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Max Rahm Call to Run

Max rahm berlin Marathon 2022
Max at Berlin Marathon 2022

Life is not linear. Up and downs. Diversions. Sprints. Uphill. Downhill. Our running life is the same. Strong months of training can turn into months of not being able to get out of the door for any easy run. Finding the joy of running is not easy

Despite still being young, Max Rahm had already many diversions on his path to running. He fell in love with running on the treadmill and this brought him to his first marathon through the Zwift Academy. He moved to the US to improve on the track and race in the NCAA, but in the meantime, his heart was beating for the trails. Now, he is back in Germany and his mind is clear. He wants to run a marathon sub 2:20 and get his golden ticket for Western States.

We checked in with Max about his plans for 2024 and beyond, but, more importantly, about his journey into running and how he found his call.

You have been open about your objectives: run a marathon sub 2:20 and run Western States. Can you tell me more about your journey and how you arrived at this point?

Let me start from the beginning. During my last year of high school here in Germany, I decided I wanted to run more performance-oriented. I started training more and participating in some local track races. I noticed I don't like the short distances, like the short intervals. Of course, I did them because you must at some point. Everything like longer intervals or tempo runs is where I enjoyed it more and made me smile.

Then COVID hit and I found myself enjoying running on a treadmill. I know it sounds silly, but I like the rhythm. I heard about the Zwift Running Academy and I decided to apply. I was among the 6 selected to train for the Berlin Marathon. I wasn’t expecting that, so I wasn’t in the mood to train for a marathon. In the build-up to the race, Zwift provided me with professional coaches like Terrence Mahon and adidas gear. My goal was to debut in sub 2:30 but I came a little bit short because the weather wasn't ideal. Anyway, I loved the atmosphere and the people during the race. I realized that this was what I wanted to do.

Max Rahm Zugspitz Ultratrail
Max at Zugspitz Ultratrail

All of this was more than 2 years ago. Then, what happened?

I asked Terrence if he would be interested in working with me. He thought I had the potential to run sub 2:20, so we kept working together. In spring 2022, I signed up for a local marathon near Kaiserslautern where I live. The course was hilly, around 500 meters of elevation, and I ran my PB by 2 minutes. The same year I ran 2:23 in Berlin and that was a big step forward for me. I improved my PB by 7 minutes.

During the training for Berlin, I met a person who owns an agency helping German students obtain sports scholarships in the US. I knew that to run faster on the marathon I needed to improve in the shorter distances too. So, I thought Why don’t go to the US and train with other good runners instead here all alone? This was October 2022 and then I moved to the US in January 2023.

How was the process to get a scholarship for an American college?

It is easier when you compare it to other sports, like football or tennis. In running, we have numbers and everything is measurable. There is a portal where you input your data and coaches from the universities can see them. Then, you get in contact with them, ask questions, and do interviews. I also went to visit the four schools I was most interested in. Not everyone travels to the schools before deciding, but I am a family person, and I wanted to be sure to fit into the team. Parkside in Wisconsin ended up being my choice. I felt the most welcome and the coaching was on the line with my ideas.

The American college system is famous for being the best for student-athletes. How was your experience?

It was a dream. You always run with someone else, so you are never alone. It was a shock in terms of intensity because I went there straight after my marathon training and my longest distance would have been 10k during the cross-country season. Our training included 2-3 fast track workouts every week with short and hard speed workouts that I wasn’t used to. The other big difference was the weight training. We usually did it three times a week, while back home I wasn’t doing any. For example, a typical Tuesday included an easy run in the morning, then classes, and a track session in the afternoon. After the track session, we spent one hour in the weight room.

max rahm

Did you find any benefits in training with other people for the first time?

You can dig a little bit deeper because, for example, on the track you're running, you don't want to be the guy who's falling off. So, for every rep you try to push a little bit more. You probably work harder in a group than you would do normally alone.

So, you approached the experience in the US conscious that you would have run shorter distances and then go back to the marathon after your degree.

That was the plan. The plan was to park the marathon for a few years. Attending college made running any marathons impossible because the two calendars overlap. After 4 years, I planned to go back to the marathon.

What made you change your plans then?

After last year’s summer break, I flew back for cross-country season and I noticed I had to push myself out every morning. I still had to go running but I had no fun. I didn't enjoy it. My performance decreased and I wasn't getting better overall. Then, I came back to Germany for the Christmas break with a good mindset: the cross-country season wasn't that good, but I’ll keep on working hard and then I will have a better indoor season. During Christmas, I had a good week of training and then my body shut down. I had no joy of running anymore. I didn't run for a complete week. I went out for a long run, and I couldn’t hold my warm-up pace. My body stopped working and I couldn’t run anymore. I had to call my dad to come and pick me up.

I knew that going back to the US would have meant digging deeper again and grinding every day. By thinking at that moment, my mental health got worse. I was in a deep hole. My family made me realize I had to change something, and I couldn’t go back to that mood. I thought about changing everything. Running on track was not what my heart beat for. Therefore, my commitment to the training was only 80%. This dynamic built up during the year in the US and then my body told me “No more”.

Anyway, running in the US was probably one of the greatest experiences you can do. It is the best system sports-wise in the world, and NCAA is awesome. If you love track running, that's your thing. You will enjoy it every day there. But it wasn't right for me because every time I was there, I thought about the one trail race I did. I was thinking about the marathon. That's what I wanted to do. I'm glad I went to the US because now I can look back and have no regrets. All of this made me decide to stay here in Germany and start again.

max rahm

Now you are back and you have two big goals: one on the roads and one on the trails. How did you discover your love for the trails?

I always watched all the races like Western States, Black Canyon, and UTMB. I could sit there and watch 15 hours straight. Last summer, I wanted to experience what the trail running community was about and I signed up for Zugspitz Ultratrail. I could run a flat marathon so I should be able to run the 45k distance. I approached the race with no expectations other than having fun. The longest run I did before was 25k pancake flat. At the race, I met a guy from Hoka who told me my easy pace would have been enough to take the lead. My thought was “No way”. Then the gun went off and I took the lead running 4:10 pace - comfortable for me. The first part of the race was rolling hills, so I was able to keep the lead. On the uphill, I started to feel more fatigue in my hip flexors, but I was having fun. One guy caught up with me and told me he was at the World Championships just a few weeks before. I was surprised that the guy was running with me. We climbed together to the highest point of the race and a technical downhill started. I tried to keep up with him, but I preferred to get to the finish line in one piece. He opened a 3-minute gap and maintained it till the finish line. The whole experience was great. There was never a point where I thought what am I doing here? I was enjoying it all the time.

Trail running is more based on how you feel. You are not focused on your pace every time. During a marathon, you check your watch every split. I enjoyed not looking at my watch at all.

Elite trail runners are becoming faster and faster every year. What are the skills that you need to acquire to make it into Western States?

Of course, my goals are big but I need probably three to four years to get there. I will use this year to gain as much experience as I can. So, next year I will know what to work on. I know I can't go straight away and run one hundred miles.

This year I will focus on races around 30k: the Golden Trail National Series GER/AT/CH and Sierre Zinal. Another objective is to run OCC and CCC within the next three years. In December, I aim to run a PB at Valencia Marathon. My long-term objective is to run around 2:16. I'm confident I can achieve it. It just needs time, work, and consistency to get there.

Why did you pick long endurance races like Western States and UTMB over shorter ones, as your main objectives?

I feel I'm naturally good at longer distances. What makes it more interesting is that in these races the fastest runner does not necessarily win. There is much more that goes into it, from the nutrition to the crew.

Do you have any athletes you look up to?

Tom Evans is the runner I look up to. I've followed him for a long time, way before he started to run on trails. He trains in a place without big mountains nearby and still achieves incredible performances. Eric Lagerstrom and Paula Findlay are the two other athletes I follow the most. They are both triathletes and combine being pro athletes with creating content on YouTube. For them, one enables the other. This is very cool.

Do you plan to continue exploring content creation while being an athlete or do you want to focus on running full-time?

For sure. I always wanted to do more content creation because I enjoy doing it. I also see myself working on a remote job so that I can think about something else and not only running. If I spend 100% of my time running, I will tire myself mentally. I need something else to do.


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