Published on: 05/09/2023
Karl Meltzer is one of the most unique, iconic ultrarunners on the scene. He became known internationally for his multiple 100-mile wins: as far as stats tell, he’s won more than any other recorded runner. He made an even bigger name for himself by setting Fastest Known Time (FKT) records on hugely popular routes like the Appalachian Trail.
Beyond the speed records, the race wins, and the name behind the Hoka Speedgoat shoes, who is Karl Meltzer (1)? How did he become one of the biggest names in ultrarunning? Read on to find out everything about this legend’s evolution, his competition and FKT record, the races his runs, and more.
Before setting trail records and winning races, Meltzer started out running cross country and track and field in high school. However, by the time he moved to Utah in 1989, his dream was to become a “ski bum.” He ended up staying throughout the summer, experiencing a new lifestyle with running. As he puts it, he turned into a “running bum” (2) from 1990 instead.
Continuing to ski in winter must have set him up to be in great shape despite deciding to change his athletic focus. Over the following 7 years, Meltzer built his fitness and experience, soon becoming focused on the Pikes Peak Marathon (3) and the Wasatch 100 (4).
His first 100-mile win would come at Wasatch 100 in 1998, and as they say, “the rest is history.”
How Did Karl Become the Speedgoat?
The name “Speedgoat” is synonymous with Karl Meltzer in the United States. While the association with the ultrarunner is less obvious outside the US, it’s a well-deserved accolade to represent not just Meltzer’s continuously excellent performances in ultrarunning, but also his ability to excel in tough, mountainous terrains.
Meltzer’s race record includes some of the most popular American ultras, showing a good breadth of ultra distances and difficulty levels. From the very runnable, yet hot, Javelina Jundred 100 Miler (5), which he’s won once and placed 6th at once, to gnarly, high-altitude trails like the Hardrock Hundred (6), he’s done it (and won it) all.
Moreover, Meltzer held the speed record for one of the best-known American through-hikes, the Appalachian Trail. He became a huge name on the ultra endurance scene in the 2000s and he has continued to show amazing talent and grit to keep winning races well into his 50s.
Karl’s Competition Wins and Records
Meltzer calls himself the “winningest 100 mile runner on Earth.” He’s probably not wrong, despite the ever growing nature of ultrarunning as a sport. Completing a 100 miler used to be a bucket list item for many. Nowadays, more and more runners are finishing them every year. But how many are winning them back to back?
Looking at Karl Meltzer’s competition record, he holds some impressive “all-time” 100 mile wins (meaning he has won the race multiple times, more than anyone else):
- Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run – 5 times;
- Wasatch 100 – 6 times;
- Massannutten 100 – 4 times;
- San Diego 100 – 3 times.
Overall, he has won 46 100-mile races, out of 68 wins in general (numbers vary, between his own Wikipedia page, his bio and Meltzer’s Twitter account). His body seems to be made for withstanding the stress of ultras. Indeed, for 16 years in row he’s been winning at least one 100-miler per year – a world record in itself.
Meltzer’s golden year of running: 2006
2006 was Meltzer’s overwhelmingly best year. He not only obliterated the American 100-mile field winning 6 races, he also received the Ultrarunner of the Year Award, bestowed by Ultrarunning Magazine (7) annually to recognize ultra excellence in the US (he would go on to be runner-up in 2007 and 2009). He also went on to receive the 2006 Everest Award for outdoor sports excellence.
In his review of the 2006 running season (8) for Speedgoat Karl, Andy Jones-Wilkins of irunfar.com looked at how many records and podiums the ultrarunner would break, and reach, respectively, that year. Starting with going sub-24 hours at the HURT100 in Hawaii (setting a speed record of 22:16 which was unbelievable at the time), he had a mixed few months before launching into “one of the most extraordinary two months of ultrarunning ever” – winning Wasatch 100, The Bear 100, the San Diego 100 and the Javelina Jundred.
What propelled him? A curiosity to see how much more he could win, given his assessment of this fantastic season:
“You just never know what might happen, so I just kept it going.”
Appalachian Trail record
In 2016, Meltzer set the record on the Appalachian Trail (AT) – completing 2,190 miles in 45 days, 22 hours 38 minutes. A holy grail of endurance for many runners and hikers alike, the AT record had just been set by another ultra legend, Scott Jurek, in 2015, in 46 days, 11 hours 20 minutes. And it wasn’t the first go that Meltzer had had at it. In fact, he had long dreamed of it and his record breaking fast-hike came on his third and final attempt and was documented by Red Bull in the film, “Made to be Broken” (9).
On Meltzer’s personal page, he lists numerous course records (we’ve mentioned his HURT100 among others), and some interesting other pursuits he’s excelled at. He’s not just an accomplished trail runner, but a golfer too: he set a record of 230 golf holes played in 12 hours.
As of the time of writing, Karl Meltzer has completed 86 ultramarathons out of 96 starts and has also finished 12 trail marathons. He’s now taking it slightly easier, although at the age of 54 in 2022, he won the Blood Rock 100 at a blistering pace, finishing in 25 hours 29 minutes – so he continues to be a force to be reckoned with!
Running shoe manufacturers Hoka One One released the first Speedgoat shoe (10) in 2015 with Karl Meltzer’s personal input. Meltzer was actually the first American runner sponsored by the French brand. They chose well: since their partnership and the shoe’s launch, Speedgoat Karl has come first in at least 9 more 100 milers, always wearing his signature shoe.
The ultra cushioned Speedgoat model, now in its 5th iteration, is one of the best ultra running shoes of all time. Thanks to unbeatable Vibram outsole providing excellent traction, it’s been able to become the go-to shoe for races around the world (not just hard packed dirt trails and rocky American mountains). And there’s a film (11) about Speedgoat Karl and the shoes, too.
The Man Behind the Legend: Personal Life and Beyond
Meltzer might be an extremely accomplished runner and multiple record holder, but he doesn’t exert the same level of control and discipline over his life that we’ve seen from the highly professionalized running scene in recent years. Instead, he recommends a “beer of the week” at the bottom of his interviews with irunfar.com (12): the Natty Light, “about as light as Utah’s powder.”
Rolling With It
His love of beer is linked with his previous life – as a bartender in a ski resort before he started winning races. In his own words (13), “After I won, I figured I’m just going to run as much as I can and work as little as I can.” He has always come across as an easy-going, “just roll with it” kind of guy, which is similar to many of the stars of the sport who rose to fame before the “inflation of running” led to huge demand for every race, the need for qualifying races and lotteries, and an increased commercialization of the sport.
Either way, he is full of stories, anecdotes and witty sayings, never afraid to profess non standard opinions (like his love of bacon) and to speak his mind. His ways with words and with winning races have garnered him a serious following, which he seems to enjoy. Karl says he’s just “a regular guy who likes to run through the woods” – maybe just for longer than most people! He’s also said, on many occasions, that “100 miles is not that far” – it’s all a matter of perspective!
Speedgoat Mountain Races
Nowadays, Meltzer is the race director of the Speedgoat 50k (14), sponsored by Hoka, whose “Speedgoat” shoe range he’s long been the face of. Despite having controversially launched Twitter spats (15) against the UTMB “empire” and the changes this has brought to trail running, the race is now part of the UTMB World Series. Perhaps because of the Hoka sponsorship they now all have in common?
The number varies from source to source. According to Speedgoat Karl’s Twitter bio, he has 46 victories to his name. Add to that speed records in hikes and endurance challenges like the Red Bull Human Express (setting the record for the Pony Express Trail from Sacramento, CA, to St Joseph, MO, 2064 miles, in 40 days, and doing 105 miles on his last day in 19 hours 21 minutes), and you have one of the most impressive trail portfolios on the planet.
Originally, the first Hoka Speedgoat was created in consultation with Karl and designed to be used in the Speedgoat 50k race in Snowbird, UT. The shoe is named after either the man or the race – and forever linked to both.
The Red Bull film following Meltzer’s third and final attempt at breaking the Appalachian Trail record can be watched directly on Red Bull’s website here (16). Depending on your region, you can also find it on streaming services like Vimeo.
Karl Meltzer (retrieved on 05/07/2023)
Karl Meltzer bio (retrieved on 05/07/2023)
Pikes Peak Marathon (retrieved on 05/07/2023)
Wasatch 100 (retrieved on 05/07/2023)
Javelina Jundred 100 Miler (retrieved on 05/07/2023)
Hardrock Hundred (retrieved on 05/07/2023)
Ultrarunning Magazine (retrieved on 05/07/2023)
Karl Meltzer’s 2006 Ultrarunning Season (retrieved on 05/07/2023)
Karl Meltzer: Made to Be Broken (retrieved on 05/07/2023)
Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Hoka Running Shoes (retrieved on 05/07/2023)
HOKA: The Speedgoat (retrieved on 05/07/2023)
Karl Meltzer’s Beer of the Week (retrieved on 05/07/2023)
Karl Meltzer reflects on changes in ultra running (retrieved on 05/07/2023)
Speedgoat 50k (retrieved on 05/07/2023)
Karl Meltzer on Twitter (retrieved on 05/07/2023)
Karl Meltzer: Made to Be Broken (retrieved on 05/07/2023)