Zach Miller showed his win at the 2013 JFK 50 Mile was no fluke with his wire-to-wire win of the 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. Here, Zach shares his post-race thoughts on how and why he chose to run off the front all day, how bad the pain cave was in the final miles, and a little about his training on the cruise ship he works on for this race.
For more on the race, including our other interviews, check out our 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile results article.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Zach Miller, 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Champion, Interview
iRunFar: Meghan here of iRunFar, and I’m with the winner of the 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. I’m here with ‘Cruise Ship Kid,’ Zach Miller. Congratulations.
Zach Miller: Oh, thank you.
iRunFar: How’s it going?
Miller: Good now.
iRunFar: Now that it’s over?
Miller: Yeah, I mean it went great all day; it was just really painful the last couple of miles.
iRunFar: As we walked over for this interview, you kind of hobbled a little bit. Your feet looked a little tentative.
Miller: Yeah. I got a bit sore and my knees get a bit funky after a 50 miler, but they’ll bounce back. I just have to recover.
iRunFar: Give it a little time.
Miller: Yeah, they’ll be okay.
iRunFar: Use the foam roller a little bit?
Miller: Yeah, probably the foam roller and maybe some ice and… yeah, they should bounce back pretty good though.
iRunFar: Let’s talk about your race today. You ran a pretty gutsy race just from the go. You went and you went on your own all day. Talk about your mindset going in the race. Was that the plan?
Miller: I didn’t have much of a plan. They shoot the gun, and I just start running. That’s pretty much all I do with these ultras. In college I probably tended to over analyze things, and I’ve tried to get away from that. My mom sent me a message last night on Facebook and pointed out how in the past year or so I’ve just learned to feel the rhythm of the trail and listen to my body. That’s pretty much what I did today.
iRunFar: Were you feeling it pretty much the whole time?
Miller: Yeah, I just ran on feel really. I took my watch off last night. I wore a watch at [the] JFK [50 Mile] but never looked at it. Today I didn’t even wear it. I figure if I’m in shape and I go out and run a race and listen to my body, it will basically run, as long as there’s not anything strange that happens, it will pretty much run what it’s capable of doing. So, I mean I just ran. I didn’t worry too much about what Max King was doing or what Sage [Canaday] was doing or what [Chris] Vargo was doing. I just kind of tried to run at an effort I could plug away at for 50 miles and just kept going.
iRunFar: One of the things that noticed that was different about you as opposed to the other front guys was that you were attacking the uphills a little bit more whereas they were using the downhills to their benefit. Talk about that. Do you feel like the uphill is your strength? What was going on there?
Miller: That was kind of the big question today. A lot of people back home will say that I’m a good uphill runner. I wasn’t sure how I stacked up. In Pennsylvania there are some races where I do do well on the hills, but the level of competition is not always Rob Krar and Sage Canaday. Today was the test for me to see how well I could do on a singletrack 50 miler with a lot of climbing. I guess I fared pretty well, but the hills, I just try and run them naturally. Some of them, if I just feel it, I’ll skip up pretty quick. I don’t want to just intentionally run slow up it trying to conserve energy because I feel that you might actually waste energy. So I just kind of do whatever I feel. Some of them I just chug up. I just pretend I’m on the stairs in the cruise ship and I just chug up it. Some of them I attack a little more. I guess I just kind of go with the rhythm of things.
iRunFar: The last time we heard from you was when you really did well at the JFK last fall. Since then you’ve been cruise shipping yourself around the world, yeah?
iRunFar: About a year and a half or so you’ve had a job on a cruise ship?
Miller: Yeah, about the last year and a half. .
iRunFar: You just got off the cruise ship about 10 days ago and you did the bulk of your training to win this race against a highly competitive field on a cruise ship. Talk about what you went through doing that.
Miller: Yeah, it is an interesting way to train. Basically, once I got off on April 1, and so from now until then it was pretty much a taper. I did one good workout in San Francisco and the rest was kind of shutting it down and getting ready for this race. So the bulk of the training was on the ship. The first month or so I was in an active rest period coming off of JFK—just running 30 to 40 miles/week. Then in January, I started building my mileage again. It got pretty intense. We had a lot of sea days on this trip. We didn’t have a lot of ports. So we had a couple stretches of nine days at sea, so I was on the treadmill for nine days in a row. But I built my mileage up. I thought I was going to do it in doubles with a morning and evening run, but I just ended up doing everything in singles. I started using the stairwell a lot for vertical. So by the end…
iRunFar: Logging 3,000 feet of vertical up and down the stairs.
Miller: Yeah, I’d go to the stairwell and I’d just be in there for… by the end I was in there for 60 to 70 minutes just in a stairwell. Then I’d get on the treadmill usually right away afterwards.
iRunFar: So music? Where does your head go?
Miller: No, I’m not a music guy. I love music. I’m a big country music fan, but not while I run. If it happens to be on in the gym I’ll listen to it and I’ll enjoy it actually, but I don’t put headphones in. When I’m in the stairwell or on the treadmill, it’s just me and my thoughts and my legs. It’s not me trying to distract myself from the process. It’s just me working out.
iRunFar: You said you tried to race by feel today and you tried to go with the rhythm and not worry about what these other really good guys were doing. Let’s be honest. You had a Rob Krar behind you; you had Sage Canaday; you had Max King; you had the whole rest of the Nike Trail fleet. Did it pop into your head at all when you started suffering at the end?
Miller: Yes, but once I got away today and I lost sight of them fairly early—you don’t have to get very far away to lose sight because of the nature of the trail—I lost sight probably within the first 10 miles or so. After that, I really never saw anybody. So those last few miles I was really hurting, but I didn’t know where they were. I couldn’t see them. I was just hoping I’d make it. We did do the out and back with about 4.5 miles to go, you have to go down to the aid station and come back up. It’s a quarter mile down and a quarter mile back up. I got through that without seeing anybody, so I knew I was at least a half a mile ahead. I was hoping that would be enough with 4.5 to go.
iRunFar: I think it was barely because at that point they were…
Miller: It was probably pretty close.
iRunFar: They were four and five minutes, Sage to Rob was four and five minutes [behind you]. At three miles to go, Rob was five minutes and Sage was three minutes. At three quarters of a mile to go, Krar passed Sage and they were both 1:45 behind you.
Miller: They were close. I didn’t know they were that close. I was really hurting and just… I actually wiped out with a half mile to go in that rocky dirt section right at the end. I cased it. I just hit a rock or something. I didn’t fall all day until a half mile to go. It was okay. Yeah, I didn’t know they were that close. I crossed the line and a minute later Rob came in, and then 40 seconds later Sage came in. So it was really close but I was just hanging on.
iRunFar: You did hang on and you did hang onto a new course record, so congratulations to that. You also hung on to capture one of those coveted slots at the Western States 100. Everybody wants to know, what are you going to do now that you’ve been awarded that?
Miller: I know. I’m going to enjoy today, process this, and then I’ll think about that. I do love the Western States race. I think it’s awesome. I figure probably one day I will run it. I don’t know if it will be this year. I’m not going to say it won’t be this year, but I have to think about it. The plan hasn’t been to race a hundred this year. The plan is kind of to go to UROC next. So I don’t know. I’m 25. I have a lot of time to get to the hundred.
iRunFar: You do have a lot of time.
[off camera] Alex Varner: You’re so young!
Miller: Yeah, and Varner has to make the same decision to now because he got a spot, too, if he wants it. Yeah, I’d like to have a long career, and when I run a hundred I would like to really run it well.
iRunFar: Be ready for it.
Miller: So, yeah, maybe, but I don’t know.
iRunFar: So it’s kind of sounding like, “Probably not,” is the mindset at least today.
Miller: Maybe. I just really don’t know today. I’m going to think about one thing at a time right now. I usually take awhile to make decisions.
iRunFar: If you do, we look forward to seeing you in that chase. That will be a pretty fantastic race. If not, we look forward to seeing you in the other races you find yourself in this year. Sounds like you’re going to be hopping off that cruise ship permanently for perhaps a new job in Colorado, so we won’t be able to call you the ‘Cruise Ship Kid’ anymore. But for today, congratulations to the ‘Cruise Ship Kid’ on your Lake Sonoma 50 Mile win and course record.
Miller: Thank you very much. Yes.