The Casual Champion - Page 2
His eyes, shadowed under the cap's bill, sit deeply in sockets over sharply defined cheekbones and a sharp jaw line. His body stands relaxed, almost Jell-o-like. But his handshake cinches firmly around mine like a pair of tightly laced LaSportivas.
As I follow him inside, I mentally recall Meltzer's running resume; a laundry list of wins and records at the planet's most physically pounding 100 milers (see sidebar). Since 1990, Meltzer has won 24 of them. He owns the all-time record— 88:53, yep, 88 hours—for the Rocky Mountain Slam (cumulative time for running the Hardrock, Leadville Trail, The Bear and Wasatch Front 100-milers in the same summer). The next-closest Slam time is six hours slower.
Ian Torrence, a 35-year-old veteran of many mountain ultramarathons, who has known Meltzer for 10 years, says, "He is very matter-of-fact in his approach. He says things like, `Just drive the truck to the race, run 100 miles and drive home.'"
Meltzer outruns others in big mountain races in such a low-key way that it seems as habitual as scratching one's back. After winning the 2006 Wasatch Front 100 in Utah, he spent the day kicking back with a cold one, in the shade of a tree, as the race's last athletes completed the course 15 hours after he did. That's Karl. Win a race and hang out.
Nikki Kimball, arguably the modern-day female equivalent of Meltzer in terms of earth-shattering 100-mile wins, says, "He's just a mellow guy."
Photo by David Clifford
Growing up in Auburn, New Hampshire, Meltzer was an outdoors kid.
"We always skied," says his 65-year-old dad, also named Karl. "I took him to the mountains and you can say he never left."
And the seeds for his endurance were also planted early. At age 12, Meltzer and his dad tackled an epic bike ride, looping six days and 540 miles through Vermont and New Hampshire. "One day we rode all through the rain," says Karl. "We were like two drowned rats."
In high school Meltzer ran track and cross country, winning the Class L state championship in the 5K cross-country event. At 15, he ran the punishing Mount Washington Road Race, a 7.6-mile run up New England's highest peak. Here, Meltzer showed hints of his future mountain prowess, covering the race's 4650 vertical feet and 11-percent average incline in an under-19 age-group record of 67:45. "That record still stands," says Meltzer, proudly, 25 years later.