As usual Zach Miller went for it at last year’s The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships; however, he couldn’t hold that effort and he faded to 11th place. He’ll shoot for a better result at the race this coming weekend. In the following interview, Zach talks about his run at the TNF 50 last year, what his race was like at the CCC in August, and what it’s like training up at 10,200 feet at Barr Camp on Pikes Peak.
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Zach Miller Pre-2015 The North Face EC 50-Mile Championships Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Zach Miller before the 2015 [The North Face] Endurance Challenge Championships. How are you, Zach?
Zach Miller: I’m good. How are you, Bryon?
iRunFar: Doing alright. You just landed here in California?
Miller: Yeah, just about noon we got in—fresh off the plane.
iRunFar: You’re living up at Barr Camp at 10,200 feet these days?
Miller: Yeah, it’s a little high up there. Yeah, I live in a little cabin off the grid on the mountain half way up. It’s been great… living the dream.
iRunFar: What’s the training like up there? You’re a guy who seems to run pretty intensely all the time. Can you do that and recover up at that high?
Miller: Yeah, I think it’s been going pretty well. We’ll find out on Saturday, I guess. Since moving up there, I haven’t seen any huge red flags in terms of not recovering properly. I do notice that some days I’ll go do workouts above treeline and I’ll notice maybe the next day or two I feel like I’m a little tapped, maybe a little more so than normal. No, it’s been going well. It’s obviously harder to run fast up there but definitely good training grounds especially for mountainous races.
iRunFar: Speaking of faster, through the middle part of this year, you were running speedier races—US Mountain Running Championships, Mount Washington [Road Race]…
Miller: Yeah, I always like to mix it up. I kind of like to structure my season with a spring ultra, a summer ultra, and a fall ultra. In between that I like to run shorter, faster stuff because I’m not going to run an ultra every month. I like to stay sharp. The short stuff is fun. The mountain championships—it wrecked me this year. I finished that race and that next week I was sore. I felt like I ran an ultra. They’re a lot of fun. It keeps you sharp. It kind of gives you confidence when you go do ultras. The climbing pace in an ultra isn’t exactly the same as the climbing pace at Mount Washington or something short.
iRunFar: The last ultra you did, if I remember correctly, was the CCC over in France and Switzerland. You ran incredibly.
Miller: It was a good day. I had a blast over there. I loved that course and the events. I had a good day. I had highs and lows, but the high came on at the right time at the end and I was able to seal the deal.
iRunFar: A little suffering in the middle?
Miller: In the middle when it got hot—I love cool-weather running. Up at Barr Camp I’ve been doing a little bit more freeze-my-butt-off kind of running. Just yesterday me and my buddies were out, and we were so stinking cold up above treeline. Yeah, I love these temperatures right here. CCC got hot in the middle. That was where my low patch was. When the sun started to set, that’s where I was able to turn it on.
iRunFar: Turn it back on… because you went out hard as it typical.
Miller: Yeah, I went out at the front. I tried to listen to myself. I kind of told myself not to really race or do anything crazy until Champex-Lac. I still ended up out front. I guess I just tried to stay within myself and then hang on through the hard time and hammer home when I was feeling better.
iRunFar: Last year you went out pretty hard here at The North Face 50 and then flagged to 11th. What happened out there last year?
Miller: I probably shouldn’t have been here last year is what happened. I had run the [IAU] World Championship 100k on the road—well, it was “road” but it was more like tile—two weeks before. That race wrecked me probably more than any other ultra that I’ve run, just that repetitive motion on that hard surface and that fast pace was just brutal on the body. Not just that, but I think three weeks before, I raced Les Templiers in France. So in the span of a couple months, I raced three big ultras.
iRunFar: With as big of results you’ve had, it seems like you’ve been running ultras for a pretty long time, but that’s a reasonable portion of your total ultra mileage.
Miller: Yeah, before that I’d only run two ultras, and then I ran three ultras in two months. The North Face last year, I just couldn’t resist coming out. I was already registered. I was just going to give it a go. To be honest, about four miles in I could tell it wasn’t there. I was like, Well, maybe I can hang on and it’s just going to hurt a heck of a lot the whole way. It hurt a heck of a lot the whole way, but I wasn’t able to hang on. Sage [Canaday] went up a climb and I just couldn’t stay with him and it just went from there.
iRunFar: Is it safe to say you feel a little more confident and a little less pressure coming into this race?
Miller: Yeah, I’d say so. Saturday is still the great unknown where you don’t know what’s going to happen, but no, I definitely targeted it a little more this year. I tried to set up a smarter racing schedule. I raced about a month ago in Brazil over 30k as kind of a tune-up. I was definitely racing, but in terms of distance and things, it was a good tune-up race hopefully. I tried not to overdo it going in. I’m interested to see how that pans out.
iRunFar: In the past, you’ve relied on a lot of bananas to fuel your race. Has that evolved at all over time?
Miller: When I went to Brazil I found out they have these things called “banana-doc.” I don’t even know if I’m saying that right. All it is is bananas and sometimes sugar, sometimes another fruit like pineapple mixed in. It’s basically just bananas, but it’s in this little brownie square. It’s so easy to carry with you. It’s like halfway between a chew and a gel. In that 30k that I ran, I only ate one. It was a three-hour race, but I only ate 100 calories and some Gatorade. It worked. I have some of those with me. I don’t know if I was supposed to bring those back from Brazil, but they got through. I think they’re allowed. I don’t know. I have those with me. They’re just kind of in the bag of options for fueling for the day. There’s a good chance I’ll be throwing down some bananas at the crewable aid stations.
iRunFar: You’ll take some gels in between or something like that?
Miller: Yeah, I’ll probably have some Gu products or something like that. I kind of like solid food, so I might be going with something more solid and maybe a high-calorie electrolyte drink because it’s easy to drink calories. I’ll have my buddies out from Pennsylvania, and they’re going to crew me. I’m pumped about that.
iRunFar: Does that feel good?
Miller: Yeah, it just feels good to have my buddies with me and have an actual crew. It just makes you a little more confident going in.
iRunFar: Not that you seem to get wound up about races, but is it still calming to have the guys you’ve known for a long time out?
Miller: Yeah, these are actually guys I’ve gotten to know more since I started ultrarunning. Yeah, it’s funny, I had the kids I ran with in high school and stuff, and then after I started ultrarunning, I kind of met this whole new running community in Pennsylvania. It’s an interesting mix. It’s a bunch of… there’s a whole slew of Amish ultrarunners in Lancaster County who like to go out and just run and explore, but it’s a mix of plainfolk and non-plainfolk… English, I guess is what we call ourselves. It’s just a fun group I’ve gotten to know over the past couple years. It’s really special to have them out here to help support me and hang out and keep me from getting too nervous. Then my parents are actually coming out. It’s the first time they’re going to get to see me run an ultra. I’m looking forward to having them out there to support me.
iRunFar: I’m going to have to apologize to your mom for cursing on Twitter?
Miller: Okay, I think she’ll forgive you.
iRunFar: Thank you, Zach, and good luck out there on Saturday.
Miller: Thank you.