could go with a slightly lighter jacket, I could not take poles and I could leave the iPods at home and that would allow me 2 or 3 more dehydrated meals. However, I would prefer the equipment I want and am happy with and add 2,3,4 or 500g for the first day. Remember, the pack gets lighter as the day’s pass.

WEARING:

Hat: inov-8 or The North Face

inov-8-hat

Shirt: inov-8 AT/C Base with zip or The North Face ‘Flight’ Series – Both light and functional and allow air flow. I don’t like tight or compression as they are too hot.

inov-8-atc-t-shirt

Shorts: inov-8 AT/C 8” Short or The North Face ‘Flight’ Series – Both light and functional and allow air flow. I don’t like tight or compression as they are too hot.

inov-8-atc-trail-short

Socks: Injinji Trail Midweight or Injinji Outdoor 2.0 (which is Merino wool)

injinji-midweight

Shoes: The North Face Ultra Endurance, Scott Kinabalu Supertrac or inov-8 Trail Talon – Please note, I am a ‘neutral’ runner who prefers a moderately cushioned shoe with an 8mm drop. I would happily use any of these shoes in any multi-day race. They are comfortable, take a gaiter well, have good protection and they work excellently when walking. Remember what I said, shoes are very personal.

scott-kinabalu-supertrac

tnf-ultra-enduranceinov-8-trail-talon-275

Watch: Suunto Ambit 3 Peak 3 – Has enough battery life for a whole race. If I was worried about weight I would just go with a cheap digital.

Buff: Any

Glasses: Oakley Prescription – Prizm Trail Flak 2.0 has interchangeable lenses so I can switch from clear and smoke

oakley-flak-20-xl-matte-black-black-iridium

IN THE PACK:

Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20L 520g – It’s a simple pack that is light, fits to the torso well, comes in S/M or M/L, holds two large bottles comfortably against the torso and importantly they don’t bounce and it has 3 external stretch pockets. The main compartment has a roll-top closure, so, as pack contents get less, you can roll the pack smaller to reduce any problems with contents moving around.

ultimate-direction-fastpack-20

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Jacket 180g – is super light, has a full zip and pockets, it’s a jacket I can use anywhere. I could go lighter, a little lighter, for example, the Mont-Bell is 50g lighter!

mountain-hardwear-ghost-whisperer

PHD Minimus K Sleeping Bag 380g – PHD work for me, you can have them custom made with or without zips and they are excellent. Yeti make a bag that is more than 100g lighter but I prefer the warmth and comfort of the PHD.

phd-minim-ultra-k

Thermarest Prolite Small 310g – Small, comfortable and you can double up and use it as padding in your pack.

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Black Diamond Carbon Z Poles 290g – Lightweight and folding that provide 4-wheel drive when walking.

black-diamond-carbon-z-pole

Black Diamond Spot Headtorch w/ batteries and spares 120g – Powerful (200 lumens), lightweight with many varied settings.

 black-diamond-spot

Esbit Stove 11g – Small, lightweight and simple.

esbit-stove

Esbit Titanium Pot 106g – Small, lightweight and durable.

esbit-pot 

Esbit Fuel 168g

esbit-fuel

iPod Shuffle x2 64g – Life saver

Buff 16g – Essential

Spare Socks 91g – Injinji Trail Midweight or Injinji Outdoor 2.0 (which is Merino wool) 

Flip-Flops 150g – But Xero True Feel are good.

 sandals

Total Weight 2406g If I was looking to be very minimalist and as light as possible, I would not take the stove, pot and fuel and the poles, total 1831g. But, I would probably prefer the option for hot food/ drinks and work around no poles, so total weight would be 2116g.

EXTRAS:

  • Compeed 22g
  • Sportshield 8g
  • Corn Wraps 8g
  • Spork 10g
  • Pen Knife 22g
  • Compass 32g
  • Matches 20g
  • Savlon Antiseptic 18g
  • Toothpaste 36g
  • Tooth Brush 15g
  • Superglue 3g
  • Space Blanket 60g
  • Hand Gel 59g
  • Wipes 85g
  • Toilet Paper 36g
  • Safety Pins 5g
  • Ear Plugs 2g
  • Venom Pump 28g
  • Blindfold 15g
  • Sun Cream 80g
  • Whistle 15g
  • Signal Mirror 12g
  • SPOT Tracker 113g

Total Weight 806g

TOTALS:

Pack and Main Kit Contents: 2406g

Extras: 806g

Food: 3550g

Total 6762g

This pack weight includes poles and cooking utensils plus luxuries like Mp3

 (water would be added to this weight)

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IN SUMMARY

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I enjoy the process of looking at kit, looking at the options available and working out what is best for me and my situation. In some respects, I am lucky as I can test many items out in the market place and decide what I do and what I don’t like. However, trust me, products these days are so good that you can’t go wrong with almost any of the choices. Yeti, PHD, Haglofs etc. all make great sleeping bags, they will all work. Mountain Hardwear, Yeti, Mont-Bell etc. down jackets are all excellent, they all work. I could go on, but you get the picture. Like I said at the beginning, multi-day and desert racing is not complicated, don’t make it so. The only item you need to be sure on is shoes, make sure you get that right. But then again, I am sure you were running before you entered your multi-day race? You were using run shoes, be them road or trail and one must assume that they gave you no problems? If the answer is yes – why change them!

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Finally, we all love equipment and gadgets, it’s fun to go shopping and get new items. However, being physically fit and mentally strong is what will get you to the finish line – equipment is just part of the process, remember that.

Good luck!

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Clarification:

*Food (As required at Marathon des Sables)

He/she must select the type of food best suited to his/her personal needs, health, weather conditions, weight and backpack conditions. We remind you that airlines strictly forbid the carrying of gas (for cooking) on board either as hand luggage or otherwise. Each competitor must have 14 000 k/calories, that is to say a minimum of 2,000 k/calories per day, otherwise he/she will be penalized (see ART. 27 and 28). Any food out of its original packaging must be equipped, legibly, of the nutrition label shown on the product concerned. Any food out its original packaging must be equipped, legibly, of the nutrition label shown on the product concerned. 

**Mandatory Kit (as specified at Marathon des Sables)

  • 10 safety pins
  • Compass 1deg precision
  • Whistle
  • Knife
  • Disinfectant
  • Venom pump
  • Signal mirror
  • Survival blanket
  • Sun cream
  • 200-euro note
  • Passport
  • Medical certificate

***Water (as specified for Marathon des Sables)

Liaison stage: 10.5 liters per person per day

  • 1.5 liters before the start each morning,
  • 2 or 3 x 1.5 liters during the race, at check points,
  • 4.5 liters at arrival post.

Marathon stage: 12 liters per person per day:

  • 1.5 litre before the start in the morning,
  • 1.5 liters at check-points 1 and 3,
  • 3 liters at check-point 2,
  • 4.5 liters at arrival post. 

Non-stop stage: 22.5 liters per person over 2 days:

  • 1.5 liters before the start of the race in the morning,
  • 1.5 liters at check-points 1, 3, 6,
  • 1.5 or 3 liters at check-points 2, 4 and 5,
  • 4.5 liters at arrival post,
  • 4.5 liters at the bivouac.

Why not join our Multi-Day Training Camp in Lanzarote with 2015 Marathon des Sables ladies champion, Elisabet Barnes. The camp takes place in January each year.

Information HERE

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Support on PATREON HERE

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GO HARD or GO HOME – Zach Miller In-Depth Interview

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Zach Miller has inspired from the day he burst on the ultra-running scene way back in 2013 when he relegated the then untouchable Rob Krar at JFK50 (who did not finish) and Matt Flaherty placed 2nd.  What has followed is a full-on, Go Hard or Go Home approach to ultra-running that at times has produced awe inspiring results and equally has left fans and Zach, holding their heads in their hands wondering, ‘what might have been?’ Win or not, Zach is one of the most exciting runners to follow. Earlier in 2016, he did a ‘Zach’ at UTMB and for much of the race it looked as though he may well pull of the biggest win of his life… he blew but still managed a top-10 placing. Cut to December 2016, $10.000 prize money and one of ‘the’ most stacked fields ever assembled at TNF50 in San Francisco and the stage was set, once again, for Zach to lay it all on the line…

“I must give it the best. I like to give it my best and I don’t know maybe I could run faster, with a different strategy but I just like to get out there and get it going and see where it goes. Sometimes it goes well and I end up running times or getting performances that I didn’t even know I was capable of. I think just being willing to take that risk is thrilling and I just like to see what’s on the other side. Because sometimes it’s great!”

I caught up with Zach from La Palma, the home of Transvulcania, a place Zach knows well after racing here as part of the Skyrunner World Series.

Zach: How is La Palma?

Ian: La Palma is as good as La Palma always is as you know.

Zach: Yes, it’s hard to have a bad time there.

Ian: I came here last December because I was finishing off my book, Running Beyond, I needed a little bit of isolation and a little bit of space and an opportunity to get on some nice trails and just to do a little bit of running. It was just so nice because the weather here in December is fantastic, the trails are great. It’s just a nice place to be and I thought, “You know what, it has been another long year. I’m going to go and do it again.” It is just so good. It’s a little bit difficult getting around the islands to get to different places of trail because there’s not a lot of connection. But I’m staying in Tazacorte Port. I have a 2500-meter climb on my doorstep.

Zach: Yes, Okay. There you go, what more do you need?

Ian: The final descent of the race just drops straight to my apartment door.

Zach: Okay, you have no shortage of climbing then?

Ian: No shortage of climbing and no shortage of descending.

[laughter]

Ian: The only thing is it takes me as long to come down as it does to go up.

[laughter]

Zach: Yes, work on your down a little bit [laughs].

Ian: That downhill is just brutal, isn’t it?

Zach: Yes, it is.

Ian: 18k, 2500m of descent. It’s just exhausting. I’d rather go up anytime.

Zach: Yes, that one’s a tough one!

Ian: Yes, well you know all about it, don’t you?

Zach: Yes, I’ve done it once.

Ian: I remember you coming past me in the race after El Pilar, climbing towards Roques de los Muchachos.

Zach: Okay.

Ian: …at that point you were just in the lead with Luis Alberto Hernando, jumping on your heels.

Zach: Yes.

Ian: At that point, it was a classic Zach Miller day, wasn’t it?

Zach: Yes.

Ian: In that you lead the race from the front and then in the latter stages, it all goes a little bit wary… you had that fantastic finish with Dakota.

Zach: Yes, I did. I remember that. That was quite a day. Maybe one day I’ll maybe get back to take another crack at it.

Ian: It’s a great course, a great race. But talking of Zach Miller days, you do have a reputation for going out hard and giving it everything. La Palma, was one of those days. It’s a Zach Miller trademark. Tell me about the Zach Miller trademark of go out and go out and give it everything.

Zach: For one, it’s probably worked for me more times than it hasn’t [laughs]. And even when it doesn’t, it usually ends up exciting. It’s a combination of just liking to be aggressive and make sure that the race gets out and I give a good honest effort that we don’t dilly dally too much.

[laughter]

Ian: No, that’s true [laughs].

Zach: I just kind of set the tone, to give all, I must give it the best. I like to give it my best and I don’t know maybe I could run faster, with a different strategy but I just like to get out there and get it going and see where it goes. Sometimes it goes well and I end up running times or getting performances that I didn’t even know I was capable of. I think just being willing to take that risk is thrilling and I just like to see what’s on the other side. Because sometimes it’s great. Like San Francisco!

Ian: Yes.

Zach: I didn’t really know that I could do that. On paper, I’d have thought I couldn’t maybe run somewhere around that time, but I didn’t know I could run it in that fashion. But I just like to give it a shot and see what happens. There’s plenty of races and if I mess up, there’s another one in few months…

Ian: You say that if you messed one up…  but sometimes going out as hard as you do for the distances you do, that could take some recovery. People like myself when we’re talking about a race that’s coming up or we’re writing a preview for a race, whenever we come to seeing Zach Miller’s name on the start list, we always say the same thing. That, you going to go out hard and you’re either going to have the most incredible day, set a course record and take victory maybe? Or you are going to blow up in [laughs] super fashion and it’s going to turn into carnage and you are probably not going to finish the race or you going to move down the field. You seem quite happy living with that strategy and certainly spectators all around the world love your racing strategy. Do you ever think to yourself that maybe one day, you might try something a little bit different?

Zach: [laughs].

Ian: – or are you happy with the fact that give it all or die trying?

Zach: Yes, I do every now and then I get curious and I wonder, I think like, ” Oh, I wonder what I could run.” And it’s like, “Just run smart.” It’s like if I were strategic, could I run 10 or 20 minutes faster. Would it be more… would it be less painful at the end.

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Zach: Would I feel a lot better at mile 40 and be able to run really, really fast instead of just hanging on? Yes, I have this thought sometimes but I like the way that I race and I think it’s exciting and I know people like it. I feel stuck with it because I feel like if I do anything different…

Ian: [laughs]

Zach: …people will be disappointed.

Ian: [laughs]

Zach: Although, I think some would like to see or would be entertained by seeing me taking a different strategy and seeing what I would have left in like the last– the second half of the race. Let’s say I ran with the guy with Alex Nichols through the first half of the race and then try to move. But I don’t know, it’s just my style. I’m pretty happy with it. I’m not going to lie when it doesn’t work, I’m hyped!

Ian: [laughs]

Zach: The only time– the main time where it didn’t work and I wasn’t that hyped was at Templiers in France.

Ian: Aaargh, okay.

Zach: Just because it was so… you know I came so close. I was just very proud of the effort and people got excited about it. And then, I also saw how close I came to winning. I just concluded that it was a nutritional error. I didn’t know for sure but that was how I saw it. That one was like, it wasn’t a training error, it wasn’t even necessarily a pacing error. It was basically like, “I didn’t eat enough [laughs] or drink enough.” Then it was like, “Well, I can fix this.” And that was easier to deal with.

Ian: Okay, I’m going to come on San Francisco because obviously, that’s the most recent result. It’s the one where you had the amazing showdown. Your two-minute video or should I say Jamil’s two-minute video of you running into the finish of San Fran is quite spectacular and it’s certainly gained a lot of hits. But before we talk about that, I want to go back because we first did an interview when you burst on the scene and at the time you were working on cruise ship and training on the treadmill. You’ve come a long way since then, haven’t you?

Zach: Yes, I have. That’s one thing I say and I’ll always says that it’s amazing to see how far I have come in three years and the things is, it’s amazing to see how much my life has changed. My lifestyle. I’m anything but living on a cruise ship anymore [laughs].

Ian: No.

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Zach: Now I live in the middle of the mountain in a cabin [laughs]. But yes, it’s been a wild ride. A lot of things have happened. A lot of races have occurred but I think I’ve also developed a lot as an athlete. I’ve gotten a lot stronger and I could just do things now that I couldn’t have done three years ago.

Ian: What do you consider being the changing point for you, where life took on a different roll and you realized that there was an opportunity for you to change tack and almost make running your life?

Zach: Mainly, once I won JFK and then started getting some interest from sponsors, I just saw the potential of that. I was at that elite level and I was desirable to sponsors. When I realized, I could start making an income off it and that I could be good at it, I kind of saw maybe it was time to transition off the ship and get back on land. I moved to Colorado, so that was a big step and it was a great place to move to, to train and everything. Just seeing the success of JFK gave me the confidence to give it a go.

Ian: You got sponsorship from Nike, how instrumental has that sponsorship been? And how much do they help you to live the life that you now want to live?

Zach: Nike has been very helpful over the past three years. I was very new to the sponsored world. Basically, they came in and they gave me a lot of very good product support, travel support, an opportunity to make some money, too. It just opened doors to be able to travel, to races like Transvulcania or UTMB. To have the sponsors to do that because plane tickets and everything are very expensive and I wasn’t at the point in my career yet where races were paying to bring me over. I needed sponsor help to get me to those races so that I could make a name for myself. Basically, they just gave me an opportunity. They provided a way for me to get out there and make a name for myself. That’s been very, very helpful. Over time, I got a few more sponsors and things. But, yes, they were the first one to jump in and support me and it worked well.

Ian: When did the move happen for Barr Camp, and tell me a little bit about Barr Camp and the story behind that?

Zach: I would have moved to Colorado in May– around May, shortly after Lake Sonoma in 2014. I lived in Manitou Springs, at the base of Pikes Peak for about a year– working and training. I was on Pikes Peak a lot training on the Bar trail and just in that general area. I got to know the caretakers who were working at Barr Camp which is an off the grid cabin, halfway up the mountain. It’s like the huts that you would have in Europe except not as fancy. There isn’t a road. There’s a little electricity that comes from solar. Our water comes from the creek. The bathrooms are outside so it’s not as fancy as a lot of the European huts. It’s very remote and it’s pretty rustic. But anyways, I got to know them and then I found out that they were leaving and they were looking for new people to take the job so I got the information and then I pitched the idea to my sister because I wanted somebody to apply with me. My sister liked it and so we applied together and then we ended up getting the job. Now, it’s me and my sister and her husband– we all work up there. We’ve shifted rolls a bit. My sister and her husband take the full-time roles and then I actually work in a part-time – more of an assistant, part-time role. I live at the cabin year around but I have the freedom to go do my racing and my sponsorship obligations. And basically, when I’m here, I’m working but I get a lot more freedom to be able to like go Europe and go to California and do all the things I need for my running career. It’s really just a good mix.

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Ian: There’s a lot of people going to be reading this and they’re going to be thinking – particularly if they’re involved in trail and mountain running, “Wow, that sounds just awesome.” Is it as awesome as it sounds?

Zach: It is awesome but it’s not for everybody. It is also tough. The winters are very awesome because the camp is open year round but our traffic drops a lot in the winter. In the winter, we have a lot of time to ourselves. It is still labour intensive. You’ve got to haul the wood in so the fires lit to keep the cabin warm and you’ve got to carry the water in from the creek in five gallon buckets. You got to shovel off the solar panels and clear all the snow and everything. In terms of like day-to-day seeing people, we don’t see as many. It’s much more relaxed to have a lot of time to go out snowshoe, or ski or hike or run. It’s much more laid back. But the summers are incredibly busy. We’ll feed and house up to 45 people. If you come to our camp it’s not very big, so that can get hectic. We’ll feed like 45 people out of this little tiny walled kitchen. There’s just a lot of work in the summer, between cooking and cleaning and doing camp maintenance and doing search and rescues, and talking to hikers and selling things. In the summers, you pretty much go non-stop from 6:00 Am till 9:00 PM. And then maybe you read a book for like 30 minutes and then you pass out and go to bed [laughs]. I’m basically either working or training or working. It gets pretty busy.

Ian: Tell me a little bit about the training, because obviously, I don’t know what height Barr Camp is at, but it must be around about 10,000 feet. You’re sleeping altitude for sure, do you then drop down and train at lower altitudes or do you find that you’re training above 10,000– below 10,000 and that works really, well?

Zach: Yes, I just stay around 10,000. The camp is at 10,200 feet.

Ian: That was a good guess, yes?

Zach: Yes, it was. It’s 3,000m, I’m looking at my cabin right now because we have it up on the wall. It’s 3,109 meters for everyone in Europe. It’s very high. When I’m here I do a lot of my training. Sometimes if I make it all the way down to town, that’s like 6,400 feet. But then I must come back up. Basically, the low point of my training is around 6,400 but then I have days where I go all the way to the summit which is 14,110 feet. My training is anywhere from 6,000 to 14,000 feet. It always starts and ends at 10,000. I probably spend a lot of time between 13,000 and 8,000 feet, it is probably where a lot of my training is done. I don’t necessarily intentionally go low to train; I just train where I am. I don’t drop down to do like speed work or anything. Not usually.

Zach: What’s interesting about that is we started this conversation with me being in La Palma and the Transvulcania course starts at sea level and almost finishes at the sea level. But that middle third of the course, once you go through El Pilar you’re then above 2,000 meters and you stay at 2,000 meters or above. One of the things that I’ve found running on the course and being on the course is that going up to altitude and dropping back down is completely different than staying at altitude and having to run at altitude for a prolonged period. And of course, that’s one of the things that happens at Transvulcania is that once you get into that middle and latter third section, you’re running at 2,000 to 2,500 meters for quite a chunk of time. Living where you do, this is perfect preparation for this type of race. Do you really feel the benefits of that when you travel and go to different races?

Zach: Yes, the benefits are there. It’s hard to always feel like Superman per say but the one thing is like when I run a race like Transvulcania or I race at UTMB, when we get up to the high points of 8,000 feet I don’t necessarily feel much different. For me, it’s not like I get up there and I feel I’m way out of my element. It’s just like that’s where I train every day. Up there I just feel like I do in Colorado. You don’t necessarily feel like superman per say although, I do usually feel pretty sure on climbs. Like when you get the high altitude and we go up the climb, that is where I notice it.

I do remember running at Transvulcania two or three years ago and being up on the volcano with Luis Alberto. He’s incredibly strong but I remember listening to his breathing and feeling like he was breathing very hard and he obviously ran very hard and he ran great that day. He beat me by a long shot but I don’t know what altitude he charged at? But I just remember noticing that we were up there and probably once he got down he was very, very strong. I remember him seeming a bit laboured up there but he still went right away from me. It was very, very impressive or maybe he’s just a heavy breather [laughs].

Ian: He does breathe heavily and Luis is a little bit like yourself in that he commits himself but he knows how to bide his time. Particularly at Transvulcania he would have known that you and maybe Sage Canaday and a couple of others were going to go off hard and he would be thinking about pacing himself. But when he makes his decision to go then he commits.

Zach: For sure I’ve seen that.

Ian: That was probably the phase that you were hearing him. When he made the commitment and it was a case of, “Now I’m going for it. I’m going for it.” Would you say that Transvulcania was maybe the race that started your switch to move to the longer ultras?

Zach: I wouldn’t necessarily say so because it’s still in that 70 to 80-kilometre range. I’m trying to remember if it was our first big European race or not?

Ian: It was, wasn’t it?

Zach: It was probably my first like real big more technical European race because Templiers in France is a hybrid. Transvulcania isn’t that technical in the beginning but that descent is what defines that and that is much more technical. I just think I was walking up in terms of racing in the European style at Transvulcania.

Ian: If Transvulcania wasn’t the real catalyst then surely something like Madeira Ultra Trail which at the time you said was one of the hardest races you’d ever done?

Zach: Yes, it’s still one of the hardest races I’ve ever done. That was the one that was a jump for me. I had been doing racing and it took around six to seven hours and then Madeira was my first race that ever took longer than like eight or nine hours. It was much longer than that. It was just under fourteen hours. That was a long time for me. That was new territory for me. But I did that and then people were like, “Well, if you can do this, you can do UTMB.” It scared me and also gave me some confidence for UTMB at the same time.

Ian: Tell me a little bit about Madeira Island Ultra Trial because I’ve been to Madeira Island several times now for races and there’s only two directions on the island and that’s up and down. It’s a brutal environment. I remember seeing a photograph of you lying on the ground looking as though you had a medical team making sure you were still alive.

Zach: Your description is good, there’s only two directions up or down. There are points in Madeira where you actually do run rolling almost flat but yes, it’s a very roller coaster course. You’re basically doing a big climb or big descend or a short little bit of runnable in between and the climbs are very steep and the descents are very steep. What defines Madeira are the stairs. So many of their trails just have stairs in them. They’re not uniform, some are concrete some are like dirt and wood planks. Some are small, some big, some are wide. Your footwork at Madeira must be very good and you must be able to change it at a moment’s notice. It makes the end that last 20 kilometres, so it was just brutal.

Ian: Do you still consider it, without considering San Francisco which you obviously have just won, was MIUT one of those defining races where you put it all on the line and it had come good?

Zach: Yes, it was because I was going thoroughly hard from the gun. We started at midnight and by the time the sun came up I had a good lead but I had already bonked… That’s why there’s that aid station video of me eating so much food because I had just bonked right before that aid station and I knew I needed to eat. Yes, I had worked very hard. I had run myself into a bonk and then came out of it. Then just had to fight really, really hard and it was very painful for the last like 20 miles but I was somehow able to keep going even though my body wanted to stop. It was also a day where it was like, “Wow, it’s impressive that my body could hurt that bad and keep going like it did.” It was a very telling day.

Ian: I’m interested in a couple of things that you’ve said there. You bonked in the race? You blew up, managed to eat and then carry on and not lose the lead but then also in the final stages– and quite long final stages where you’re really hurting and you’re in pain, you still manage to continue to push. Is that something that is just within you or is it something that you think you’ve worked on to enable yourself to do that?

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Zach: It’s both. It’s within me and it’s also something that I practice almost every day. Even as a kid I was a very very competitive person and I am very hard worker. If there was something in my mind that I considered to be successful, whether it was getting an A on my test at school or running a certain time in cross country. If there was something that I gained success I always wanted to attain it. I’m just naturally very, very driven and very hard working.

My parents were not so much athletes but very, very hardworking people, so I always kind of grew up with that example in front of me. And kind of not quitting until the job is done. Then the other part is I go out and I train and I just take those things and I practice them. I won’t let myself hike up a climb, I just stubbornly run it or I’ll bonk out there on the run and I won’t let myself walk it in. I’ll somehow manage to slowly run back to the cabin, and it gets cold in the winter and I train all winter long and it could be negative 15 degrees’ winter and freezing cold and snowing and I still go out and do it. I just kind of discipline myself on a day-to-day basis and then when I get in the races, I’m well practiced at suffering and just sticking with that and that’s how I get myself to push all the way to the end.

Ian: Okay. Well, that’s obviously one of the reasons why you’re successful because most people can’t do that. CCC, where did that fit into the big picture? I’m assuming that it was a case of going to Chamonix, understanding the environment, understanding the landscape for a serious attempt at UTMB?

Zach: Yes, sort of, it was probably less about scoping out the landscape for UTMB as it was just running CCC. I wasn’t at the point in my career where I wanted to do 100 miles yet, so I wasn’t going to do UTMB. But I still liked racing in Europe and that one looked good and Nike had gone over the scopes and they recommended it, Nike said it would be great. And yes, a bunch of my team mates were doing it. And it was like, “Well, this looks like fun and this looks like good one.” So, I jumped in and did it. It wasn’t so much like just a scouting mission for UTMB, it was more just to run that race. And it ended up being greater. It was kind of a turning point in my career and I was thankful that I did it.

Ian: Winning CCC is one of those funny things, if it was a stand-alone race, on its own weekend, it would be huge, but it always gets completely overshadowed by the UTMB. And I’ve spoken to and I’ve interviewed countless people who’ve been on the podium at CCC, Ellie Greenwood is a classic example and she said, “You really feel as though you’ve just won a smaller race in a big weekend.” Did you feel that?

Zach: That was my fear when I went to do it but when I did it, I didn’t really feel that. My fear was kind of like– in fact towards the end I wanted to run UTMB instead because I was thinking CCC is the side show, UTMB is the A race and CCC is the B race, and all the eyes and all the media and all the attention is on UTMB. And I was a bit reluctant to be in CCC to be honest. Probably even standing on the start line thinking all the big names are not in this race but then I ran it and the crowds were fantastic. My family was following along from home and the coverage was good. And when I came in… it finishes at the perfect time because it finishes around nine o’clock at night when everybody is having dinner. And so, the finish line at CCC is just phenomenal. When I came in and I won, it didn’t feel like I just won this side show, it actually felt like a very big deal. A lot people got very excited about that win. It got me a lot of attention in Europe and in the States, as well, so no, I was afraid that it would feel like that, but once I did it, it didn’t feel like that. It felt like its own show almost.

Ian: I wonder Zach, whether it’s because of your racing style and your race strategy and your, give it everything, and of course you did milk that finish line, didn’t you with the jump in the air… there was the elation, there was everything in there and of course an American winning a French race is a great story.

Zach: Yes, maybe it was partly because of that but yes, whatever it was, it was a great experience for me. And that’s the interesting thing about running and about sponsorship, most of the time the sponsors want the win, they want the podium finish. They want you on the top. But I’ve also come to realize that through racing, people are attracted to elements more than just winning. I probably had races where I haven’t won and I ended up with more interviews and articles and attention than the guy who did. Just because people were so entertained by the dynamic of it and the style of it and that’s just been very interesting. And it’s just funny how that is, it’s like sometimes you don’t even need to win, I want to win but there can be a lot of value just in the way in which you run the race regardless of exactly where you finish in the standings.

Ian: No, absolutely. And there’s a couple of classic examples of that and this year’s Western States with Jim Walmsley as a classic example of that, he’s had far more media coverage than Andrew Miller who won the race and almost to the point that if you ask people who won Western State this year, sometimes they don’t even know, because there was so much attention on Jim Walmsley.

Zach: Yes, exactly.

Ian: Particularly for you with UTMB, the fact that you took it on and you gave it everything, and you did blow up. But you didn’t blow up in spectacular fashion as myself and maybe a couple of other journalists thought you would – you somehow you managed to hold on and still get a very, very respectable place. Tell me about UTMB, and what made you think that you could go and run that big loop through three countries from the front and maybe hold on to the finish line?

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Zach: Honestly I didn’t know. That’s the thing with how I race. I said to friends or whatever, “I don’t go into races saying that I’m going to win, I don’t even go in with full confidence that I will. The only thing is that I’m just willing to try, and I’m willing to try to do something that I’m not sure I can do.” I think I can run around Mont Blanc, but I’m not sure I can run around it at the pace that I’m going to set off at. I’m just willing to try and find out and then if it works, it will be great, and if it doesn’t, I will learn something and then come back and probably try and fix it. Yes, I didn’t know if I could hold that all day. I did feel good and strong for a very long time. I had a little bad patch out of Courmayeur but then recovered and ran strong. It seemed all was going well up until just after Champex Lac, this is where it all started to unravel.

Ian: That’s what’s so great about it. I think to myself, if I was on the start line of a race like that and I had those insecurities-, those doubts or if I could or couldn’t, I’d play safe as most people would. And I’d maybe ease myself into the race, see how things go, and if I got to around about 70 or 80 miles and I’ve got something left, then I might give it a little bit more of a push. But you almost do it the opposite way around, you sort of go, ” I’m really fresh, let’s go as hard as I possibly can, for as long as I possibly can and maybe I’ll hold on.” When it all goes belly up and you get that major blow up and the major bonk, what goes through your mind at that point? Because you see the other runners coming up to you, you’ve got all those question marks in your mind about, “How I’m I going to get on here with? How am I going to continue? I’ve spent so long in this race at the front I don’t want to give it up now.” How’d you carry on?

Zach: It is very hard. Usually, there’s a fair amount of fight left. When I got Champex Lac I was getting chased but somehow I fought my way in there in the lead. Then by the time I left right on the heels of I think Julien and then just in front of the guy in third at that point in the race whose name is escaping me. Right then, I was in a bad spot – I wasn’t good mentally but I wasn’t going to give up. I was very determined to try and salvage it. I did actually get past Julien and I climbed away from him very, very, well. It wasn’t until the next day in the race that I found out that those two who had caught me at Champex Lac never beat me. I held them off.

Ian: No, they didn’t catch you!

Zach: Which I didn’t know because when Ludovic caught me I thought it was Julien, they’re both Hoka, I don’t know them very well by face. I know them much better now. I was confused when I was out there. I thought I was getting caught by Julien Chorier again and it was Ludovic. They’d comes from very far back. First, there was a lot of fight and then the body was just getting to a stand-still. It was just like the heart and the mind battle, the heart wanted it so badly to stay at the front and the body just wasn’t able to. It was very, very difficult for me. But I was still going to try to get to the finished and finish respectively. I just pushed to the finish — not very fast but I just did what I could and I got there. It was very tough mentally once I start getting passed.

Ian: It was still an incredible result for you to be one of the highest ever finishing Americans at the UTMB. History with UTMB and America is not something that the Americans have looked on until these last few years as being too great. What do you think has changed with people like David Laney, Jason Schlarb, yourself and so many others, that are now, making or enabling the American male runners – because the females have always done well at UTMB – but it’s significant the male runners that are now performing, what is it do you think that’s happened that’s now giving you good results at that race?

Zach: I’m not entirely sure I think maybe we’re a little more focused. Americans had a stage and we’re still maybe going through it where people just raced everything. They were not being very selective they just trying to see how much they can do but it’s quantity instead of quality. And as it’s gotten more competitive in America the elite runners have started to realize that, “I can’t just go out and win everything all year all along, I actually have to plan this. I need to be strategic and I need to target races.” I think maybe we’re targeting a little more and so we’re coming in with bodies that are not so beat up– that are ready to go.

And then we’re getting this faster generation that’s fresher and has this fast running background. On a runnable course– on a pretty runnable course like UTMB they’re able to– we’re able to go crank for a while. But then we’re also pulling young guys who have that background but also live live in the mountains of California at high altitude. I live in Colorado, Jason Schlarb lives in Colorado. David Laney bases out of Oregon but he’s always out the big mountains. Runners are finding themselves with these faster running backgrounds and good talents then coupling them with good training grounds and a little bit of focus and it’s paying off.

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Ian: Yes, you’re exactly right. It’s a learning curve and I also think that more Americans are racing in Europe and they’re beginning to understand the European style of racing and the courses that are available out here. Because in general, our courses are more technical– and I’m not saying that UTMB is a technical race but I’m just saying that it’s all a process and it’s all a learning curve. Your UTMB, and this is my last question on UTMB. We’ll talk about San Francisco in a minute. A lot of people have compared your run to Ludovic Pommeret who won the race. Ludovic, while you were leading the race, was probably back in 50th place and he slowly but surely moved his way through the field as many of the elite runners fell by the wayside and dropped out of the race. He moved up and eventually won the race.

Have you, in the weeks and the months after UTMB sat down and looked at your race and looked at his race and thought, “I can learn something from his win?”

Zach: You could learn something. His win is also interesting because, if I understand correctly, he and I were actually pretty much together in the very early stages of the race. He did go out aggressively. He had a stomach issue partway through that put him into a walk for a while or hike and put him way back in 50th and then he made that miraculous comeback. His body forced him into a more conservative or strategic approach even though it wasn’t necessarily what he was trying to do. It is very interesting; it shows that you can and guys like David Laney too, show that you can be slower and be much more strategic and then just sweep up all the carnage along the way.

Ian: Yes.

Zach: There is something to be learned there. For me, when I came out of it the big areas where I saw to improve and learn lessons was more from a training standpoint – conditioning my legs a bit better for the downhill running towards the end. Then just in general and then a nutritional standpoint. Because when I look at UTMB in my own head and I don’t know if I’ve ever actually said this to anyone but in my own head as I progressed through my career– as I’ve raced since then and as I looked backed at UTMB and I looked back at other races I’ve done I feel that maybe– and I must go back and try UTMB again to test my theory. But it feels maybe it’s a bit like Templiers where I learned a big lesson in nutrition and there was a lot of potential there in my body physically but there was a lot that needed to be learned nutritionally to support that kind of an effort. Now, I’m just trying to figure out how do I fuel my body to support that kind of a physical effort. I don’t know. Yes, maybe I need to make some adjustments in tactics, in pacing, in technique and how much I hike and when I run and how aggressively I go out. It’s all very, very, interesting and I have a lot to think on through the winter.

Ian: The Ultra running audience are quite happy with the way you run Zach and they’ll happily accept every now and again that you are maybe going to blow up or you’re not going to win a race because the way you’re racing is so exciting. How was the recovery process post UTMB? Had UTMB depleted you physically and mentally?

Zach: It took its toll physically and mentally in the short term. Physically, I was less sore but from a deep-set fatigue stand point I would say I was much more beat up. UTMB took about a month. It was much, much longer, about twice as long than 50 mile recovery. And then mentally, it was tough too. When I came back from UTMB, I was in a rough spot mentally. I just had trouble. Although, I acknowledge a lot of positive things that came of it, lessons learned and good experiences and things, it was just really hard. It was so very heart-breaking for me; it was hard to deal with for a while but then eventually the body came around. I got back to training hard and I could focus my energies on something and I had a goal in mind– getting ready for North Face, and eventually I found my way, but it was initially very hard.

In the long term, the fear of the hundred was kind of like, “Oh, you will lose your speed.” People were like, “Take your time getting to the hundred, you’ll lose your speed.” Maybe I lost a bit of very low end speed but after North Face 50 I don’t feel like I’ve made myself a worse 50 mile runner.

[laughter]

Zach: I’m very happy about that because I felt at North Face, and maybe you will ask about this, but I felt when I was out running North Face, maybe at North Face is where my UTMB training that I had done all summer was paying dividends and showing up. That maybe I wasn’t quite present at UTMB but after resting after UTMB and then going back, like shifting training a bit. But at North Face, the work that I had done all summer long was now finally paying off.

Ian: You have hit the nail on the head for me and that was going to be my segway into North Face in San Francisco. What you achieved or maybe what some people would say you didn’t achieve at UTMB is what gave you a course record and that incredible run at San Francisco. That suddenly 50 miles was not that long in comparison to what you did at UTMB, but also it gave you all that inner strength and there was definitely a part of me that, it was a case of you were on the start line not only to race everybody else but you were there really to race yourself and to see what you could get out of your body and if that meant victory then all well and good, but if it meant that you came third or fifth or tenth but having given it everything then you would have been happy?

Zach: Yes, that’s always kind of the idea. Sometimes I do come third or fifth and I’m not so happy because I am competitive. But yes, that kind of is the idea and with the talent that was in that race it was basically shaping up to be pretty much exactly what it was or what it turned out to be, just an absolute hammer fest all day long. And you know that’s an exciting thing. It’s like, “Well, here’s a chance to really find out what I’m made of.” Because I see snippets in training. But you never go out there and race a full 50 miles in training. It’s just like, “Well, here is a really good opportunity to put myself to the test and see exactly what’s possible.”

Ian: I’m going to compress 50 miles into five or ten minutes but I’ve seen a lot of races, a lot of ultras and I’ve seen some fantastic performances, but the one thing with an ultra is when you see the guy or the girl come down the finishing chute they never look spent. They never look as though they’ve given it everything (from a a pace perspective) and it looks as though at San Francisco that you gave everything right from the beginning and finished it off giving every last ounce that you had. Your finish is just the most captivating two minutes of a 50-mile race. You are giving it everything. You’re breathing out of every orifice that and you’re worried about whether Hayden is chasing you down because you were only separated by minutes. It’s just so compulsive. Do you feel as though that is the way that the racing is going to go now?

Zach: It is heading that direction. We’re getting to the point now where we’re really starting to race. Hayden’s performance that day was absolutely incredible. I basically told him after the race, I’ve never had anyone hang with me like that. I’ve had people like Luis Alberto beat me. I’ve had people catch me. I’ve had other experiences but I’ve never had anyone go out with me and challenge me like that and then stay right on my heels all day long. And sometimes it was me on his heels because we flipped back and forth. That’s how close it was. It was a race. It was like I was running a road marathon where we came down to the final couple of miles and somebody makes a kick and pulls away and wins. That’s pretty much what it was. It was an actual race all day long where I could never be comfortable and I could basically never let off on the gas.

Yes, as we get competitive fields and these young hungry guys in the sport we are maybe going that way. The 100 mile distances are a very interesting distance for that to happen to, just because there’s so many factors. But in this 50-mile distance where, especially in America where the courses are being run in five and a half– six and a half hours, and guys are starting to get very strong and trained very well and be tapered well for the races. Yes, we could see more of it. I don’t think we’ll see it necessarily at every race but I think a couple of the big ones during the year where you get the right combination of guys on the line and we’ll have a few more shows in the next couple years.

Ian: Zach, how much do you think $10,000 prize money influences it being a race.

Zach: It influences it in the sense that it draws a lot of very good competition to the start line. A lot of the elites, they want to run it because that’s the big pay day if they can get it. When I’m out there running… I forget where I heard it but it was somewhere I think after college somebody said they had received some advice or something that you should never run for money. Money should never be the reason that you’re running. When I’m out there running 50-mile race, money is not the motivating factor. I like to think that there’s other things that are more of a motivating factor but I won’t lie when I was running the race I was thinking about the $10,000 prize!

Ian: [laughs]

Zach: That’s a pretty significant amount of money. It does a lot for me. Yes, it does push you. When I had 5k to go and I was in the lead by about a minute, it was kind of like, “Well, I can hurt an awful lot for $10,000.”

[laughter]

Zach: I would love to say that the money never crossed my mind, that I’m just such a purist of giving it my all and just the spirit of the sport, that that was the only thing motivating me but I’m too human. It was a mix. It was my competitiveness, it was my desire to just be first and attain that measure of success, and it was also $10,000. I probably needed just about every bit of of grit to get me to push that hard.

Ian: There is absolutely nothing wrong and my question was a loaded question because I wanted to get your viewpoint on the influence and the impact that money has in the sport, because I think we are going to see more of it and races like Run Rabbit Run where there is even more money available has an influence. This race was a race, prize money or not. And when Hayden and yourself are running shoulder to shoulder and he’s in the lead and you’re in the lead, what was the point where in your mind you thought to yourself, “Now is the point that I go and give it everything.”?

Zach: It was pretty much with about nine miles to go coming out of Muir beach the second time.

Ian: Okay.

Zach: There was a time shortly before that where I thought like maybe I was breaking away but I think mostly I had gotten a few seconds but the trail was just so twisty and turny that I couldn’t see him, so it felt like I was farther ahead than I was. And by the time we got to Muir Beach he was right behind me. He was like 15 seconds behind me. And there we were at around mile I don’t know 40, 42 and nobody had blown, we were in the exact same spot we had been basically at the start. But that was the point where I knew we had basically two more climbs and we had two descents and I didn’t want to lose it on a descent at the end and so I was just kind of like, “Well I just– I have to– I’ve been doing well.” After about 30 miles I had been doing well on the climbs– very well on them so I just had like, “Well, I’m just going to kind of push really hard here and see if I can get away and do a little caution for the couple of descends that were left.”

Ian: You got the course record and the race will be remembered for years and years to come. It’s one of those classic jewels and of course the advantage these days is that there’s so much social media that that story get shared worldwide. It’s certainly become one of the highlights of 2016 for several reasons – I think the time that you ran, that final two-minute video shows the amount of commitment and pain that you’re putting yourself through. But equally the finish line and the sharing of the story and the emotion with Hayden that very much humanized the event, that there was a victory there was prize money but ultimately it’s one of the things that I love about this sport, it was the interaction between you two and the mutual respect.

Zach: Yes, that was one of the greatest parts of the day. Was that I was competing against an incredible athlete who at the end of the day was willing to turn around and shake my hand and give me a hug and chat about the race and how incredibly hard it was. There was a good camaraderie there, it wasn’t this like ugly rivalry of like, “Oh, I hate you and you hate me and we can’t talk to each other.” No, it was almost like we were more friendly with each other after the race than we were friendly with each other before the race but I think each person kind of maybe has their guard up a little bit, you know?

Ian: Yes.

Zach: And then after the race it was good to be able to share those moments with Hayden and especially him being so new to the sport.

Ian: All right.

Zach: That was me at JFK with Rob Krar. And I remember how kind Rob Krar was after the race in talking to me and I respected that. And that is a good testament of the great sports we have.

Ian: 2016 is coming to an end, you’ve had incredible results at San Francisco, you’ve got that course record and now is an opportunity for you to look back at the year and recover and plan for 2017. I’m looking forward to next year, you have an entry for Hardrock 100.

Zach: [laughs] Yes, just to add it’s not a guarantee yet, I’m in if I want it. It was a funny situation, I had a ticket and I’d paid for the Hardrock and I’ve kind of wanted to do Hardrock and Bill Dupery wanted me to do it and I had this ticket and I said well, they say it takes like eight years to get in so I might as well put it in.

Ian: [laughs]

Zach: And I said I will put it and I will hope that it doesn’t come out because I want to go UTMB.

Ian: [laughs]

Zach: I got in!

Ian: [laughs]

Zach: Now I have this decision, I must decide whether I run Hardrock or run UTMB and at first I would say I was leaning towards just going to UTMB and then I kind of started talking with Bill Dupery and [laughs] friends in Colorado and I started leaning back more towards Hardrock. And now I’m not sure what to do but I’m considering both. I won’t do both but I will pick one and I’m considering both I just must decide which one to pick. I’m very honoured to have made it into the race and it is a very cool race and I think it suits kind of my current living and training style, I am well-suited for it, so I kind of feel I should probably take a crack at it while I have the chance. Because I know this chances are precious. I’d say there’s a decent shot I’ll be on that start line but I still must kind of think through a few things.

Ian: Well, I’m not going to pressurize that decision.

Zach: [laughs]

Ian: Should you choose to do Hardrock or UTMB it’s going to be a very, very exciting day. I must think that you’re run at Hardrock would really, interest me because [laughs] if you use the strategy that you always use that could be a very, very interesting day at Hardrock and particularly with Kilian and Jason Schlarb going back – that’s one hell of a line-up.

Zach: And I’ll say this, I feel like there are two things that people would love to see at Hardrock, they would love to see me race like I normally do…

Ian: Yes [laughs].

Zach: …because, as insane as they think it is, it’s extra insane at Hardrock because of the nature of the course and they want to see Kilian go as fast as he possibly can. And if we could get both of those things in one day it would be very exciting.

Ian: It would be more than exciting Zach!

Zach: Maybe Kilian’s already gotten his best performance there but the man is very, very talented and I felt like having Hayden at North Face just pushed me to a different level. I’m not saying that I’m good enough to push Kilian to that level but if we could ever have somebody push him to that level that could be very fun to watch.

Ian: It would be definitely fun to watch. And on that note, it’s a perfect place to finish with the anticipation and excitement of what might happen. Either at UTMB or Hardrock in 2017. Zach look, thank you so much for giving me your time, it’s been a fascinating interview and thank you for inspiring so many runners in 2016.

Zach: You’re welcome, it was my pleasure.

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All images ©zachmiller

Merry Christmas and Thanks

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2016 has been an incredible year. I have travelled to more races, worked with some incredible people, interviewed inspirational athletes from all walks of life and I launched Running Beyond Book.

As one year comes to an end, it’s always good to give thanks. I want to thank all the races and race directors worldwide that have asked me to cover their races; I started my race coverage in Costa Rica and concluded it Nepal with a whole string of stunning locations and places in between.

Skyrunning for an incredible calendar of races – VK, SKY, ULTRA and in 2016 we launched EXTREME, it really is such an inspiring race series.

So many magazines, websites and resources that have used my content throughout the year.

Karl ‘Speedgoat’ Meltzer has once again provided another year of co-hosting with Talk Ultra and somehow along the way he managed to set a ‘FKT’ on the Appalachian Trail.

Niandi Carmont has been invaluable with her support – without that, what I do would not be possible and in addition, she has been working at many of the races I have attended as writer and podcaster. I hope 2017 is a great year for her as she progresses her run coaching.

Finally, all of you who read the articles, view the images and listen to the podcast – a huge thanks!

Have a great end to 2016 and I wish you all a successful 2017.

Jim Walmsley’s Record Breaking 2016 on I RUN 4 ULTRA

 

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In 2017 I am pleased to say that I will be writing regularly for I RUN 4 ULTRA with two or three submissions per month. My first article was about:

PETE KOSTELNICK – RUNNING ACROSS THE USA read the article HERE

My second article is about

JIM WALMSLEY’S RECORD BREAKING YEAR OF 2016

As years go, 2016 has been a cracker in the world of ultra-running. Pete Kostelnick ran Across the USA in a record time. Karl ‘Speedgoat’ Meltzer set a new ‘FKT’ on the Appalachian Trail, Zach Miller broke the TNF 50 course record with a trail blazing run and Jim Walmsley has turned heads with a display of hard and fast running that has left many wondering, what does 2017 hold for this sport?

Read the full article on I RUN 4 ULTRA HERE

inov-8 ROCLITE 305 Review

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One month ago, the new ROCLITE arrived at my home, not just one pair but 3 pairs – the 290, 305 and 325. I wrote a first impressions article HERE and it would make sense to have a read of that before reading on.

In summary, the 290 is 4mm drop, the 305 8mm drop and the 325 is 8mm drop but a running boot. The running boot is for a specific audience I believe and although it’s a product I love using, I am going to save any talk on the 325 for my review that will come out in the New Year. Having said that, much of what I write in this review of the 305 directly transfers to the 325 – they are to all intents and purposes the same!

I run in shoes of varying drop all the time, however, lower drop shoes like the 290 (4mm) are usually reserved for shorter runs be they fast or slow. Once I run beyond an hour, an 8mm drop shoe works perfectly for me and without doubt it is my ‘drop’ of choice.

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Therefore, when the ROCLITE’s arrived late November and I had a trip planned to La Palma (the home of Transvulcania) it was an easy decision to pick up the 305 with the intention of well and truly giving them a battering on this tough, challenging, rocky and gnarly terrain.

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The ROCLITE range of shoes, for me, are designed for mountain running in wet or dry conditions when the trail can be very varied or unpredictable. Although the shoe can handle a little mud, it’s not a shoe for those conditions and without doubt, if you plan to run on grass, mud, fell or similar, I think inov-8 make far better shoes for that, try the X-Talon for example.

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I have used many, many shoes and I have tried and tested countless inov-8 shoes and despite the ROCLITE being around for appx 10-years, it’s not a shoe that I have used a great deal. So, I hold my hands up, this review is based on ‘this’ shoe and I can offer no comparisons to previous incarnations.

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As with many inov-8 shoes, the looks and colours are very pleasing. You can’t go wrong with red and black and out of the box they were saying to me, ‘wear me!’

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Looking over the shoe, a couple of things stood out. The tongue is part of the upper and not a tongue sewn into the upper. Anyone who reads my shoe reviews knows that I LOVE gusseted tongues so I was eager to slide these shoes on. I was not disappointed. I would go as far to say that the 305 is THE most snug and comfortable shoe I have worn – that is saying something! They are the most slipper like run shoes I have worn, so much so, that I could imagine removing the laces and walking around the house in them. Adding to the package is a completely seamless inner, even the ‘insole’ is part of the shoe (you can’t remove it) making it snug, snug, snug!

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Going for a run in them instantly felt comfortable. I mentioned in my ‘first impressions’ that I thought the shoes in the ROCLITE range sized a 1/2 size too small. Now I am not sure? Sorry for being indecisive but I have run in them for 1-month and I have been very happy, I must stress though that I used a thinner sock than normal. What is noticeable, say over the TRAIL TALON (here) and X-CLAW (here) is that the ROCLITE is narrower in the toe box. I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘precision’ fit shoe but it is certainly less spacious than the Talon or Claw.

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The other notable point is that the front of the shoe (toe box) is just material with no additional overlays or support other than a reinforced bumper to protect toes against unwanted collisions. This had pros and cons. The pros were simple – a comfortable shoe that allowed my foot to flex, bend and adapt to the terrain. The cons were on technical descents, I found that at times I wanted just a little ‘more’ to hold my foot. It was a minor point and caused me no problems. What I did do to compensate was make sure I had the laces adjusted and tightened correctly.

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The trails in La Palma are harsh, really harsh. It’s jagged, volcanic, gravel, sand and abrasive rock that is irregular and punishing. It ruins shoes. In recent years, I have been out here and I have had shoes last for just the holiday. I must stress that this is not a criticism of the shoes but an indication of how harsh the terrain is.

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One’s foot is moved constantly to the left, right and it is twisted back and forth, noticeably the huge red ‘X’ on the rear of the ROCLITE offered some great stability and I didn’t roll my ankle once – unusual for me.

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The out-sole did work well on all the dry terrain, be that gravel, soft black lava sand, jagged irregular rocks or solidified volcanic lava. A run through a river bed that offered all manner of possibilities to slip and fall through a technical boulder session were brushed at one side with ease with the ROCLITE. Once you have confidence in a shoe, you can push harder and faster and the 305’s gave me that.

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Importantly though, on this terrain, protection is as important as grip and the META-SHANK and rock-plate combined with additional cushioning gave me a really solid and comfortable day out. The longest outing here has been 8-hours and my feet felt great. Rocks and rough terrain didn’t penetrate through the sole leaving me and my feet feeling jaded. Powerflow in the heel provided some real comfort and reassurance, particularly when walking… it’s tough out in La Palma and walking is a big part of any outing. Daily I always did anything from 400 to 2000+m of climbing and the META-FLEX at the front of the shoe allowed my foot to bend without hindrance.

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The lacing is unique as you pull in on web loops. It really does work! It works so well that you can pull the laces too tight. I struggled with the lacing at first, at times I tied the laces too right and other times I tied them too loosely. I eventually found a balance after 3-4 runs and once I got it dialed in, I found I had no need to adjust or adapt my laces once running. I am pleased to say that extra eyelets are provided at the top of the shoe should you need to ‘lock-lace’ or similar. The heel box was plush and caused no issues.

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In Conclusion

inov-8 have thrown a curve ball in at the end of 2016 and may well have provided me with one of my favourite shoes of the year. Yes, the ROCLITE 305 is that good. I have battered them on the trails out here with approximately 50-hours of running and they are showing signs of wear but they have survived really well and are good for many more hours. I can’t say the ROCLITE is my all out favourite shoe as it has a specific use. By contrast, to explain what I mean, the inov-8 X-CLAW for example can handle grass, mud and sloppy stuff and it would still be able to perform on rocky and mountainous trails like here in La Palma. Is the X-CLAW a better shoe? No! However, it may very well be a better all-rounder? If you are running on trail, be that a canal tow path or a rocky mountain trail in the Alps, the ROCLITE will take some beating and without doubt it’s going to be a shoe of choice for me in 2017. The fit, the snug upper, the seamless build and the gusseted tongue just make the 305 one of the best shoes I have run in. Add to that package 8mm drop, cushioning, a great outsole and other key inov-8 features such as the ‘X’ Lock, Adapterweb, Meta-Flex and Meta-Shank and this shoe is one to consider.

There are some downsides. The upper may lack some support in the toe area when running on technical terrain allowing the foot to move a little too much. The toe bumper is adequate and does offer protection but maybe it could be a little beefier? It’s a minor niggle. Finally, although the ROCLITE 305 is not a precision fit shoe, it is narrower than the Trail Talon or the X-Claw and therefore it may not work for some people? However, I would counter that by saying that on mountain and technical trails, too much movement in the toe box leads to insecurity and a lack of precision and confidence.

Ultimately, the ROCLITE 305 is a winner.

inov-8 website and shoe details and prices HERE

The Green Tunnel – Speedgoat Karl Meltzer and the Appalachian Trail

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‘Speedgoat’ Karl Meltzer needs no introduction to the ultra-world, Speedgoat was running 100’s when most of us didn’t even know they existed. So much so, he has won more 100’s than any other runner; 38 at the last count. Five of those hundreds came at Hardrock 100, impressive! Speedgoat’s tally of runs and records make history and in 2016, he finally added the ‘FKT’ for the Appalachian Trail to his palmares. It was a long time coming, two previous attempts (2008 and 2014) had left him short but 2016 was different. Speedgoat had had the opportunity to assess his past attempts while helping his buddy, Scott Jurek, achieve his own FKT on the AT in 2015! With this information and a wealth of ultra-running experience, Speedgoat was a different man in the ‘Green Tunnel’ in 2016.

On Sept. 18 at 3:38 a.m., professional ultra-runner and Red Bull athlete Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer emerged from the Appalachian Trail’s southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Ga., and set a new Appalachian Trail thru-hike speed record with a time of:

45-days 22-hours and 38-minutes.

Speedgoat started his supported run at 5 a.m. on Aug. 3 from Mt. Katahdin, Maine, and averaged approximately 47 miles per day at a pace of 3.2 miles per hour.  Speedgoat’s time beats the previous record by more than 10 hours, which was set by Scott Jurek in 2015.

The project, in planning for more than two years, was accomplished with a small core crew consisting of Speedgoat’s father, Karl Sr., and crew chief Eric Belz.  Others joined the crew to support Speedgoat for short periods throughout the hike, including Speedgoat’s wife, Sheryl and fellow ultra-runners such as David Horton.  The crew travelled alongside Meltzer every day, providing him with food, water, medical attention and logistical support. Speedgoat’s time on the trail typically began around 5 a.m. and ended between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

 Download and view a full map of the Appalachian Trail HERE

The Appalachian Trail runs from Maine to Georgia stretching 2,190 miles through 14 states.  It is roughly the distance between Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., as the crow flies.  A thru-hiker will experience 464,500 feet of elevation change, or 16 climbs of Mt. Everest.  Thousands of people attempt an Appalachian Trail thru-hike every year, yet only one in four hikers finish the journey, and they typically take five to seven months to complete the entire trail.

Here is Speedgoat’s story.

******

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Ian: Many, congratulations Karl, you did it!

Karl: Yes, thanks. It was a long journey but yes, it’s over. Thank God. All the misery and pain is over.

Ian: All the misery and pain. Well you say that, but it’s not is it? Because now you’re going through media and interviews and repeating the same story to a lot of different people.

Karl: At least a dozen times yesterday…!

Ian: [laughs]

Karl: Yes, I did talk yesterday for maybe six hours. Then we did the CNN World Sports thing, which was right around the corner from the hotel I was staying at. Yes, it was a busy day. By the time I got to the last three interviews I was like, “Can you ask me what’s next one more time.” But it was good. There was a lot of part of that going on. I have quite a few more this afternoon, but they don’t start till 11.

Ian: That’s good. That’s good, so you can give me some time and hopefully we can ask some interesting questions. Epic journey, epic journey. It was fantastic being here in the UK getting the updates from Red Bull. What I was doing was re-showing them on my website and getting the audience engaged, because they really wanted to know what was happening. Right from the off, it appears you started with some real intention and nailing it for the first seven days. In retrospect, do you think that maybe you were pushing a bit too hard in those early seven days?

Karl: Actually, everything was super textbook and really good all the way for the first 19 days. The first seven days you get to go in New Hampshire, you must get to that point to set yourself up and put yourself in a good position. Honestly, I felt on my game… I was getting plenty of sleep. Everything was working out well. I wasn’t overly tired. I wasn’t pushing myself or getting to those points where I was worked or thinking, “Oh my God, I’m not going to get up tomorrow.”

New Hampshire went perfectly well. The big game in New Hampshire is the Route 302 which is called Crawford notch. It was 47 miles over Mount Washington and then over Carter Ridge, it was a huge day. I finished it a little after 10:00 PM. The following day I think I went like 28 miles, but that 28 miles was ridiculously hard but I was good that day…

Generally speaking, through 19 days before my shin started bothering me, I was a full day ahead of Jen Pharr’s pace, and when I got to that point I was like just stay even with her, with her pace through Pennsylvania which was my plan, and then just try to close it out from there. My shin went down running on flat grass, the easiest piece of the trail of all, flat grassy piece but it just tweaked and I was like, “Uh.” When I was going along I was like, “Oh man, that might be the one that throws me off.” And it did, it obviously did.

Ian: It’s interesting with day 19 because that was the day that I phoned in and spoke to Eric Belz whilst you were on the trail. He was giving me an update of how things had been going. He gave me an itinerary of what it’d been like and how you were crushing the miles, how they were giving you ice cream and looking after you. I will come on to that… One of the things I remember reading on the day nine (I think it was) reports, when you were going through Mount Lafayette, Eric referred to a knife edge. I couldn’t quite place what the knife edge was. What was that?

Karl: You mean in New Hampshire? Well, there’s a ridge called San Antonio Ridge. It’s not that technical of a knife edge. You’re on a ridge line that’s fairly narrow, but it’s not super. It’s not like exposed or anything. Yes, he had been up there before in 2014, he hiked that section with me when I was doing trail at that time too. New Hampshire is ridiculously hard. That might have been what he was referring to as a knife edge. It wasn’t really super techie or anything like that. It’s called San Antonio Ridge, and it’s a very very super popular place. You see more hikers on that trail probably in New Hampshire than anywhere else other than maybe Mount Washington.

Ian: And then day 10, you’re into Flume Gorge the White Mountains, and I think that was the first sign where you were beginning to show some wear and tear on your feet. Eric also touched on the fact that you were mentally beginning to feel a little fatigued. Neither of those things obviously turned into a big issue, but one of the important things about anything like this where you’re doing multi-day and going out for another 40, 50 miles is maintenance. What was that maintenance side like, and how did Eric and Senior (Karl’s Dad), and Sheryl (Karl’s wife) keep you on track, and how did you react to them keeping you on track?

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Karl: We had some protocols. Every time I stop, when I stop at the end of the day, my dad’s job if you want to call it that, Sr’s job, was to have me setup so I can clean my feet. He’ll just setup a bin of water and some cleaning stuff, some soap or whatever. The first thing I do when I came in, I sit down, he took my shoes off and I clean my feet up. I never had any blisters on my toes over the whole time, the whole trip. They were solid as rock. I had a blister on my heels, but those things we drain them early in the thing and run and they just went away. Generally, we just cleaned my feet and got those taken care of, have them dried out, and just moved on.

That was the protocol for that. After we did that, once we cleaned my feet and I was good. I was sitting on a higher chair and I went to a lower chair, put my feet up, put ice on my shins and I ate my dinner as I was icing my shins, and then I went straight into bed. I was in bed within 30 minutes usually after every stop; after every night, which was super-fast. I certainly fell asleep quickly. It was really good. They were super-efficient in terms of taking care of things. The further we get down the trail, the more efficient they got. When you did talk to Eric, we were at a place called Bake Oven Knob and that was in Pennsylvania. I think that was my day 20, maybe 20 or 21?  Maybe 20.

That morning, when I woke up at Bake Oven Knob that was the day my shin was probably was at its worst. It was like on fire. I woke up at 4:15 AM in the morning or something like that and I couldn’t really extend on my right leg. It was swollen and red and I’m like, “Oh god.” I’m like, “I need to sit here and ice it a couple of times this morning before I get going anywhere.” I did that because again, I was a day ahead of Jen’s itinerary, I had a little time to I waste to say I had money in the bank, it’s not my style, or miles in the bank, that’s not my style but I had to do it.

We did that, and then finally after a few hours, I put my shoes on and I started moving. I believe I only covered 32 miles that day. After 25 miles during that day, again my shin was on fire. Pennsylvania is all rocky so your leg is twisting around a lot. It was just aggravating it even more. After 25, I stopped again I said, “Hey, I got to ice this thing a couple of times.” And then we’ll just see what happens. It felt a little better after I sat for a while and then I went another seven miles down the trail, and I think we finished at 32.

Ian: Yes, that was the day that Mike joined you. He made a comment that because you are obviously protecting your shin, your knee was buckling underneath you during the run. What’s going through your mind at this point Karl? Because it wouldn’t be an underestimation to say that completing the AT in a fast time has been a priority for you for years. I think we both knew before you went into this when we discussed it that this was probably the last chance to get this record. Did you see it? All the hard work starting to potentially crumble beneath your shin?

Karl: Well, maybe? I think the thing is Scott got hurt, Jen got hurt, I got hurt. With my knee buckling thing, that issue was with me back in May before it even started. The whole thing is like it wasn’t affecting my running. I just put on a knee wrap on my knee, and that reminded me not to extend out, hyper extend my knee. The brace isn’t going to do something bad, the brace isn’t going to stop you from hyper extending your knee.

But it was protecting a little bit from doing that just in my mind and just physically. But then that day again, when Mike was walking with me and my shin was killing me, my knee buckled a couple of times and Mike was walking behind me. I was like, “Oh my God. Why is this happening?” And feel like, “Why are these things aren’t falling into place?” But yes, I was a little worried about it for sure. I was just like, “Well, who is my knee going down now too?” I started to get mentally frustrated. I started getting a little upset.

Again, having that cushion that I had built up made huge difference because it gave me time. It’s not like I fell 40 miles behind quickly because I was hurt. I was still in it. I just said to myself, “You just got to stick with it for a while and see what happens.” I do remember in 2008 when both my shins were bothering me, and on the Pony Express when they were bothering me, you sort of keep using them and keep walking through it, it sorts of goes away. I said, “Well, we’ll see if that happens here.” As you saw, we did 32, and then we did 50 something, and then we did 16 which again my shin was on fire that day too. The next day, we did 50 something…

Ian: It was interesting watching because there was obviously this dilemma going through your mind, and I’m sure your crew’s mind. You had your blinkers on, and it was very interesting following some of the comments on Facebook. The doubters were going to doubt, and of course they were going to say, “Oh no, the shin is hurting. That’s it. He’s got no chance.” The one thing that I kept going back to in commenting on was, “Look guys, Karl is completely 100% blinkered for this. We discussed it. He knows what he has to do because he experienced it with Scott and there were valuable learning lessons.”

One of the things that was worrying me from the side-lines was that I could see this accordion. I could see you suffering, and then the next day it was almost as though you refused to accept that your body was doing what is was doing, and you were bullying it into doing what you wanted it to do. A classic example was day 20 when you did 35 miles, but then the next day you spent 17 hours on the trail. Of course, this is a real bouncing act, isn’t it? Because that’s your bloody mindedness wanting to get it done, but then the problem comes with day 22; you can be wrecked. How did you manage that? Did you just think to yourself, “You know what, I’m just going to give this everything and see what happens?”

Karl: Yes, absolutely. I think what was funny too is I was sort of telling myself in a jokingly kind of way that, “Well gee Karl, you did 16 miles yesterday so you’re rested for tomorrow.” Seriously, it didn’t make a difference in the rest there because I went to bed 7:15, or 7:30 as opposed to maybe 9:00 or something like that. Because I don’t really do well with sleep deprivation, that made a difference for me the next morning to get up and say, “Okay, I’m up and wired, I’m awake.” I’m kind of, “I’m going to do what I can. I know my shin is going to hurt, just deal with it.”

The rest helped me be able to go those 50 plus miles after the short days if my shin wasn’t bothering me. It was amazing, my shin with those shorter days was not able to re-heal overnight, of course. But the swelling went down so I had more time to just settle down a little bit. I could keep going, and then my gig going into Duncannon, Pennsylvania which is the end of the rocky section of Pennsylvania, I survived. I crashed hard going down that trail a couple of times. You’ll see that in the film probably which is quite entertaining for all the people watching.

When I finally got to Duncannon, it was just a two mile walk through town. I walked through town and I said,” Let’s just… I’m only eight miles behind where Jen was. I’ll stop here, I need to rest and wake up in the morning, we’ll see what happens.” We stayed in this nasty camp around in Duncannon. We got up the next morning. I was driven to where I stopped walking that morning, and I started walking uphill. It was a steep rocky climb for about maybe a mile and half, going uphill wasn’t so bad. It was going downhill where my toes would extend out forward, which would make it sore and hurt.

I get to the top of the climb and the terrain sort of changed where it started to get smooth. There’s an area there called Cumberland Valley where Pennsylvania is sort of known for being smooth. I knew that was coming, and it’s funny because I reached that ridge line and turned into Cumberland Valley and there’s this CVATC, we manage the trail here. I was like, “Uh, Cumberland Valley ATC. Thank God I’m here.” The uphill section is gradual, very gradual uphill I’d say. I started running, yep, very slowly running the gradual uphill’s.

I said to my dad, I said, “I’ll just start to run uphill now and see what happens.” Instead of running downhill, I started running uphill. It was weird but the shin pain went away. When the terrain got smooth and the shin pain went away, I think it is a 53, a 60, and 57 miles all in a row, boom boom boom! That got me right back where Jen was and even put me ahead of her pace. Once again, the confidence builds up, “My shin doesn’t hurt. Man, I’m back. I’m back in the game.” Again, I never felt I ran off pace. I was so confident I could still get there as long as I stayed fairly close to that pace.

Ian: What are the frustrating things I guess for me and people who were following you. Was that for reasons that you discussed prior to departing was that Red Bull and Appalachian Trail didn’t want people to know exactly where you were. Your updates were coming out maybe two to three days late. But day 22 to day 25, certainly looked as though it was a real crunch phase in the whole thing. As you said, day 22 you did 16.4 miles in seven hours, but you benefited from good rest, good sleep. The next day you get back up on the trail, and then day 24, you do 35 miles. Day 25, it didn’t list how many miles you’ve done.

Basically, it reaffirmed how far you’d gone, how far you had to go, what your age was, and it was saying this is crunch time. I got a real sense of feeling that it was a massive pivotal point within the whole thing that this reading between the lines from the feedback and from what Eric was saying. How you pivoted on this point was where the success or failure was going to happen. As you just said, you go into day 26, and you banged out 60.1 miles. I remember writing at the time, I just can’t comprehend it because 60.1 miles for any of us is a big day out just on its own.

Karl: Yes, and the funny thing is too, 60 is a lot more than 50! 10 miles is three hours whatever, but it’s a huge difference because you don’t get that sleep. You don’t get that rest. You don’t get that recovery. Yes, but it was sometimes that was logistics, and sometimes the terrain was tough; that’s near Shenandoah I think? The terrain is a little bit smoother in there, so your average pace is no longer 3.2, it might be like 3.5. That .3 miles per hour over that long period is five miles or whatever. It made a difference in terms of being able to go 60. 60 was huge no doubt about it. I think Scott only pulled one 60-mile day too. Yes, it was confidence. It got me back.

Ian: That day 26 was the day that your dad, Senior, came back onto the trail. One of the questions that cropped upon Facebook on the Talk Ultra feed was that. There was an obvious reference to Sheryl and Senior throughout the whole thing. Its’ obvious how important those people are in your life. This process, because it’s so intense for you and let’s face it, you’re tired, you’re fatigued, you can be cranky, you can be moody, you can be probably pretty offensive at times. But the one thing that I could imagine from the outside looking in is that this type of experience as a family can only bring everybody so much closer together. I just wondered what impact Senior joining you on day 26 had on you producing that 60.1 miles?

Karl: It’s funny that… I can be a little annoying jerk and stuff like that. It was funny, I talked to Dave Horton along the trail about this, he was inspirational too.

He was like “When I was on the trail,” and he knows, because he’s done it, so he understands. He’s like, “When I was on the trail, I would yell at my wife, and I would say not so nice things, and things like that. And he’s like, “It’s sad that we feel like we can say mean and cruel things to our spouse or our dad or something like that, but not others.” I wouldn’t say those types of things to Belz as I’d say it to Sheryl, or say it to my dad. It’s bad that we do that huh?

But I guess we accept the fact that they won’t bite back, or something like that. My dad would just kind of let it blow it over his head. Sheryl will sometimes take it a little more offense, but that’s okay. She sort of mostly will let it blow over her head. She knew that I was dealing with a lot of mental misery. It definitely brings them closer together; they did such an incredible job of always being positive when I would come to a stop. Even if I was grumpy or something like that, they still didn’t bite back at me or yell at me or something like that. It was more like, “Karl, just relax. Calm down.”

Ian: Yes, I’m sure there was a fair amount of stuff said.

Karl: Yes. My dad was incredible, I mean he, well Belz was sort of crew chief. My dad was sort of the monkey worker on the side, always kind of doing stuff. My dad doesn’t sleep. The guy moves back and forth all the time. I mean, he was awake at 3:30 in the morning going back and forth to his truck when I was still sleeping, like, “Why is he up now?”.

He never took a nap when they had an opportunity to rest; they needed a rest too! He just would never do that. He was so into it. It was so cool to spend that time with my dad. Even though I wasn’t there spending time with him, I knew he was always there and helping me out. Yes, it brings us closer for sure. It was quite the experience, having them there.

Ian: So, day 26, 60.1 miles. Day 27, 55.8. Day 28 was just another whopping day. And at this point, I’m looking at my computer and a photograph came on your Facebook page, and it drew complete parallels to the photo last year of Scott Jurek. Remember when everybody discussed about his vegan diet and Marshall Ulrich went on record and said, “You can’t do the AT without eating meat”.

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And there’s this photograph of you with your Red Bull scarf around your neck looking damn drawn, looking damn lean. And it just goes to show the incredible impact that the trail, the multiple days of hours and hours and hours on the trail has. Belz said to me that you were having ravioli and mandarin oranges. What was the diet like, and could they predict what you wanted?

Karl: Well, they couldn’t really… They would go and say “Hey Karl, what do you want today to eat? If you want some food, just find something.” I would more or less eat anything. I ate a lot of good food too. The stories came out where it was like Meltzer doses on some beer and candy. Well, it’s not true. I didn’t do it on beer and candy. That’s just the media doing their thing. I ate a fair bit of meat.

I think Belz probably cooked me five or six or seven rib eyes when I’d come the end of the day. I had a steak and some asparagus and some rice and things like that. But I had a great dinner every night. I think that was really, really important. And even though many people thought that I was looking skinny… I’m a skinny guy anyway, and you know me! I’m a skinny guy anyway. Over the whole entire trip, when I weighed myself two days later at the Red Bull office, I had lost three pounds, that’s all!

So, I gained maybe a pound or two back after I finished, but the bottom line is, I was eating a lot of food. I mean, the stuff that I was eating on the trail, I was pretty much eating real food. My last gel I ate was in Maine. I didn’t eat that much gel or chump things or anything like that. I went to real food because I still feel like that just fills up your belly a little more. It doesn’t mean it gives you better energy, but it fills you up a little more.

I ate a combination of anything. Dave Horton would bring chicken for me and ice cream. And I think it was dense calories. So, I was eating a lot. Scott, being vegan, it’s going to be a lot harder for him to get as much protein. He certainly knows what he’s doing, don’t get me wrong, but he lost 19 pounds when he was done. Being vegan, you probably can’t get as many calories. And he was eating all day long, too. He was doing the same kind of thing, and I think, what Marshall said, it’s like, you do need to eat meat. You need to eat a lot of protein. I drank a lot of Ultragen, a lot of calories there. I did a lot of that kind of stuff. I ate a lot of sweets. I ate a lot of cinnamon buns.

Ian: [laughs] What where you eating Karl…?

Karl: It’s kind of funny, but it’s just calories, you know?

Ian: What were you eating between seeing the crew? Or was that not so much of a priority? Because I’m just trying to think that let’s say you see your crew every ten miles. As you’ve said, that’s three or four hours. Maybe even longer in some places. So, you’ve got to be eating something while you’re out on the trail. You can’t just be relying until you see Eric and Senior and Sheryl.

Karl: Yes. I had a small pouch on my little waist pack, and I would just have like a quesadilla or something like that, or a steak and cheese wrap, or something like that. A piece of chicken, a cinnamon bun, a donut, even. I never buy donuts, but they were so good on the trail. I had a little bit of candies for some straight sugar. That article was true. I did eat some candies. Spree was my favorite. They’re just little sugar things. And yes, I ate a combination of protein and sugar and carbohydrates. I would bring a piece of pizza along with me.

But I did eat as much as possible! When I stopped at the van, I probably consumed at least 500 calories. Fruit. I ate a lot of fruit. Those mandarin oranges and canned peaches were just the greatest thing ever. I ate so many mandarin oranges, it’s kind of silly. But I like them. That kind of stuff was boom boom boom and I’d eat a whole can of it in like a minute.

Ian: Just to sort of clarify there, because your pace is going slower, did you feel as though you could take in more calories and that it had less stomach distress? Because we all know the balancing act between eating calories and it sitting in your stomach. And your stomach having to work to digest that food. It doesn’t always go in line with trying to move quicker or faster. But I’m guessing your hiking and jogging pace was allowing you to eat big calories and it not causing any gastric distress?

Karl: You’re right. When you’re going slower, you can definitely digest food. Not once did I have a stomach problem the whole time. I was never like, oh my god, my stomach’s upset because I ate that whole pint of ice cream in three minutes. I did eat an entire pint of ice cream in a few minutes one time. And you would think, “I’m never going to be able to run for a couple of hours.”

But it’s funny because you take that in and you suck it down and I would start hiking and it was like, I was good for about an hour or so after that. I wouldn’t have to eat any food. But after an hour, I’m like, “I need to get in my pouch and get me something to eat.” Your body is such a furnace on these multi-day things like this, that it really doesn’t matter how much you eat at once, because you are. You’re moving a lot slower.

I mean, my average heart rate was probably 100. I’m going to guess, but somewhere in that ballpark. It wasn’t that high. So, I could digest, I could use the fuel and the power from whatever I was eating and not have that stomach distress. Again, any 100-mile race, or smaller, shorter races, there is that fine balance of taking in too much at one time. But it is pretty easy to just eat whatever you want and not have that problem.

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And Dave Horton would say the same thing, and so I’m sure Scott would say the same thing. It didn’t matter how much I ate at a stop. It never bothered the stomach. Scott’s stomach never bothered him either. Dave Horton said he had a lot of problems. He’s like, “I could never eat like you, Karl.” I sat there one time, he brought me a bucket of chicken, and I got a big bucket of chicken at one place, and I ate like the whole thing.

And he’s sitting there watching me eating, and he’s like, “Man, I could never eat like that. I couldn’t eat it when I was done.” And he’s like, “You are amazing.” I’m just like, just give me another piece.” I would just take it right down. I didn’t have problems with that. It was just fortunate, you know. Obviously, that’s why I didn’t lose 19 pounds, probably.

Ian: Absolutely.

Karl: It was cool to be able to do that.

Ian: Let me talk about day 29, Virginia. Again, I’ve said pivotal points. And it appears this was another pivotal point. That day, you covered 50.4 miles. And Eric said that it was relatively pain-free because you’d found a new way of taping your shin. What was that? Was that just a little bit of luck, of trying different methods? Because I know that you’d been wearing a compression sock and you’d tried taping it.

And you were icing as much as you often could. But you found a way of taping that seems to just work?

Karl: That information came from Scott when I was in Duncannon. Belz called Scott and I was just talking about my shin, why it was bothering me, where it was hurting that kind of a thing. Scott has a physical therapist background, so he’s like, “Try to get a brace or like a wrap – that will compress your interior tibialis, the muscle there over your shin. And compress the muscle belly.

Don’t put the wrap over your tendon, down lower towards your foot. When my leg came on fire, that wrap was down on my tendon on the lower part of my foot, and it was there and it was freaking killing me. I changed the location of it a little bit, and it just didn’t hurt as much. That was a game changer.

There were a few game changers in this whole thing that gave me the record basically. There’s another one down the road I’ll explain in a minute, but the allocation of that wrap helped. I never took it off all the way to the end. I’m like, “Just wear it.” Even though it wasn’t bothering me later. I’m like, “Just keep it on dude.”

Ian: Exactly. If it ain’t broke, don’t change it. Don’t change it. You said the game changer, and it was that game changer that strapping that made you on day 30 cover 60 miles.

Karl: Little things that count.

Ian: What was very interesting was that you’d obviously got out for the day, you’d planned to stop at 6:00 PM, but that blinkered vision, that feeling good, maybe the reassurance in this new taping sent you out for another 11 miles. Of course, at the end of that day, you’re feeling damn good. Your crew are thinking, “This is amazing Karl. Is just absolutely killing it.” I made a comment when I wrote about this and I said that you were killing it and I was blown away by your tenacity.

Karl: It was amazing how it came about.

Ian: Yes, amazing. First, tell me about that, that come back and what goes through your mind to bang out 60 miles when you’re 30 days into something incredible like this? And then tell me about the day after.

Karl: It was weird. I’m running long like, “Why doesn’t my shin hurt anymore?” Obviously, I was trying to do the right thing here with the wrap and icing and all that stuff. But it’s just like suddenly it went away. [laughs] It’s hard to explain why and everything else, but it went away so it gave me more and more confidence. I kept telling myself, “Don’t be greedy here. You still have tomorrow. You still have 15 more days to go. You just got to be patient with it. Don’t do anything stupid. Always watch where you’re stepping.” Again, my shin was still a little tight, it just didn’t have that searing pain that it had before.

Believe me, I was just like blown out of the water that it wasn’t hurting anymore. I was quite surprised. And even everyone like Belz, my dad was just like, “Wow. How come it’s not hurting anymore?” I don’t know how to explain that. It’s like Jen, she had the same thing, Scott had the same thing. I’m sure when Scott hurt his knee or his quad, he tore his quad muscle like a week later it healed. How does that stuff heal while you’re doing 50 miles a day? God, I don’t know. Your body is just adopting to it.

Ian: Can I ask a question Karl, how much other pain did you have?

Karl: Well, soreness like if you run a hard race, the next day you wake up and you’re sore and you’re hobbling around. On these types of things, your body starts to adopt after two to three weeks. I never had that deep soreness or anything like poke your muscles out and you get that sore pain. Not once that I ever really have that type of thing. The real pain is between your ears. [laughs]

You try to deal with it mentally, but as I get going every day, your legs are just heavy like you’re carrying around these two heavy cement logs but you don’t have that excruciating soreness pain. If you’re not having that and you’re still able to walk, you can always walk. And walk is what you’re doing most of the time anyway. If you could walk fast, and I taught myself how to walk a little faster than normal, and I was just able to keep going.

The jogging, you don’t jog very fast. You’re jogging slow. You’re barely picking your feet up off the ground or you’re stumble all the time. The real pain, it really isn’t there– that much. It’s just the pain is between your head and you’re just trying to keep moving forward.

Ian: Let’s go to day 31, because it certainly seemed as though that extra 11 miles that you banged out on the evening of day 30 may very well have been 11 miles too far and certainly that’s what Eric was touching on… in his report from that day where that you were feeling tired, you were feeling fatigued, you’ve got a blister under your foot, and as I can only imagine, I think I would have been done a long time ago…. I don’t have the mental or physical strength to maybe put myself through what you’re putting yourself through, but the highs of day 30 probably were feeling pretty rubbish on day 31?

Day 30 was Virginia when you were in the Shenandoah National Park. That’s when you’d had your leg taped up and you’re sort of planning to finish at 6:00 PM, and then you went out for 11 miles in the evening, and then you did 60 miles that day. But day 31 was Blue Ridge Parkway section. You were very fatigued, and you had got a blister under your foot, your crew got you a little bit happier by giving you two steaks for dinner.

Karl: Yes, the blister thing under my foot I must mention, this is probably the ultimate game changer. There is a guy, Johnathan Basham, he holds the record of the long trail. Jonathan I’ve known for a long time. He was pretty close to there. He came out to visit me, he’s the stay-at-home dad. He’s got two kids, two young kids, and his wife is an ER doc. Now, his wife was off that day. He could come out and say hello, and see how I was doing.

He shows up, and I come in to the stop where my crew was and my left foot was killing me under the bottom center of my foot. I’ve had a neuroma under there for a long time – for years. The same pain, the pain of that under my left foot felt like my neuroma. It was numb. It was pretty excruciating to step on it. I got to the stop and I said, “Man, my foot is just on fire. It’s killing me.” Jonathan was sitting there, and he says, “Karl, how’s it going.” I took my shoe, “Oh my God.” Every time I would put my foot down in the ground, it would start throbbing, like throbbing hard.”

John looks at it,” No, Andre Thompson had this too back when he did it. It’s just a really deep blister, like way, super deep blister under your foot.” I was like, really? “Do you have anything to try to drain that thing?” I said, “Well, I have a scalpel.” It was a needle type scalpel. He’s like, “No, that blister gets wider as you stick it. Do you have like a needle or a safety pin or something like that?” I was like, “Well, we have a safety pin.” We tried that, and it got a little bit of fluid out, but not everything. He’s like, “I’ll tell you what, tomorrow, I’ll bring you a surgical needle.”

He shows up on cue at four o’clock in the morning, and I’m awake ready for him. We stick my foot with the needle, and we got all the fluid out. I put my socks and my shoe on, and I started hiking again, all pain was gone, and my foot was an entirely new foot. The pain was absolutely gone. That was the ultimate game changer. Yes, it was incredible. Suddenly I could get running again… it totally got me jogging again.

Ian: This way day 32?

Karl: Yes. I guess it’s 32.

Ian: Yes, day 32 you did 57 miles. I think what’s interesting here is you’ve just said that draining your foot was a game changer. But also, day 32 was also nearly the day where you ruined your whole attempt. Because that was the night that you actually slept out on the trail. You slept at Scorched Earth Gap instead of continuing for another four miles to your crew. You bedded down on the trail. You had a bad night and then what followed on day 33 was one of those days that probably your crew and you want to forget in that you were just completely exhausted.

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You couldn’t function. They found you face down asleep on the trail and basically you just said, “I need to sleep.” During the middle of the day you went and slept for three hours. I guess that was a really awful time for Eric and Senior and Sheryl in that they’re looking and thinking, “Carl, is this it? Is this over?” What was going through your mind at that point?

Karl: When I slept on the trail, Eric packed the tent, he had food for me and he did everything right. I got to him a little after ten so it was kind of a late night for me too. They got there and we went to bed to sleep and I did not sleep very well. We tossed and turned a little bit and it just wasn’t very good sleep. We got up at four o’clock in the morning and I got my shoes on and stuff and I started walking. Eric picked up the tent stuff behind me. He said we’d all just catch up. I started walking and I was just super-duper fatigued.

Every time I went uphill I was just like, I couldn’t. I was just so slow. My legs were so tired. That lactic acid burned and built up after every step. We went in a mile or two slow and I said, let me crash for 20 min. Give me a 20-minute power nap and see if that makes a difference. That’s when you saw the picture where I was face down trying to sleep on the trail. I was only down for 20 minutes on the trail that time and Belz was like, “Okay Carl. It’s 20 minutes.” I was like, “All right.” I got up. The same thing. It was just like I had nothing in the tank!

It was like going on empty. I finally get the van. Five hours for 10 miles which is ridiculously slow. I got to the van and I was like, “I need to sleep.” I just walked there and I went right down. Sheryl was there and my dad was a little like, “You know you can’t do that.” I’m like, “Well, I’m sleeping for two hours.” This is when I was the ultimate jerk. I won the award for the ultimate jerk. I was just like, “No. I’m not going anywhere. I’m sleeping. Leave me alone.”

Two hours. I slept for a while and, did that help me? I guess it helped me a little bit in terms of waking up and having a little more energy. But we were kind of milling around the van and stuff like that and I was just really frustrated. Obviously didn’t have a pack while I was sleeping and stuff like that. I just kind of got up and I just walked off. I was mad. I just kind of walked off and got on the trail and l said, “Don’t give up.” I told myself, “Don’t give up yet.” I just got on the trail I started walking south… my crew never saw me leave.

Ian: I know. I can imagine them going to look for you and suddenly you’ve disappeared and then they have no idea where you are. You’re somewhere down the trail of course. Then they are rushing packing things away to go and meet you at the next stop.

Karl: I expected someone to come behind and say, “Hey, wait. Where are, you going?” But I kept looking back and, “No.” I walked about a mile and a half or something like that and I saw a couple of other hikers. I said, “Hey you guys. If you see people down the trail, if they’re looking for a Speedgoat. Tell them, I am on the trail.” Then another mile or two went by and Sheryl came running backwards towards me. It was a short section. It was like five and a half miles or something.

She came running backward. She just gave me some water. I didn’t need water or anything. She gave me some stuff and I just kept walking to the next stop and then I consumed a massive pint of ice cream. Still frustrated and all that but I got my craft together a little bit and put my pack on and I walked those seven miles. That’s when Dave Horton showed up again and was saying to me, “You got to keep going. You’re still in it. The foods are in front of you. You still have it, Karl.”

He was trying to inspire me to do another seven or eight miles. He was like, “You’ve done the seven or eight. You’re still three miles ahead!” I’m like, “What dude? I need to sleep.” I had to the stop and I decided that I would be better off sleeping instead of trying to push seven more miles and get there in the dark. I need to sleep. I knew that if I slept eight hours I’d be much better tomorrow. That’s what I did and then obviously, you know things turned back in my favour again.

Ian: Yes.

Karl: It’s funny, I had one day where I was just so tired that I just walked into the van and “boom”. Then I went down for three hours. A lot of it is in your head but at the same time, I just felt like I had to do that. Again, I wasn’t out of it because I heard I was a little bit ahead over general. I wasn’t out of the game yet.

Ian: It brings up so many questions. But let’s think back to your last attempt when you failed. We’ve discussed that in-depth and one of the things that seem to be far more significant about the failure last time was probably not so much your physical self, but more to do with your mental self and the fact that your crew weren’t quite doing what you needed. Now you obviously learned from that process. You got to witness Scott last year and we discussed in the build-up to this attempt and questioned, did you have the grit? Did you have the blinkers? Where you prepared to go back out when you were tired? Was your crew going to be nailing it?

It’s just unequivocal yes to all those points this time around, isn’t it? You knew what had to be done. But also, what is so important is that Eric and Senior and Sheryl just seemed to be so on the ball – making sure that you had what you need. They were there for you. I know that you’ll give them credit. But we know how hard it is to follow somebody for 40 days on the trail with minimal sleep, looking after you, finding you, feeding you, packing up, breaking down. It’s just an incredible challenge.

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Karl: Well, they stayed positive all the time. That was the whole thing. Instead of arguing or not, not giving me grief about being a jerk or something like that. It rubbed off me. The positive parts rubbed off me. Why aren’t they yelling back at me? Sheryl and I had a few conversations that weren’t so pleasant. But at the same time, she kept saying, “You’re not out of this yet. You can do this. You can still do this.” I had to believe in that and she helped me believe in that.

Again, they didn’t get negative and kind of walk away. They just said, “Karl, you’re still in it. Don’t give up yet.” I still knew in the back of my head that I was still in it but I never wanted to quit. There’s a lot of time and effort spent on this thing. Not just Redbull, but all the money in support. It’s just one of those things that you must stay positive and it worked. It worked. The crew was amazing. Crew was super important.

Ian: After day 33, I think Eric said it was probably the lowest day of the whole AT experience. It was a day where you covered 23 miles. You physically and mentally were feeling jaded. Day 34 comes around in you’re in Virginia and the calculations are done. That from here on, in its 50-plus mile days to get the record. You go out and you bang out 50 miles as though it’s a normal scenario. It goes back to the amazing highs and lows of being out on the trail. Do you think that 50-plus mile day was the Karl Meltzer determination, or was it the fact that day 33 was a shorter day, and you got more rest and you managed to get out there and kick trail butt?

Karl: A combination of both. I just said to myself after Sheryl locked me out that morning the dark and it wasn’t so good for a little while but I kind of turned the switch on of being happier Karl again. I tried to not being mean Karl. It just said, “All right Karl, turn the switch on. What are you doing? Get your shit together?” I just sort of did and I came into a happier place and then it just turned back to good old Karl on the trail. It was amazing.

Ian: Okay. Then at this point Scott is joining you on the trail?

Karl: A little later. I think a little bit later maybe he joined me. Somewhere like day 37 or something like that.

Ian: Okay, so, talk me through from, say, day 36 because this is the point where I wrote on my website that you could smell the barn, and I know that I was probably a little bit premature with you smelling the barn…

Karl: Just a little, yes, but that’s okay.

Ian: But you knew what I meant in writing that. At that point you’re much closer to the goal than you were at the beginning. And although the smell of the barn might be a faint one, it’s there, it’s in your nostrils. And there are no guarantees because there was still a long way to go. But I guess mentally there must’ve been a change for you, and if there was a change, what was that change?

Karl: Well, you’re right, I mean, I smelled a little. I knew if I kept my crap together I could still get it. That feeling came around day 40 or day 41. I was like, “If your body holds up, you can do this” then I knew I could bang out 80-something miles in the last day. That’s when I started to smell the barn, it was probably 40, 41. I was near Smoky Mountain National Park, and that’s when I knew that I kind of had it. And then Scott came in there too, he was amazing, he ran into places to crew for me that other crew couldn’t get to.

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He did whatever to help me, he brought my stuff into camp overnight that one time and that my crew wouldn’t have been able to do. He was inspirational. Whenever we ran together we just were chatting about old times, and the miles went by a lot faster that way too. He made a huge difference. Then he took off one day, he had to go to New York, so he jumped on a plane to New York, came back the next day.

Ian: Brilliant.

Karl: Yes, that was pretty cool. Scott said,” Yes, I’m coming back for sure”, and he made a big difference for sure.

Ian: Yes, certainly on social media Scott’s presence was significant because the community fully realized not only what you were undertaking, but the true nature of the sport. Scott had got the record, you’d been there, you’d helped, and then he was returning that favour even though you were going to potentially break something that he’d worked very hard for. There’s many questions that we could go on and ask about but what was Scott’s demeanor during the attempt? How did he verbally encourage you on the trail, and what hints and tips was he giving you that maybe you knew but maybe you didn’t know?

Karl: Well, clearly, if you would have shown up and Scott was there, you would never know at the time that he held the record and that’s kind of the friend he is, he’s just like — Whatever you need to do, he would take over some logistical stuff. You would never know that I was breaking his record, he was just there to help me, kind of like when I was there to help him. He just did what he needed to do to make me move forward. The funny thing is that on the last day Jenny was like, “Hey, Karl, why don’t you take an eight-hour nap?”

She was just joking around, of course, but it’s just like, “No, Jenny, I want to get it”. But, no, you would never know that he was the guy that held the record because he was just helping me, and that was special, and I felt that from him. He was just like, “I’m just going to do what I need to do”.

Ian: Yes. Day 36, 57 miles. Day 37 was another 50 plus mile a day. Day 38 was 55.6 miles. At this point it looks as though you were cruising. Were you?

Karl: Yes, yes, more or less. Those mileages are basically I needed to get that far, but road logistics had something to do with that too, it was like, “Today you have to do 55 because you can’t stop before that”. Some of those big miles came like that, but I wanted to stay a certain amount ahead of Jen, so that I knew that the last day I’d be safe if I did the 85 miles. So, yes, I was cruising, though, I was still getting done early, I was getting to bed by 8-8:30 PM.

And, yes, it’s just about 15 hours. I get out the door at five o’clock every morning, and I could get those miles in well. It’s hilly down there, but it’s smoother, so you can definitely move better, especially on downhill. You could go a tiny bit faster if it wasn’t so technical, and I was just able to get those miles in, and get to sleep at the same time.

Ian: On day 40 Dave Horton had to leave the trail early but he turned to you at one point, and said, “You can do this. You should quit now if you don’t plan on beating Scott’s record”. Basically, reading between the lines, you’ve got this! Did you feel as though you had this at day 40?

Karl: Yes. I mean, I knew only if my body held up, like I said. Yes, I knew that because, again, the last day I knew I could blow out a lot of miles. And Jen didn’t blow out the last day and nor did Scott. He was just struggling to get there. I had the opportunity, and that was basically by blowing out that last day. I had a 20-mile lead, or whatever you want to call it. So, that gave me the confidence to know that once I started on Saturday morning, I’m going to the end. That’s where I gained all the ground.

Ian: The last day, or the last couple of days lived up to a Meltzer trademark that 100 miles is not that far.

Karl: [laughs]

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Ian: I still find it ridiculously unbelievable that after 40 plus days banging out an average of 40 odd miles a day. That you have the strength, physically and mentally, to bang out what was 88 miles…

Karl: 85.4.

Ian: 85.4. And it was interesting, Karl, because I thought back to our interview just before you went out to the AT, and I said to you, I don’t know if you can remember it, but I said, “Are you prepared? Are you prepared to not sleep in those final days to get it done?”. It just seemed as though everything clicked into place physically and mentally, despite highs and lows. Scott called it his masterpiece. Do you feel as though it’s your masterpiece?

Karl: I don’t know if “Masterpiece” is the best word. I was kind of a mess after 19 days. [laughter] But, it was just his call on it. Scott was kind of a mess too at the end. It was totally, necessarily not a masterpiece either, but to me, I call it more of a stamp. Obviously with a lot of 100 mile wins, this was raising the bar just another time, and to say that I’ve won all these hundreds, and then actually did something bigger and more beyond, winning all those hundreds– It was, in my eyes– It’s sort of a stamp in my career. Will I keep running? Of course, I will.

I’ll keep going, I’m not going to end it, but I have nothing to prove. It feels good to be successful the third time. This time I finally got it done and it makes me feel like I can still do this. I’ll be able to go after the 50 age plus records maybe, in a year and a half or something like that. We’ll see what happens, I don’t know.

Ian: Well, you’ve got the record – 45 days, 22 hours, 38 minutes. I’ve got to ask one question… But you went the opposite way to Scott, and one question that springs to my mind, it sprung to several other people’s minds too, is it two records or is it one record?

Karl: I think it’s two records and I even said it to Scott, it’s different, he finished in a different way. George is smooth to finish; Maine is ridiculously hard. Just think, Comrades has a record up and down, right? Hardrock has a record back-and-forth. In Hardrock it doesn’t recognize it that way but we all know there’s two. I think there’s a north to south bound on the AT for sure.

Ian: Okay, so does that mean that you might have a go the other way?

[laughter]

Karl: Not the right time to ask that question but at the same time I doubt it, I think the fact that I got this one time, that was what I was shooting for and I don’t need to do it again. I would have to have quite the incentive to try again but I don’t think so. The misery is too much, it’s just mentally incredibly tiring. Not so much the physical things, just the misery of every morning getting up at four o’clock and grinding out the day. It’s just ridiculous.

Ian: I cannot even fathom it Karl. Many congratulations on the ‘stamp!’

All images ©redbull ©karlmeltzer unless otherwise stated

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Episode 125 – Zach Miller, Caroline Boller, Samantha Gash

A_GRAVATAR

Episode 125 of Talk Ultra is our Christmas Show – Happy Christmas everyone! We have interviews with Zach Miller, Caroline Boller and Samantha Gash. We also have a review of the year and Niandi Carmont is co-hosting.

00:01:30

RUNNING BEYOND BOOK is travelling the world and of course I recommend it as a great Christmas present… we mentioned in the last show about Running Beyond Event which will take place 3, 4 and 5th March in London, plans are progressing for that… in addition, Niandi and myself will now be in Amsterdam on Feb 3rd, 4th and 5th for a Trails in Motion event and Running Beyond book signing with Mud Sweat and Trails and I will be also going to Sofia in Bulgaria on the 17th, 18th and 19th March for a trail, mountain and Skyrunning expo.

Need a run coach for 2017? Check out coaching with Ian and Niandi HERE

00:18:26 NEWS

Read the REVIEW of 2016 article HERE

00:23:00 INTERVIEW with Caroline Boller

01:30:35 INTERVIEW with Samantha Gash

02:20:45 INTERVIEW with Zach Miller

UP & COMING RACES

Belgium

Wallonia

53 km | 53 kilometers | December 17, 2016 | website

French Guiana

100 Bornes du Père Noël | 100 kilometers | December 16, 2016 | website

Germany

Lower Saxony

  1. Lauf PSV Winterlaufserie 100 KM| 100 kilometers | December 17, 2016 | website
  2. Lauf PSV Winterlaufserie 50 KM| 50 kilometers | December 17, 2016 | website
  3. Lauf PSV Winterlaufserie 100 KM| 100 kilometers | December 18, 2016 | website
  4. Lauf PSV Winterlaufserie 50 KM| 50 kilometers | December 18, 2016 | website

USA

California

Woodside Ramble 50K | 50 kilometers | December 17, 2016 | website

Florida

Ancient Oaks 100 Mile Race | 100 miles | December 17, 2016 | website

Indiana

HUFF 50K Trail Run | 50 kilometers | December 17, 2016 | website

Ohio

First Day of Winter 50K | 50 kilometers | December 18, 2016 | website

Tennessee

Lookout Mountain 50 Mile Trail Race | 50 miles | December 17, 2016 | website

Texas

50K | 50 kilometers | December 16, 2016 | website

Houston Running Festival 100K | 100 kilometers | December 17, 2016 | website

Houston Running Festival 100 Mile | 100 miles | December 17, 2016 | website

Houston Running Festival 50K | 50 kilometers | December 17, 2016 | website

Houston Running Festival 50 Mile | 50 miles | December 17, 2016 | website

Virginia

Seashore Nature Trail 50K | 50 kilometers | December 17, 2016 | website

 

03:30:00 Close

03:34:18

ITunes http://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/talk-ultra/id497318073

Stitcher You can listen on iOS HEREAndroid HERE or via a web player HERE

Libsyn – feed://talkultra.libsyn.com/rss

Website – talkultra.com

Multi-Day Running in a Rainforest – Hint ‘n’ Tips

©iancorless.com_TCC2016-3069Multi-day racing brings many challenges and variables not only in the terrain that you can and will encounter but also how one journeys from day-to-day. For example, the Marathon des Sables is a multi-day race that requires self-sufficiency, the only exception comes with water, provided by the race but rationed and the provision of a ‘bivouac’ which provides basic cover which must be shared with seven others. It’s why the ‘MDS’ has become THE multi-day race to do. It strips the runner back to basics.

The Coastal Challenge with takes place in Costa Rica, by general consensus, provides a more challenging course than its desert counter part, however, there is no self-sufficiency.

Don’t be fooled though, the race throws many a challenge at participants and below we provide ‘Hints-n-Tips’ that will make a journey into the rainforests of Costa Rica not only more enjoyable but more successful.

What is The Coastal Challenge?

The race is a multi-day journey that travels from Quepos to Drake Bay over five days and the sixth day is a loop around the Corcovado. Distances are as follows:

  1. 32km (917m+)
  2. 44.6km (1788m+)
  3. 38km (1811m+)
  4. 35km (2054m+)
  5. 52km (1822m+)
  6. 23km (584m+)

Is the race harder than Marathon des Sables?

To provide an ambiguous answer – yes and no!

NO:

  • The race is not self-sufficient and therefore runners only need to run with a small pack with essentials and water.
  • Aid stations are provided with some food and therefore the need to carry anything heavy is minimal but one should think about personal needs, tastes and requirements.
  • You take your own tent (or hire one from the race) and therefore you have your own space to sleep and recover.
  • You have a bag or box that is transported each day to the finish of each stage and therefore you can have fresh clothes, shoes, medical supplies, food etc at your disposal.
  • Food is provided in  the morning, post run and in the evening – you can pretty much eat as much as you like.
  • Many of the campsites are in amazing locations and some local amenities are available, for example, you can have a beer or a cold drink most evenings.
  • The ‘long day’ is not as long as MDS.

YES:

  • The terrain is very varied and at times brutal, you need to be able to handle technical terrain.
  • The course has many 1000’s of meters elevation and descent.
  • Fire trails connect the forest, beach and technical sections which are hard on the legs.
  • Beach sections are long and physically exhausting and mentally tiring.
  • The heat is relentless.
  • The humidity is 75% + and you will sweat, sweat and sweat.
  • Your feet will be in and out of water everyday.
  • The long day is not as long as MDS but at 52km with 1800m+ of vertical over very technical terrain with relentless heat and humidity, it is more than enough of a challenge.

How does one achieve success at TCC?

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KIT:

Bag/ Storage:

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Within reason you can take as much kit as you need as this is transported daily by the race. The race organisation ask that you use ‘Action Packer’ boxes for a couple of reasons: 1. They are waterproof. 2. They are easy for the race to transport as they pack together and are durable. However, from a UK or Europe perspective they are a nightmare to travel with and are troublesome. I recommend *The North Face Base Camp Bag Duffle (here), an Overboard Waterproof Bag (here) or an Ortlieb Waterproof Bag (here). Waterproof is important as you ae going to a rainforest and you do stand the chance of rain on at least one day. You can of course use individual waterproof bags inside to separate and itemise clothing, equipment and so on. *The TNF is not 100% waterproof but I have used it and had no problems.

Clothing:

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You have a bag that can carry all your kit, so, take 6-8 sets of clothing. It’s really simple, you run in one set of clothing and at the end of the day you freshen up and change into the next days run clothing (which you can sleep in). You can of course add some additional casual clothing if required.

©iancorless.com_TCC2016-9808Make sure clothing is breathable, comfortable and I recommend that tops cover your shoulders as this can be a problem area in such intense heat and sun. You will need a hat without a doubt and some prefer to run with a hat that has protection that comes over the back of the neck. Ladies – just a word of warning on ‘strappy’ tops, they expose more of your skin and you end up with some crazy sun tan.

Feet:

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Not looking after your feet is one of the main reasons (in addition to dehydration) why you will not finish the race. Feet will get wet everyday and you will run on all sorts of varied terrain from gravel fire trail to technical and rocky boulder sections. Your ankles will be twisted and your feet can feel pretty beat up. Obviously you can take advantage of having more than one pair of shoes, I would definitely take two pairs and ideally three. Maybe you could take one pair a 1/2 size larger as a ‘just in case!’

©iancorless.com_TCC2016-9973Think about the fit of your shoe. Forget the advice about going a size larger, for me, this is just bad advice. A shoe that is too big will allow your foot to move, a moving foot causes friction, friction causes blisters – the rest is a horror story and believe me, I have seen some horror stories at TCC. You need a thumb nail of space above your big toe, no more! Of course I provide generic advice here and should YOU know you need something different from experience, trust your instinct. Because the trail is often technical, you need a shoe that can handle a multitude of surfaces that includes rocks, gravel, sand, wet rock and so on. You need trail shoes! Consider your gait, the amount of drop you prefer and how much cushioning.

©iancorless.com_TCC2016-0044Only you know this and nobody can tell you which shoe to use. Also considerer that a shoe needs to be breathable – your feet will get very hot but more importantly your feet will be in and out of water. A shoe that drains water is essential. As an example, Scott Kinabalu (here) has drainage holes that allows water to escape, inov-8 are also making a shoe called ‘Chill’ which is designed for hot weather (here). Some runners like to tape their feet to protect them, if that is the case with you, do that in training so that you understand how that impacts on what size of shoe you require.

©iancorless.com_TCC2016-6245Good socks are essential and in four years of running and working at TCC I have always worn Injinji and never had one blister! Take a fresh pair for each day. Finally, the TCC does have one or two foot doctors who will look after you should a problem happen, my advice, avoid the problems by understanding your needs before arriving in Costa Rica.

Tent:

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The race can provide a tent for you which you can hire, however, I prefer to take my own. The most important thing with your tent is that it must pitch ‘inner’ only. The reason for this is that it’s hot, really hot, and therefore you want as much air-flow as possible. An inner tent with lots of mesh is ideal too. You also don’t really need to worry about the size, I don’t recommend bringing a huge tent but I also don’t recommend bringing a tiny tent. Although I recommend an inner pitch tent, please bring the fly sheet that makes it waterproof – it is a rainforest remember! You can just throw the fly sheet over if required.

Equipment:

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Unlike other multi-day races, what you require whilst on the trail is quite minimal. I recommend a ‘vest’ like pack that can hold bottles, bladder or bottles and bladder. You will drink lots and lots and over the years I have found that having a bladder and two bottles takes some of the worry away from drinking. At times, aid stations can be very far apart, you don’t want to be without water! I would take a simple first aid kit, a whistle (just in case), purification tablets, phone, pocketknife, cash and some sun cream. In past editions, some runners have taken a ‘Spot’ tracker or similar. Poles at times will be useful, it depends if you are a racer or a completer. Importantly, should you take poles, make sure they fold, make sure you can store them quickly and make sure you know how to use them. I would bring your favourite run snacks (gels, bars or whatever) and think what you will need for six days. I have mentioned clothing and shoes, no need to compromise, so don’t! Think about toiletries, medical supplies and personal items that will make your journey in the rainforests better – for example an iPod. You will not need a sleeping bag, it’s too hot, however, I do recommend that you bring a sleeping bag liner, it can often get just a little chilly around 2 or 3am. Pretty much everyone sleeps in run clothing. Bring a sleeping matt and one that provides good comfort, some campsites are rocky!

Hydration:

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Think you have already understood that it’s hot, very hot. You will sweat immediately and you will sweat all day. This places unique demands on you and you will need to keep hydrated. I have already mentioned about carrying enough liquid – make sure you do! I would normally recommend drinking to thirst, but here, I would drink every 10-15min and keep that going. Electrolytes are a constant debating point, particularly with Tim Noakes ‘Waterlogged’ book. However, you will need to replace salts and how you do that will depend on you and your needs.

©iancorless.com_TCC2016-7175The course has constant possibilities for you to submerge yourself in water and reduce your core temperature – do so, it’s essential! Never pass an opportunity. Just 2-3 minutes fully submerged will allow you to continue on feeling refreshed. Never run in the sun when you can run in the shade and cover up your head and shoulders.

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Top Tips:

  • Day 1 starts with 10km of good running. Everyone starts out way too fast and ironically, day 1 at TCC has the most drop outs through exhaustion and dehydration. Start slow! Ease into the race and without doubt, if possible, get some heat acclimatisation before coming out to costa Rica. Day 1 also starts much later than every other day, so, the shock is magnified!
  • From day 2 you will start running with sunrise, take advantage of the cooler hours but don’t go out running hard like a wild animal. You will pay for it.
  • Feeling tired? Run in the shade, walk in the sun.
  • Poles are a benefit at times and I would certainly bring them so you can make a choice whilst at the race.
  • Understand that this is a technical race with very varied terrain, lots of climbing and lots of descending. Practice this and prepare both physically and mentally.
  • Learn to walk – everyone will walk at some stage.
  • Take advantage of every possibility to submerge yourself in pools, rivers, ponds etc.
  • Use a buff or similar product and keep that wet and cool.
  • Pour water over your head regularly to avoid over-heating.
  • Use a hat.
  • Flowing water is often drinkable but be careful, I take water purification tablets as a precaution.
  • Never pass a feed staton without filling bottles/ bladder.
  • Think of your own food needs and diet requirements.
  • The course is exceptionally well marked and be attentive, it’s easy to pass a marker when you have your head down. Not seen a marker in 5-minutes? Chances are you have gone the wrong way.
  • Wildlife will surround you and the reality is that you will not see any of it as the animals are too frightened of you. However, you will hear lots of noises, that is part of the fun! You stand a good chance of seeing monkeys, maybe a snake, spiders and birds.
  • Calf guards or compression may be a good idea on some of the more technical sections, however, I prefer the airflow to keep cooler.
  • When back in camp after a day running, take shoes off first and put some flip-flops on and let your feet breathe. Check for any irruption and blisters and get that seen to asap.
  • Have a shower and freshen up, get some fresh clothes on.
  • Eat and hydrate.
  • Take a nap and elevate your legs.
  • Masseurs are available at a charge (tbc).
  • Evenings are very social and you will be able to relax and bond with fellow runners. However, you do have your own personal tent, so, you can escape and have quiet time if you wish.

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Check List:

  • Waterproof bag or box
  • 2/3 pairs run shoes
  • Run apparel for 6 days
  • Casual clothing
  • Tent that pitches inner only but bring fly sheet
  • Head torch/ tent light
  • Sleeping bag liner
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Travel towel
  • Phone
  • Knife
  • Electrolytes
  • Food for running
  • Whistle
  • Sun cream
  • Medical kit and medication
  • Cash
  • Credit card
  • Poles
  • Gaiters
  • iPod
  • Rope to make a washing line
  • Pegs

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Finally:

Running a multi-day race is an experience and something to cherish. Look around and take advantage of what is a stunning environment. Accept now that this race will challenge you and that it will be tough. Get your head in the right place. Prepare as best you can for heat, humidity, technical running, climbing and descending, if you come prepared, the race will be so much easier.

I always provide impartial advice based on my experiences and knowledge. However, I do accept that I don’t always know or understand what ladies require at a multi-day race. Niandi Carmont has run the shorter Adventure Race and the full distance race at TCC and she provides here a little additional advice for female competitors:

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You might be spending a significant part of your day out on the course but it is always nice to have something clean and light to change into other than run kit. Since you don’t have to transport this, think about light cotton sundresses you can change into after your shower at the end of the daily stage. It will be boiling hot and humid in the evenings so no point bringing anything warm.

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Flip flops are a must. Bring a good quality pair that won’t break the first day in camp. Your feet will swell up and will have macerated in run shoes the whole day. They will have taken a pounding and thank you for allowing them to breathe a few hours. Also I recommend taking showers with flip flops as the showers won’t be sparkling clean and this will reduce the risk of catching anything like athlete’s foot or plantar warts which are highly contagious and prevalent amongst ultra-runners.

Bring a 2-piece swimsuit – there will opportunities to bathe in rivers or the sea at the end of the day.

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I suggest a very, very light negligee to slip into in your tent if you don’t like sleeping in the nude as you will be sweating and no doubt not be using your sleeping back or liner. Temperatures hardly drop at night and it remains humid.

Don’t economise on sun cream – bring a spray, high SPF type, which is non-greasy. Don’t forget you will be sweating a lot in the high humidity so this will have to be applied regularly on the course. Carry a small tube (Tingerlaat (here) do a tiny tube with SPF 50). Take a small tube of anti-chafing cream or gel (Gurney Goo do small tubes) in your pack too. With the high humidity and being constantly wet, running through water even runners who don’t usually suffer from chafing will find this an issue. Apply beneath your sports bra and inner lining of run shorts.

I would recommend against running in ‘skorts’ as you will be constantly sweating and trying to cool off in rock pools to keep your body temperature down. The skirt part will just weigh you down with water. Bring single-layered run shorts or short breathable tights. You will probably suffer less from chafing too with tights.

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Hair conditioner is an absolute must as you will be showering every day and if you don’t want to end up with damaged, straw-like hair or knots, bring a good conditioner. I have had plenty of experiences of leaking bottles of haircare products so I take enough L’Oréal sachets which pack very well and are single use.

Don’t wear rings! Your fingers are going to swell up through heat and some dehydration – so leave the solitaire at home. You will just have to put up with the unsightliness of sausage-finger syndrome for a while.

Bring waterproof zip-locks for cash and toilet paper to carry with you on the daily stages as you will be running through a lot of water and believe me you will be happy to buy an ice cold coke some days on the course. Also make sure your mobile phone is in a waterproof casing/bag or don’t take it with you on the river sections.

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