Michael Wardian and Zach Miller will both line up as part of Team USA at Friday’s 2014 IAU 100k World Championships. In the following interview, Michael and Zach talk about performing at their respective ages and levels of experience as well as their personal and team goals for this year’s 100k world championships.
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Mike Wardian and Zach Miller Pre-2014 IAU 100k World Championships Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Zach Miller [left] and Michael Wardian [right] before the 2014 IAU 100k World Championships here in Qatar. How are you guys doing?
Zach Miller: Very good.
Michael Wardian: Awesome. Great to be here.
iRunFar: Zach, this is your first time running in an ultrarunning world championships. Is it exciting?
Miller: Yeah, no it is. I’ve never been here before. Interesting part of the world. Yeah, it’s pretty exciting. There’s a lot of good competition.
iRunFar: But you have represented the U.S. at the World Mountain Running Championships.
Miller: Yeah, the World Mountain Running Championships and the Long Distance Mountain Running Championships which are kind of not an official world championships yet but an international event nonetheless.
iRunFar: Middle of last year, could you have imagine you’d be representing the U.S. three times in world competitions the following year?
Miller: No, no, I was just saying to Matt Flaherty that this is all kind of really strange for me and basically I dreamed of this stuff but never knew that I’d actually get to do it. When I looked at the year, I saw there were three teams—the ultra team, the mountain team, and the long-distance mountain team. I was like, Well, I’ll give it a shot. I don’t know that I’ll make any of them. I ended up making all three. Yeah, it’s pretty kind of bizarre for me.
iRunFar: Michael, how many times is it you’ve been at the World 100k Championships now?
Wardian: I think every year since 2008.
iRunFar: Quite a few.
Wardian: 2008, ’09, ’10, ’11, ’12—they didn’t have it last year, so six.
iRunFar: This is your sixth one.
Wardian: Yeah, and I was like Zach. I just wanted to make one, man. Just the chance to represent the U.S. is such an honor. To get that singlet makes me all—just now I just got goose bumps and all teary-eyed and kind of like weepy and just kind of excited. It’s a treat. To get to run with all the athletes on our team is such a privilege and it’s fun. It’s a reunion of sorts with a bunch of the friends I’ve made over the years. I’m excited to be here. I’ve already started to try to line up some trades for kit from other countries.
iRunFar: Michael, as you have this experience at 100k worlds, do you have any advice for somebody coming in and running it their first time or somebody who’s never run 100k period, aka Zach?
Wardian: I don’t know. He doesn’t need any advice, dude. I ran against Zach last time for the first time at JFK 50 and he definitely showed us what he’s capable of, and I don’t think there’s anything I can impart other than I was here a couple weeks ago and it was super hot. It’s a lot cooler now. I think a lot of guys might go out at a pace where they—it’s almost time for prayer, I think—want to do a really good time, and I think it might be more about running for place rather than time tomorrow just because I think it’s going to be challenging to run the kind of times we’re used to in the conditions and on the course. It’s a little windy.
iRunFar: You’re going into your first 100k. You’ve never even run a marathon on the road. What’s the longest road race you’ve run?
Miller: Maybe a half marathon? Mount Evans Ascent was technically on a road, and I think that was about 14, 15 miles. I think that’s my longest.
iRunFar: So you’ve got another 40-some miles. What are you most nervous about or excited about for running 100k for the first time?
Miller: Yeah, like Mike was saying, the heat is going to be a factor—not just the heat but the humidity. I think if we had these temperatures and no humidity, it would actually be quite good. But with the humidity in there, that’s going to be a factor, so that makes me a bit nervous. I always kind of get a little nervous about how fast guys are going to go. Are they going to jump off the line at 5:45 or something crazy like that? What am I going to do in response to that? Usually they shoot the gun and that kind of all sorts itself out. There’s a lot of good competition. I haven’t cranked on the road like this too much.
iRunFar: You’ve not cranked on the road. You’ve not done 100k. If somebody does go out really fast, how do you know that’s too fast or within your range of possibilities?
Miller: I think I can kind of gauge off of some other people in the race. I think I can look to guys like Jonas Buud from Sweden. He’s supposed to be a pretty smart racer. You kind of know the guys that you’re looking for that should be able to hold what they’re doing like Steve Way and those guys. So if there’s some guy that no one has heard of that shoots off the front, hey, maybe he’ll make it, but he may also come back.
Wardian: There was a guy from Norway.
Miller: Just judging stuff like that, I think. Then my American teammates like Mike and Max King, I think maybe keying off of them should be helpful.
iRunFar: Do you guys foresee the team working together early in the race purposefully?
Wardian: I would think so. I think we’re all going to be trying to get in the top 10. I think it would be pretty sweet. I think we all have the talent and ability to be in the top 10. We’re all going to be in that first couple groups running together. I think that’s usually what happens in these types of races. It’s really easy running. We’re all capable of running 5:45 pace for a really long time, but I don’t think that’s going to be sustainable. I think it’s going to be more between 6:00 to 7:00 pace, and that’s really easy for us to run for a really long time. These races in general, it’s really easy until it’s not, and then it gets really, really hard really, really fast. I think that’s what’s going to happen tomorrow. It’s going to be a big group for a really long time, and then it’s going to be like popcorn. People are going to be exploding off the back. You’re going to look around and you’re going to see people’s faces start straining a little bit and then they’re either going to be there or they’re not. That’s when you have to be able to race.
iRunFar: You’ve run this a bunch of times. How do you run it? Do you approach it so you’re running for your best race or do you just hang with a certain pack? How do you sort out that effort?
Wardian: I’ve never done worse than top 10, so I want to kind of keep that streak alive. I think it’s going to be really hard this year. Even amongst our group we have six guys who are going to be in the top 10 and then you have Steve Way, Jonas Buud, Giorgio Calcaterra, all the Japanese guys who are always strong, the Russian guys, the Italian guys, even some German guys. I think it’s going to be tough to be in the top 10 this year. What I like to do is I like to try to keep it as easy as possible and then be there at the end to try and compete and put myself in a good position. So if I can do that and stay comfortable, I didn’t do that as well in the 50k, so I’m going to try and rectify that.
iRunFar: Zach, it seems at Sonoma and Les Templiers that you’re quite aggressive and sort of go all out there. Do you think having the team aspect might temper your approach a little bit?
Miller: That’s a good question. There is the team aspect, and, yeah, I don’t want to ruin it for the team.
Wardian: The nice thing is we have six of us and we only need to score three. What the Japanese tend to do is they have guys who are like Zach or whoever and they go out and run as hard as they can. Then they have a couple guys that just sit back and run a comfortable pace that they can hold. They’re basically like the sweepers. We’re going to have three guys that finish, so I don’t think Zach needs to worry about if something happens. I don’t think he should change his race to help the team.
iRunFar: Does that mean that somebody like you can plan to be that person?
Wardian: Yeah, I’m just hoping to be solid.
iRunFar: You’re not going to try to win it?
Wardian: Yeah, if I feel good I’m going to try to go, but I think that’s something we can decide on the go. I don’t think anyone should sacrifice their race for the team. I think we’re all… we’re going to have three guys that finish for sure.
iRunFar: And finish strong. If two guys blow up…
Wardian: Everybody’s going to blow up at some point.
iRunFar: You know what I mean. If two guys run 7:20, it doesn’t matter because there are going to be three guys under 6:45 hopefully or…
Wardian: Exactly. So, you didn’t have the race you wanted, but you’re still going to come home with gold.
iRunFar: That’s the plan?
Wardian: Heck yeah.
iRunFar: Do you agree with that plan, Zach?
Miller: I want to come home with a gold for sure.
Wardian: Heck yeah, that’s why we’re here. We’re here to come home with some hardware, man. I think our girls are going to come home with gold, too. I don’t see anyone else who can compete. Great Britain has a good team for the women, but our team is solid.
iRunFar: And there are five strong women for the U.S. Great Britain only has three women total.
Wardian: Yeah, exactly.
iRunFar: If one of them has a bad race, it’s a big risk.
Wardian: Exactly. So they have to run a little bit more conservatively than we do. We can hammer. That’s the plan.
Miller: I think there are probably some other very good men’s teams out there from the other countries.
iRunFar: The Italians have the guy who won and finished third last year.
Wardian: Yeah, exactly, and they ran fast. They had another guy who didn’t run as fast but they still ended up doing very well because you have two guys that run 6:30 and faster, that’s a hard differential to overcome. But I think we have the talent to do that, too. I don’t see why we shouldn’t.
iRunFar: And on a day like this or on a course like this, and tomorrow it’s still going to be pretty warm and humid, do you just forget about time?
Wardian: I think in every world championships you forget about time and even in the Olympics. Those guys aren’t running 2:03. Those guys are running what—the Olympic record is something like 2:06 or something? 2:05? It’s a lot slower than those guys normally run. I think you have to run… I think the fastest one was when Sammy Wanjiru went out, right, and brought all those other guys with him. Everyone was like, “Oh, they’re too fast, too fast,” but someone is going to make it in the group.
iRunFar: You’ve seen that happen with the time not being a consideration like when you did the Olympic Trials a couple years ago and everybody went out slow. It didn’t matter. It was a tactical race. You found yourself in the front.
iRunFar: Yeah, I was winning for 10k. I had these grandiose plans that I was going to the Olympics, and then 80 guys passed me in less than 10 seconds… and I was out the back. Who cares, right? You come home with a gold medal and no one goes, “Did you run 6:19?” They don’t even care. They don’t know. They just say gold or silver or bronze or whatever position we end up with—that’s what’s important.
Miller: I feel like in ultras I’m never really so concerned about time except for the fact that my goal is to run as fast as I can. I don’t usually set out in an ultra saying, “Oh, my goal is to break this course record, or my goal is to break the American record.” My goal is to run as fast as I possibly can, to give it my absolute best. If that’s a course record then that’s a course record, but I don’t run looking at splits all day trying to chase certain people’s times at certain checkpoints on the course.
iRunFar: Can you even read your watch?
Miller: Yeah, Peter Maksimow gave me this watch and it’s kind of fogged up, and Andy Wacker gives me a hard time for it, “How can you see your splits?”
iRunFar: Somebody get this kid a watch, okay?
Miller: I hit ‘start,’ and when I finish my run I hit ‘stop.’
iRunFar: They’ll do that for you on Friday, you won’t have to wear it.
Miller: I won’t wear this. I’ll take this off.
iRunFar: You won’t even have a watch on.
Miller: No, I like to go off of feel, feel and race the people around me. Yeah, I don’t know. Maybe one day I’ll change my mind. My favorite part is right before a race, I take my watch off.
iRunFar: You feel free?
Miller: Yeah, like ahhh, it’s gone. It’s not there. I just love that.
iRunFar: So many people these days are wearing GPS’s on the trail and tracking their stuff on Strava, you just go out there for a certain amount of time?
Miller: Yeah, it’s okay. Everybody just needs to do what works for them. If you want to use GPS, if you want to map it online, if you want to use Strava, that’s fine. You can do whatever you want. I’m not going to knock you for what you do. Whatever works, works. But I like the freedom of not really keeping too much data. I overanalyze and then I go out for a run and go, “Oh, I ran this in 55 minutes last week. I’ve got to run it in 54 this week.”
iRunFar: That’s the thing. You’re an engineer by training.
Miller: My coach, Dave Warth, told us in college—we were all engineers—“You guys think too much. You overanalyze everything.” He tried to get that out of us. I think I never really learned it until I left. For some people, they need that data. They want that data. It is helpful, and it can be very helpful. But I’ve just enjoyed the freedom of not being stuck on it, not going home and overanalyzing it. I kind of train on a “do it and forget it” policy. I do the workout and then it’s gone. What did I do? I ran hard on Tuesday.
iRunFar: You have a general idea—you ran hard on Tuesday. You don’t micromanage.
Miller: I have a general idea of what I’m doing. I might even say, “Okay, this week I’m going to do a workout this day of the week.” But I don’t record all the numbers. I’ll say, “I’m going to run this long,” or “I’m going to fartlek with a surge of this length, like six minutes.” There are a couple routes back in Colorado Springs that I do check times on sometimes, but for the most part I just keep it pretty loosey-goosey and I carry that into racing.
iRunFar: So you keep things loosey-goosey but you’re also a dichotomy because you have a lot of habits.
Miller: Yeah, I do have some habits.
iRunFar: You love your bananas in races. You get in late on whatever night it was, on Tuesday night, and then “Today’s the day I do 70 minutes because it’s this many days out from the race.” And then the day after the race, it’s 70 minutes. You always run in your Nike Terra Kigers, so you’re planning to race a 100k road run in your Kiger Trail shoes because they work.
Miller: Yeah, they work. Yeah, so I’m loosey-goosey, but I’m also kind of methodical in certain things and probably more like when I approach… if I have a goal, I want to hit it. Maybe that goal isn’t a pace, but that goal might be, “I’m going to run for this long today.” So that’s the goal. So if I say, “I’m going to run for 70 minutes today,” I want to get that 70 minutes in. I don’t want to be laying in my bed at night going, “Oh, I was supposed to run 70 minutes and I only ran 45. I’m such a slacker.” So, yeah, I am methodical about certain things. I like to stick to what works—my bananas, my Kigers. I guess I’m just kind of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There are certain aspects, but there are days when I don’t have a race for months and I’m out on the trails and I was supposed to run maybe 2.5 hours and I explored a little and end up out there for 4 hours. Sometimes that happens.
iRunFar: And that’s okay.
Miller: That’s okay. It was just a little extra running that day.
iRunFar: You mentioned a little bit about goals. What are you guys’ goals for this, for the race tomorrow?
Wardian: I’d like to come home with a gold medal for the team, and I’d like to be in the top 10. Those are my goals. I’d like to be on the podium again. That’s always a good feeling to hear the national anthem of your country because of something that you did yourself. I think that’s one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me. I’d like to have that experience again.
Miller: Yeah, I definitely want to try and get that team win and bring home the gold medal. I’d like to be a scorer on that team, so that’s top three for the U.S. men. Now the team is very good, so you could have a good day—heck, you could finish in the top eight and be fourth on the U.S. team.
Wardian: Or sixth.
Miller: Yeah, ideally I’d like to be in that scoring group, I’d like to bring home the team title, and I’d like to be in that top 10. Preferably, to be honest, I’d like to be in the upper part of that top 10, but there are a lot of factors—it’s a long race and I haven’t really done it before. We’ll see how it goes. Yeah, I just want to go as fast and as high as I can.
Wardian: I think it would be sweet if we sweep the podium. To be honest, I think it’s completely within our realm. Obviously, there are some super-legit dudes and they would have to not have the race and we would all have to have great races. That would be just epically awesome, I think.
iRunFar: So, Zach, do you think about the fact that you’re pretty young for this 100k crowd?
Miller: Yeah, I do, but I’m not the youngest here. In France, I was the youngest in the international competition. They kept calling me the “kid” of the race. Marco thought they were calling me the “king,” and I told him, “No, they’re not calling me the “king,” they’re calling me the “kid.” There’s a little difference. Yeah, the Russian guy is 24 unless I’m mistaken, so he’s actually younger than me. I just turned 26 at the end of October, so I’m actually 26 now. Yeah, I think about that. This race is different for me because I was at the mountain championships and we take a junior team, so there are these kids that are 19 and under and the team itself is pretty youthful. I came here and… I by no means want to offend anybody, but to some extent I look around and I feel like I’m racing my dad because of their age and these guys are very, very good. I hope I’m really good through my 30’s and on into my 40’s as well. But it’s just different—I’m sitting at a meeting and it’s like, Is this person an athlete or somebody’s mom?
Wardian: And Meghan [Arbogast] could kick almost everybody’s ass.
Miller: And that’s awesome because I got beat by Simon Gutierrez at Pikes Peak this year and the guy’s like in his 40’s and he could be my dad and he kicked my butt. He got 12th overall. It’s just a testament to the dedication and commitment of those athletes, and it’s a testament to the fact that you can have longevity and you can be good in this type of sport for a very long time. But as the young guy in here, it’s kind of a strange spot to be. Isn’t everybody supposed to be 25?
iRunFar: So, guy-who-could-be-Zach’s-dad…
Wardian: That’s me.
iRunFar: Do you think about—you were talking about getting on the podium overall and that would be great—do you think about separately as being a masters runner because so many of the great runners here are like Giorgio Calcaterra and…
Wardian: And Steve Way and Jonas Buud is a master also. Yeah, it’s pretty rad to see so many incredible athletes—even Meghan, she’s just timeless. To still be able to compete on a world level and to represent your country as you’re getting older is just such a privilege. I think it’s a big deal. I think it’s cool for people… I have so many people, you know, I work as a broker professionally and so many people say they’re too old or have too many responsibilities.” Most of the people here have full-time gigs where they’re doing stuff and are taking care of kids and doing all the stuff that regular people do and you’re still able to represent your country. To have a chance to be on the podium and be on the top 10 and help your team come home with a medal—I think that’s one of the coolest things about it. You can still be competitive in what we do and you can even be one of the best people in the world at what you do as you age and especially if you stay dedicated to it. You just have to stay healthy. That’s a responsibility for every athlete and a challenge for every athlete especially as we’re doing so many miles or kilometers or however you want to say it. That’s one of the challenges. I think as you age, you can use some of that experience to offset maybe some of the… I don’t even think you lose anything really. I think you just gain… your base just expands over time. You just have all that endurance to draw from.
Miller: Yeah, for sure.
iRunFar: Thanks guys. Best of luck.
Wardian: Yeah, awesome.
Miller: Yeah, you, too.