Zach Miller made his presence known in the ultrarunning community just about a year ago by winning the 2013 JFK 50 Mile. Less than a year later, he’s one of the favorites at the highly competitive Grand Trail des Templiers in Millau, France. In the following interview, Zach talks about competing in shorter races since winning the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in April, how that affected his training, and why the team dynamic could change the race for those out of contention for the win.
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Zach Miller Pre-2014 Les Templiers Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Zach Miller before the 2014 Grand Trail des Templiers. Welcome to France, Zach.
Zach Miller: Thank you. It’s good to be here.
iRunFar: You’ve had a quick rise here in the trail and ultra community. Just last year, less than a year ago at JFK, you sort of burst onto the scene. Has it felt like a whirlwind journey since then?
Miller: Yeah, a bit. It’s maybe slowed down. It was quite a whirlwind for awhile. Yeah, no, overall, everything happened very quickly. It’s been fun though.
iRunFar: You’ve raced two 50 milers, if I’m correct, and won them both against really good fields.
Miller: Yes. I kind of set the bar high for myself.
iRunFar: This essentially falls in that same range. It’s just a few miles shorter than 50 miles. Do you think another six months after Sonoma you’re in good fitness for this distance?
Miller: Yeah, I think I’m definitely fit. I think I’m definitely strong. I was talking with Jodee Adams-Moore at dinner last night and I was saying it’s kind of a mystery for Sunday because I haven’t raced an ultra since Sonoma. I’ve done a lot of training since then, but I don’t know where I stand in terms of what I have. It will be a little bit of a mystery on Sunday to see what I can do. Is it better? Is it worse? Is it somewhere around the same? Yeah, I guess we’ll find out on Sunday. Yeah, I definitely feel strong and fit.
iRunFar: Over the summer you concentrated on shorter mountain running. What made you do that and how did it go?
Miller: Yeah, I like to space out my ultras if I can. It gets kind of hard when they all fall when championship races are and whatnot. If I can, I like to space them out. I like to keep some variety in my running. I think partially I wanted to try and make some U.S. teams, like some U.S. mountain teams. I really didn’t know if I’d make any of them. I just kind of started racing mountain races, ascent races, and basically my longest race since Sonoma has been around 14 or 15 miles which was Mt. Evans Ascent. Yeah, I just kind of threw myself in there and it started going well. I kept doing it. I made the long-distance mountain team and made the shorter mountain team as well. Yeah, it was fun. I was able to do a bunch of training with Joe Gray. He’s all about that stuff, so he kind of whipped me in shape for it.
iRunFar: He wasn’t going to put up with you just slacking off?
Miller: No, he’s always pushing me, so that’s been really good. It bodes well going into an ultra to have that high intensity racing over the last couple of months. Now I’ll transition back to the ultra.
iRunFar: So maybe when some of the other people who have been sort of consistent in the ultra scene over the summer won’t be ready for the sharp intensity later?
Miller: I don’t know, I think they can be ready. I think I like, for my confidence sake, it’s nice to know in the back of my mind… I now know I can kind of hold my own on the shorter, faster efforts because I didn’t really know where I stood there. I could keep up in an ultra climb, but I hadn’t really tested myself on that shorter, higher intensity climbing. I’m not the best in the world. I wasn’t winning world championships or anything but just trying to hang in there. I think guys like [Chris] Vargo probably incorporate training in their schedule that’s shorter, faster, and I think they’ll be able to climb, too. It’s just good for my confidence.
iRunFar: Did you change up your training a lot when you switched over to the shorter mountain running?
Miller: No, not really, actually. Things were going well for me. I just kind of kept doing my ultra-style training and ended up running really well at Loon Mountain to qualify for the mountain team. After I qualified, I was supposed to run UROC. Joe Gray said to me before, “What if you make the mountain team?” I didn’t know that the World Championships were right after UROC. I was like, “Oh, that’s a problem.” I wasn’t really sure that I’d make it. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. Then I got to it and that’s why I didn’t race UROC. Training—I did a lot of workouts with Joe Gray that mixed in some faster stuff, but I usually mix in some faster stuff anyway. In the big picture, my training probably wasn’t… what I did for mountain and what I did for this race was not drastically different. I kind of figured ultra training got me on the mountain team, so I’d just stick with it and see if I could run well at Worlds that way.
iRunFar: Speaking of the team aspect, you’re here as part of Team USA. Do you think there will be any strategy amongst the different teams? Do you think there’s extra incentive if you don’t have a great day to push through it?
Miller: Yeah, I mean I think there’s incentive to push through it if you’re not having a good day and you’re still out there in the top three or four for your team and you know you could potentially score. I think that gives a lot of push. You run for each other. I think in ultra that could be pretty big.
iRunFar: You ran cross country in high school and college?
Miller: Yeah, and the team aspect was always big, so you’ve always got to fight to the bitter end. My high-school team back home has been having a great post-season. They were saying they won the league championship, and the guys were just all running for each other. They ran phenomenal and won. I think that type of thing comes into play at a race like this. Will there be a lot of strategy like pack running and guys helping each other out like that? I don’t know. It kind of sounded like in the press conference that maybe some teams would be working together. I know at Sonoma we had a big Nike contingent there, I felt like it helped to have a contingent but we didn’t really pack run. We just kind of went out and did our thing.
iRunFar: It’s hard when the race is that long and people’s strengths and weaknesses are slightly different.
Miller: Yeah, I think you mostly run your race, and if you can help each other out some that’s great if that works out. Mostly you just run for each other and try to get that win for the team. But if everybody runs to the best of their ability, I think the U.S. team should fare pretty well.
iRunFar: Nice. Best of luck out there and best of luck to Team USA.
iRunFar: A bonus question for you, Zach. If you were any imaginary animal, what would it be… or creature?
Miller: Imaginary? Oh, goodness, I don’t know. Something fast and something that can fly—so maybe a cross between a falcon and a wolf.
iRunFar: Awesome. A wolf-falcon.