Saturday, September 01, 2007

Thomas Reiss Blasts Into the Ultra Scene (An Interview)

39-year-old Thomas Reiss seems to have come out of nowhere to make his mark in ultrarunning this year. The San Luis Obispo, CA resident and German native had serious natural talent at the marathon, with a Tahoe Triple win in 2005 and 2nd place in 2006 (combined time of 8:42 for three marathons), and a PR 2:32 at the Silicon Valley Marathon in 1998. In 2007, he used that speed to make a stunning entry into the ultra scene, with wins at the Jed Smith 50k (3:12:32), Ruth Anderson 50m (5:56, course record), Quicksilver 50k (4:04), and most recently the Tahoe Rim Trail 50m (8:10, just 3 minutes off the course record).

(Thomas is all smiles at the beginning of the 2006 Tahoe Triple;
all photos courtesy of Thomas Reiss and family)

I wasn't the first to wonder "who is this guy blowing by me?", and was able to catch up with him as he recovers from TRT.

1) First, congrats on your win at TRT! That is definitely one of the more challenging terrains you have tackled in your short ultra career. How did the race go for you?

Challenging is the right word. I never really felt that good. I went into it hoping to feel like a Sunday long jog for the 1st third of the race, feel good and easy, then get into tempo mode in the middle and race the last 3rd. I am not sure if it was the altitude or the terrain but I just did not feel that great. That said, I was very happy with the outcome and the time I ran. It all worked out at the end.

2) What got you into ultras this year? What has been the biggest challenge in moving up from the marathon?

I was always fascinated by ultras, even before I moved to the USA from Germany 11 years ago. I ran quite a bit with Charly Doll (the first German to win Comrades) and thought this is pretty cool. I never made the move to ultras early on and actually only ran 2 marathons in my life before Tahoe Triple. Mostly I raced half marathons and the 10k. The marathons I ran were in 1990 and one in 1998.

6 years ago I stopped running until I heard about the Tahoe Triple in 2005 and decided to try that kind a race. I did the triple again in 2006 and also decided in 2006 to give this Ultra thing a try. So far things have apparently been going great with 4 starts and 4 wins.

(Thomas on his was to a course-record win at the 2005 Tahoe Triple)

3) What are your 10k and half marathon PR’s?

1.09.34 for the half and 31.51 for the 10k.

4) What is training like in San Luis Obispo (SLO)? Are there enough hills to be ready for courses like Quicksilver and TRT?

Not really, we have very few real hardcore hilly single track trails here. So often I run a trail loop several times up and down and around. The longest climb is around 3 miles with 1000 feet.

5) I was able to meet your wife and kids at TRT this year. What do they think of all this crazy running?

My wife (Valerie) is great, she is the one always encouraging me when I am down and frustrated and talk about quitting. My kids are 2 and 4 and they love it. When I do a long run and come by my house they set up aid stations and always cheer me on. Since we are back from TRT they are running around the house arguing about who is a 50-miler and who is a 100-miler.

(Thomas gears up for the 2007 TRT 50-miler;
his forearm tattoo has the names of his two sons, Dylan and Luke)

6) Can you tell us a bit about your training regiment? What does a typical week look like for you?

I normally run 4-6 times a week, between 50-70miles. Before a big race I crank it up for about 6-8 weeks up to 90-120 miles. Most of the time I do a 2.50-3 hour marathon once a month and a long 30-40 mile run once a month. Once a week I do some kind of speed / tempo workout. I also try to run on the surface that the upcoming race is on. So before TRT I ran as much as possible on trails.

After a hard race I always take 2 weeks super easy with running 4-6 miles every other day or less depending on how hard the race was.

7) Do you have a coach?

Not really, I write up my own schedule and then run it by my running partner and motivator Linda Somers Smith (former Olympic marathoner), Sean Meissner also helps me with advice and usually I get some feedback on my plans from Karl King from Succeed.

(Thomas blazes the trail near the turnaround at the 2007 TRT 50)

8) What are your favorite foods for training and running?

That is my weakest spot. I do not really watch my diet and learned some hard lessons in my first races regarding hydration etc. Karl King from Succeed has been a huge help in getting me on the right track. So during TRT I used Succeed Ultra, Amino and S-Caps plus GU’s. Plus the pre-race and recovery vitamins. I need to start experimenting with solid foods if I move up to the 100.
9) What motivates you the most to get out there and run?

I am very driven and competitive by nature, and I know that to be good at ultrarunning you have to go out and put the effort in. Plus I have met some great people through running and made some awesome friends.

(Thomas brings home the win at the 2007 TRT 50)

10) What do the folks at work think? What do you do for work?

I am creative director and owner of a high end design and branding firm ( here in San Luis Obispo. My employees love it and are very interested and supportive, so are our clients. But I also know they all think I am crazy.

11) Any races planned for the rest of 2007? Where will we see you next?

I am planning on Tahoe Triple then JFK 50. After that I am planning on running the Orange Curtain 100k (a road ultra) in Long Beach, CA in February '08 to try to qualify for the 100k World Championship. After that I would like to run Way to Cool if I get in. Not sure what after that, a lot will depend if I qualify for the road 100k world cup.

12) Any chance we'll get you in the 100-miler division?

Yes, it will be the logical next step. It is the ultimate ultra race. Like running half marathons and 10k's when the real deal is the marathon, I think it is like that with the 50k and 50mile and the real deal is the 100miles. I would love to run Western States at one point as my first 100. I was always fascinated by that race. I am not sure about when. Maybe in a couple of years.

13) Are you currently running for a team?

Not right now but I would love to be part of a good ultra team. I have always been on a team when I used to race the shorter races and I really miss the team aspect - going to races meeting the rest of the team and supporting each other is just great. So if you know of any team who is adding to their roster let me know!

(Thomas enjoys the view of Emerald Bay on the last leg of the 2005 Tahoe Triple)

14) Will you be focused on road or trail ultras moving forward?

Short term I will be doing both. I still would like to make it to worlds in the road 100k and get a good 100k road PR so I may do that plus several trail races. I would guess next year am doing 2 road races and 4 trail races. Long term I think it will be definitely trail.

15) What else would you like to accomplish in ultrarunning over the next few years?

Honestly I am not sure. I am still a rookie at this and don’t even know yet the full extent of my goals and capabilities. One of the great things about continuing in this sport is that you learn so much about yourself with every race. I hope I keep meeting more cool inspiring people. I love becoming part of this great ultrarunning community.

Thanks for the interview, Thomas! Looking forward to seeing you out on the trails.

- SD


  1. Yet another terrific interview...thanks Thomas & Scott.

    Always good to see new names atop the ultra results. Cool guy, GREAT design/company!

    Will G.

  2. Awesome interview, Scott! Keep the interviews coming!


  3. Great interview. I sometimes run around SLO - where does Thomas go for his hill and trail training? Jen

  4. Will,
    thanks for the kudos about me and my company's work.

    I run a lot on the Irish Hills trail or Madonna Mountain. Poly Canyon is also a nice trail run, not single track and not that hilly so.

    A good road hill is up Prefumo Canyon, or the backside up See Canyon.

    I hope that helps.


  5. Great interview you two. I've gotten to run every race Thomas has this year, and he's as nice as he is fast. Definitely with the potential to be a top States contender once he makes that inevitable, "logical" transition. Good luck with shooting to make the national 100k team!

  6. Great interview! Thomas is such a lovely (and fast) guy! I had the pleasure of running with Thomas and finally getting to meet him along "the Taste of Hell" at TRT. Definitely made it a good experience. Keep it up Thomas! Hope you make qualify for the national team!

  7. Thomas - do you run in trail shoes on the trails, or just stick with your running shoes? Also curious if you race in flats. I know a lot of road racers who seem to be able to run in flats, but I can't.


  8. Norman,
    good questions. I ran in Trail shoes at TRT but mostly have a hard time finding trail shoes that are not to hard (I weigh only around 132 so I don't put to much weight on the shoe). Most of the time I run in regular running shoes (road), but always trainers. I have not worn race flats in a long time.


  9. Scott,

    I have really enjoyed the interviews since finding your site. If I ever even get within 10% of Thomas' 10K I would be ecstatic. Sure would be motivating to run regularly with that type of scenery as the backdrop...


  10. as always, another nicely done interview :) Thanks for sharing Thomas and for keeping us informed of the awesome ultra stars Scott!

  11. Great interview, Scott.

    I also had the pleasure of running "with" (read: behind) Thomas a number of times, and he is a great guy.

    It should be added that Thomas finished the Tahoe Triple in second place only because Johan Oosthuizen from South Africa had picked that race for his world record attempt (which was succesful with a combined time of 8:11 for the three marathons). 8:43 is still the second-fastest triple time ever and the third place guy was well over an hour behind Thomas in 2006.

    Thomas: Good luck with qualifying for the 100K National championship, and see you at the tahoe Triple.


  12. Thomas,
    You da' man! Great interview. With this interview on the holy grail of running blogs, those who haven't heard of Thomas the Great yet are sure to, now.

    As much as I admire your running (even though you're a jerk for de-throning me at the Triple), what really stands out to me is your commitment to your family. It's awesome! You're a great family man with an incredible wife and two wonderful sons.

    See you in a few weeks at Tahoe. Let me know when you're going to man-up and run the 72er.


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