Mark Richtman: Professional Without the Paycheck

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By Ethan Veneklasen

When you meet Marin County’s Mark Richtman, it’s hard to believe that he’s 60 years old. Despite his longish graying hair, his stride is fluid and he remains a fierce ultra competitor. “When I show up at the starting line, my friends know I am there to race,” he says. Richtman is so fast that, after competing in ultras for more than 20 years, he’s still putting up results that most would consider on the verge of elite.

The last few years have seen Marin County emerge as a hotbed of activity for elite ultrarunners. However, while Alex Varner, Dylan Bowman and Jorge Maravilla were still in short pants, Mark Richtman was consistently at the front of classic races like the Way Too Cool 50K, American River 50 and Miwok 100K.

Since turning 60 in March of 2015, Richtman has proven that age is just a number. He notched an impressive 30th place (and a 7:52 age-group course record) at the competitive Lake Sonoma 50 and, three weeks later, followed it up with 8th place (and a 10:10 age-group course record) at the Miwok 100K.

A recently retired mechanical designer, Richtman jokes that he is now “living the life of a professional runner, just without the paycheck.” The HOKA ONE ONE Ambassador now has more time to attend to the little things. He’s doing yoga three days a week and feels like he is running more smoothly and efficiently than ever.

While he is philosophical about his running, his recipe for success and longevity is simple. He:

  • Runs 85-90 miles a week, exclusively on trails,
  • Dedicates one day a week to speed work on the track,
  • Alternates workout days with recovery days (5-9 miles on flat trails with “no attention to pace”),
  • Makes sure to rest and recuperate, taking a month off every year and
  • Races sparingly, typically only 4-5 times per year.

As one of 12 children, growing up in St. Paul, MN, Richtman always enjoyed running. In elementary school, he challenged his classmates to see who could run the farthest during lunch. One year, on a cold Minnesota New Year’s Eve, he ran around the block barefoot, just to prove that he could. As a high school student, Richtman ran track, played soccer and eventually started running cross country, where he “got hooked on the trails.”
At the age of 23, he visited California on a vacation. He liked it so much that he found a job and never left.

He was exposed to the ultra scene through the sport of ride-and-tie. In ride-and-tie events, three team members (two humans and one horse) cover a 20-100 mile cross-country course, alternating between riding and running. He and his teammate Tom Johnson (3-time Western States 100 winner) were a dominant force in the sport for many years.

In 2002, at the age of 47, Richtman ran his first 100-miler at the iconic Western States Endurance Run, finishing in an impressive 3rd place with a time of 17:59.

This year, Richtman set his sights on the Western States 100 age group record for men aged 60-69 (currently 20:28, held by Roger Dellor). However, the notoriously competitive lottery has made it increasingly difficult for older runners to make a run at age-group records. “Age group records simply don’t work with a lottery, especially for the older age groups,” comments Richtman. He’d like to see a system in which masters runners can run their way into Western States, much like elite runners can through the Montrail Ultra Cup.

Not to be deterred, Richtman has an ambitious plan B. He’s hoping to win some National Championships and would like to take on the long-standing American Record for 50 miles on the road (there are no records maintained for trail races).

On May 31, Richtman ran the USATF 50 Mile Trail Championships in Ithaca, NY, where he took on the challenging and wet Cayuga trails and beat all others in his 60-year age group, as well as all of the 50-year olds. And, well actually, all of the 40-year old entrants too. At the 60-year old level he set a new course record by over an hour.

In August, Richtman will be back on his home course in the Marin Headlands for the USATF 50K Championships. If all goes well, he hopes to travel to Green Bay, WI, to take a shot at the American Record (6:39, Bernd Heinrich) for 50 miles on the road at the Fall 50 in Door County on October 24, venue for the USATF 50 mile road championship.

“Running is a lifestyle for me… it’s not just my hobby,” comments Richtman. “I can’t imagine not running. I could stop racing, but not running.” With results that would make most 30 year olds jealous, Richtman doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

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