The phone rang and on the other line was John Medinger. “Hey Karl, so we’re thinking about selling the magazine and this is my first call. What do you think?” It was April 2013 and I was sitting in my office, looking forward to how I would spend the next year – not working. After 17 tumultuous but great years in the hotel business I was exiting and my last day was May 1. As a goal-setter, my only plan was to not work.
Author Karl Hoagland
Training for ultramarathons is hard work. It requires a huge commitment of time and energy to prepare yourself to run – maybe even race – up to 100 miles. Fifty-mile training weeks, punctuated with at least one long run of 20 or more miles, are the staple of the ultrarunner.
Transporting your body on foot for 100 miles in one go seems like an intensely personal and individual experience. And in many ways it is – only you can cover the miles, one step at a time. The physical pain and mental anguish experienced along the way taps you into your inner stuff unlike anything else.
But ironically it is during such a deep dive inside that I have felt more connected to others than at any other time in life.
Time stops for none of us, and that is especially true in the sport of ultrarunning. Whether it is Wally Hesseltine trying to finish the last 300 yards of Western States in under one minute so he could become the oldest finisher at age 73, or Jim Walmsley trying to win and set records on the biggest stages at age 27, we all have windows that come and go.
My dad retired in his late fifties and has been having the time of his life for the past few decades. He turns 85 this year and is still doing his thing – playing tennis, hunting all sorts of birds and doing real yard work. He loves to play games – especially bridge and gin rummy.
Mistakes are gifts. When we screw up or face big setbacks, we can learn from those experiences and reset our resolve to achieve goals and live the life we want. Behind every successful and happy person are many big mistakes and failures. The mistakes themselves don’t really matter. It’s what you do with them that makes all the difference.
Recently my wife Erika gave birth to our daughter, Evelyn Rose. There is no way to fully describe the feeling and process of a new person coming to life. It is intense, transformative and beautiful. In my experience the world is always made better with the arrival of well-loved babies.
Jim Walmsley is the male Ultra Runner of the Year for 2017. In winning the UROY for the second straight year, Walmsley excited many with his “go big or go home” style of racing. He set course records in winning the Tarawera 100K in New Zealand, the Gorge Waterfalls 100K in Oregon and the Speedgoat 50K in Utah. He suffered a DNF at Western States after surrendering a large lead with stomach issues at mile 70. At UTMB he was in or tied for the lead for 65 miles before experiencing an epic bonk and sliding to seventh place, eventually recovering in the late stages to finish fifth. The former Air Force Academy track standout lives in Flagstaff, Arizona.
This issue of UltraRunning is a new one – it is a “double issue” that combines both December and January. Previously we had a December issue that was followed by our big blast double issue – January/February with Ultrarunner of the Year (UROY) and Year-end statistics. But timing and logistics made it extremely difficult to complete the UROY voting process, tally all the year’s races and prepare an entertaining magazine by the January deadline.
Covering a lot of distance on foot is what ultrarunning is all about. And one of the best ways to do it is to just set aside a full day and pick an audacious route that traverses beautiful natural places.
Recently some friends and I did just that – the fabled Rim to Rim to Rim of the Grand Canyon.
If you’re reading this you probably love ultrarunning. The challenge, the fitness, the lifestyle. But as with everything, even good things, there are issues. And in ultrarunning we gots plenty: Long-odds lotteries for race entry, access to public lands, commercialization of the sport, gender equality, performance enhancing drugs, overtraining syndrome/burnout, too much growth, loss of culture, escalating costs of participation, central organizing bodies over-reaching and under-committing – the list goes on and on.
Without trails our sport would not exist. Sure there are road ultras and many “trail” ultras entail portions along fireroads, tow paths, running tracks and, gasp, even pavement. But if you look at the most popular and iconic ultras, they all include some epic trails. So yes, we need them.
Many comparisons have been made to modern-day ultrarunners and the Pioneers who crossed the continent in covered wagons back in the 1840s and 1850s. The Pioneers risked everything and took on a massively arduous 2,000-mile trek, often for a dream or nebulous “better life” out west. As with ultrarunners, a common question from onlookers was: “why?”
Let’s face it, ultrarunning is a really difficult activity. It requires a huge time and lifestyle commitment. But many people are attracted, like moths to flame, to the opportunity to do something epic. And often once they do a few ultras they realize there is a steep learning curve and they achieve faster, and faster, times. Soon, they are pulled into the drive to reach their highest potential by racing ultras – they are all-in.
We recently conducted a reader survey and received almost 1,000 responses – thank you for your feedback. The positive comments were encouraging and nice to hear. Over 98% of respondents said UltraRunning Magazine is interesting, informative, trustworthy and reliable. Roughly 95% believe UR provides unique content and useful information.
Most ultrarunners are fueled by a desire to push their limits and explore the boundaries of what is possible. They are drawn to training for and completing ultras because they want to challenge themselves and achieve big goals. The process of committing, training and executing on race day consumes, and ultimately defines, the ultrarunner’s life. The experience and satisfaction of knowing you put everything on the line in an epic test, is what endures.
With the increasing popularity of Fastest Known Times and the completion of more and more epic feats of human endurance, we thought it was time to properly recognize and honor this portion of the ultrarunning community. As with the Ultrarunners of the Year (UROY) process, which is led by John Medinger, we are fortunate to have an icon of the sport oversee and conduct this process for FKTs, Buzz Burrell.
We hadn’t attended the Western States lottery in a few years and I was not expecting the spectacle that was ahead of us that morning in the packed auditorium at Placer High School in Auburn, California. I knew it would be flawlessly conducted, high energy and even entertaining.
But to be honest, I had forgotten how life-changing ultramarathons can be in people’s lives, and the visceral emotions that are unleashed when someone’s name is chosen.
Rarely in ultrarunning do you see the word “phenom” used to describe the sport’s best runners. But in 2016 the sport was taken over by the phenomenal record-smashing performances of Jim Walmsley. The 26 year-old from Flagstaff, Arizona kicked off the year with a dominant win and course-record at the Black Canyon 100K, and from there he seemingly never took his foot off the gas pedal. With his Western States Golden Ticket in hand, Walmsley continued to race – and set records – at some of the most competitive ultras, including the Lake Sonoma 50-miler in April.
At age 30 Lickteig reached the pinnacle of the sport with a dominating win at the Western States 100- posting the third fastest time in the venerable event’s 40+ year history – and on one of the hottest days on record. Before and after that huge win last year, Lickteig won six other ultras (including three overall wins) and placed second at the highly competitive Lake Sonoma 50-miler in April.
Editor’s note: I was recently chatting with my teenage daughter about how our days were going – I told her that I was interviewing an ultrarunner who had recently broken a 26-year-old epic record. “Oh really, what race?” she asked. “A 3,000-miler starting in San Francisco and ending in New York City. He ran across the country, doing over 70 miles a day, every day, breaking the record by four days.” Her reply: “Damn, son!” There really are no words to describe the enormity of Pete Kostelnick’s accomplishment, but these two seem to resonate.
As Tropical John Medinger astutely observed, ultrarunning is a hard sport for everyone – back of the pack, middle of the pack and those at the front – and it is this shared experience of suffering that brings all ultrarunners together and makes our sport so special. This sense of connectedness is what keeps the first finishers of an ultra cheering for the last finishers, and it’s what makes our community so strong.
On Sunday, September 18 at 3:38 a.m. Karl Meltzer emerged from the trail at the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain, Georgia after departing Mt. Katahdin in Maine on August 3 at 5 a.m. After 2,190 miles he bagged his biggest ultramarathon win. The winningest 100-mile racer in the history of our sport, with 38 victories at the distance, had failed in two previous attempts at the AT FKT. But at 48 years young, the third time was a charm.
Ultrarunners’ feet take a pounding like no others’. They are the workhorses that allow us to do what we do. But too often, we take them for granted until something goes south down there – usually during a big race. It’s only then that we remember just how crucial their health and happiness is to our ability to perform and get it done mile after mile.
In modern society, with ubiquitous technology making life easier, and media streaming all forms of drama and entertainment 24/7, the opportunity and inclination for us as individuals to do something truly epic is becoming scarcer all the time. In fact recent surveys indicate that Americans average over 10 hours in front of an electronic screen every day
Toeing the line and completing an ultramarathon is a huge accomplishment. But racing an ultra is an entirely different proposition. Both are wonderful and life changing endeavors, but since this is our racing-themed issue, we want to give props to the serious racers out there. We’re not just talking about the elites; we’re talking about anyone trying for their own personal maximum footspeed over a mappable distance.
Eric Byrnes is a former professional baseball player who recently turned his athletic focus to endurance sports and ultrarunning. Byrnes was not just any ballplayer; in his 10-year career from 2000 to 2010, he hit over 100 homeruns and stole over 100 bases. In fact, he is one of only 10 major leaguers to ever hit over 20 homers and steal 50 bases in the same season.