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Family Man, Leadman: 5 Questions With Travis Macy

What it takes to compete in 5 high-altitude races in six weeks.

The mild-mannered family man is also a champion endurance athlete. 

If you met him on the street, you’d think Travis Macy was a mild-mannered family man with a warm heart and a big smile. And you’d be right. You wouldn’t know he’s a talented endurance athlete and one heck of a fierce competitor unless you encountered him several hours into one of his numerous ultra-distance feats. The 30-year-old school teacher, endurance coach, motivational speaker, husband and father of two young toddlers from Evergreen, Colo., has been a trail runner, mountain biker, adventure racer and general endurance fiend since he was a teen.

In May, Macy set a new record running 48 miles across Zion National Park (7 hours, 27 minutes, though since-broken). Most recently, he placed 15th in the Leadville Trail 100 run on Aug. 17, an effort that sealed a record-setting victory in the 2013 Leadman competition. What is Leadman? In the span of six weeks, Macy and about 80 other daring competitors raced in five endurance races covering 282.4 miles in 10,000-foot environs of Leadville, Colo., including a trail marathon (3:38:52), 50-mile trail run or 50-mile mountain bike race (4:07:27), 10K trail run (46:03.18), 100-mile mountain bike race (7:32:52) and 100-mile run (20:15:11). Macy’s combined time of 36:20:26 set a new Leadman record, surpassing the mark held briefly by 2013 competitor Bob Africa (36:57:58) and Tim Waggoner’s 2012 record of 37:45:55. We caught up with Travis, who’s the son of notable ultrarunner and adventure racer Mark Macy, to see how he did it.

What were you feeling when you crossed the finish line of the 100-mile run to finish the Leadman competition?

Training for Leadman gives you plenty of time to think about things alone in the woods, and running up Sixth Street into Leadville to finish the Leadville 100 is one of the things I dreamed about. Training over the winter and spring, I imagined crossing the line with my wife, kids, siblings and parents nearby. I also imagined reflecting on my finish there as a homecoming of sorts, given that I crossed the same finish line in 1988 at my dad’s side during his first Leadville 100 finish, and that four other family members have finished it since then. I imagined it being pretty emotional. As it turns out, I got lucky and what happened in real life was pretty similar to what I had dreamed about.

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Bob Africa gave you a pretty good run for your money and actually broke the Leadman record first. Were you aware of how he was doing during the second half of the 100 run?

The whole Leadman series this year was a great race. Bob showed real tenacity; he’s a true competitor. Luke Jay, who I trained with quite a bit, and Marco Peinado, who is a great runner, also made things interesting. After going back and forth all day, Bob passed me for good around mile 70. I was going through a minor low stretch, which happens periodically in ultras, and he made a definitive move. I knew I had to stay within 1:13 of him to win Leadman, which was my highest goal by far. I had two choices: chase hard to possibly beat him but also risk a bonk, or remain consistent and bet that simply taking care of myself and going steady would keep me close enough. The Leadville 100 was my first 100-mile run, and that played a role in choosing the latter, which turned out to be a good option. I was 17 minutes back at the May Queen aid station, with 13 miles left to go, and at that point I figured I was good to go … though I did have a brief moment of semi-panic with just a couple of miles left as I wondered if Bob could have possibly done the final half marathon in about 1:30. He was moving really well, but I don’t think anyone but (course record-holder) Matt Carpenter goes that fast at the end of Leadville.

What was the biggest challenge to completing the Leadman competition? Which single event was the hardest?

Juggling the training is the greatest challenge. Doing so while still being your best for family and work requires a lot of short nights and early mornings. That said, when you’re truly focused on something — and I was on Leadman — getting up at 4 AM to run a 14er because you have to be home by 9 a.m. to take the kids to their grandparents’ house comes almost naturally. I owe a lot to my wife, my mom, and my mother-in-law, who all put in strange hours with the kids to allow me to train.

The 100-mile run run is easily the hardest because it’s the longest and most detrimental to the body. That said, I really suffered during the 50-mile bike race in Leadville because I went out a bit too hard — I had won the race in 2010 and wanted a good showing — and never really caught up. My legs were still a bit fatigued from the trail marathon two weeks before, and it was a really suffer-fest.

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How did you determine how to train during a given week and how many hours per week did you train?

Because I work and have two little kids, and also because too much running doesn’t work well for me, my training volume and mileage were nothing extraordinary. I do, however, get in a lot of quality training, and all of my training is on hills above 7,600 feet — the elevation of my house in Evergreen — and often above 10,000 feet during the summer. I ran 14ers five or six times in June and July, and I slept above 10,000 feet approximately 10 nights during that time. Running has been my focus since I signed up for Leadman in November because the 100 run is the key to the whole event. That said, I spent almost as much time biking as I did running (but I did much less biking than the previous two summers, when endurance mountain bike races and adventure races were my focus).

As a coach of multisport and ultra-distance athletes, I know well the power of a coach in helping an athlete make the most of limited time through quality work and going hard on hard days and easy on easy days. My own coach, Josiah Middaugh, was extremely helpful there, and I think we got a lot out of eight to 15 hours a week of training. I averaged 40-50 miles running per week (though much less some weeks). From December to June, I raced in snowshoe races, ran the Zion Traverse, competed in mountain bike races and raced four events at the Ultimate Mountain Challenge at the GoPro Mountain Games in Vail. Those events provided essential preparation as well.

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Tell us about your approach to nutrition, hydration and recovery.

Nutrition is huge in a series like this because five long, intense events occur over six weeks, and you also need to maintain training to go fast in a 100-mile bike and a 100-mile run simultaneously. My overall diet is not calculated or trendy, and I just try to eat healthy. My wife and I both work full-time and we have two kids in diapers, so many meals are thrown together — we keep fruits, veggies, grains, meat (I actually ate quite a bit of elk this summer) and other stuff on hand.

A key starting place for me was taking care of myself during workouts. I did this by consuming Vitargo S2, a super-soluble carbohydrate powder mixed in water, during all training efforts, even short, recovery runs and rides of less than an hour. Ultimate Direction handheld bottles make that easy.  Fueling during training to decrease degradation and fatigue really helps me, and I highly recommend it. I also consumed plenty of Vitargo S2 while racing with a goal of trying to consistently consume 80 and 100 grams of carbohydrates per hour.

Immediately after each workout and race, I took in more Vitargo S2 plus protein from yogurt, eggs, peanut butter or other protein-rich foods. Generally, through the whole summer of training and racing, I tried to stay on top of energy consumption to avoid going into a deficit that could generate lasting effects.

Recovery from training and races was also supported by ice baths a few times a week and CW-X compression socks and tights, which I wore almost around the clock.  As all parents know, sometimes short nights with a baby just mean gutting it out and going into the next day a bit raw. On the other hand, lots of good family time camping in Leadville provided its own sort of spiritual recovery.