Zach Bitter took sixth at last year’s IAU 100k World Championships in Qatar and will be the top American man returning to this year’s world championships. In the following interview, Zach talks about his race last year, how his 2015 has gone, and how he thinks the American team will do this year.
To see who else is running, check out iRunFar’s 2015 IAU 100k World Championships preview.
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Zach Bitter Pre-2015 IAU 100k World Championships Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Zach Bitter before the 2015 IAU 100k World Championships. How are you, Zach?
Zach Bitter: Good. How about yourself?
iRunFar: Alright. You are the top returning American.
Bitter: Yeah, I guess so.
iRunFar: You had a great race last year. You came in sixth with a really solid, consistent race. You were not up in sixth most of the race, and I don’t know if it was you catching people or them coming back to you, but how did the race go in your mind?
Bitter: I think it was a little bit of both. I don’t know that I sped up a whole ton at the end of the race, but I just kind of held steady. A lot of guys who I think went out fast thinking the course was going to be a little quicker than it actually was paid a little bit from the sharp turns and the granite tiling last year. So I was able to kind of maintain some of my paces from the early stages and not fade too much at the end. That helped me move up quite a bit at the end.
iRunFar: That capped off a period, I don’t know if it was a year or so, but you just had amazing performance after amazing performance. Then you kind of went quiet for awhile after Doha. Was that an intentional time off? Were you injured?
Bitter: Yeah, it took me a little longer to recover from world 100ks than some of the other races. I think some of that might have just been that it was my first international race and given the nature of that race being at night and then red-eying the following night—it took a little bit more to bounce back. Then, yeah, I really do a lot listening to my body. Sometimes you’ll see me just racing a bunch together because I’m feeling good and recovering a lot, but if it’s… if my body says don’t do anything super intense, I’m not going to make it do that. Yeah, I spent a lot of time in the winter just kind of building base and then this summer getting back into some specific workouts for this year.
iRunFar: You did have one good race that I know of this spring. You won the Ice Age 50 Mile.
Bitter: Yeah, that was fun. Yeah, I did try and trickle a couple in there. I did the Ice Age 50 Mile and a new event in Wisconsin called the Apple Creek 50k which is a nice little 7.75-mile loop that goes a little on pavement and a little on trail and a lot of different stuff. Yeah, there were a couple little ones that I trickled in. Ice Age was definitely a lot of fun and always a cool course to get on.
iRunFar: This is a big step up competition-wise from either of those races. Are you feeling physically and mentally ready to go for this weekend?
Bitter: I think so. I’m really excited for this course because I’ve done two 100k road races in the past, one being Doha and the other being Mad City 100k. Both of those are relatively fast courses when we’re looking at the sport of ultrarunning, but for road races, they’re not the fastest 100k’s you can do. So I’m hoping to see a pretty good time boost from the fast 10k loop we have here in Winschoten. Then on top of that, I’ve been, like you said, I haven’t been doing a whole lot of racing lately, so I have been able to get in some good workouts and have been doing a lot of speedwork and have been hitting some times in those workouts that I haven’t hit in a few years. I’m excited to see how that all plays out.
iRunFar: So on this course, there are still a lot of turns, but from what you’ve heard, it’s set up to be pretty quick?
Bitter: Yeah, from what I’ve heard based on… so this is the fifth year they’ve had 100k World Championships in Winschoten, and from what I’ve heard, it’s one of the faster venues they’ve been able to get on. There are some tight turns in there. It’s not a perfect circle or anything like that or a perfect loop, but there are enough short, little half-mile straightaways where you can kind of get in a groove for awhile and go a lot quicker. Then it’s pancake flat.
iRunFar: It’s pancake flat. It is not hard tile. It is not hot and humid and in the middle of the night. If there’s weather anything like this on Saturday, it’s going to be a fast day.
Bitter: Yeah, I think so. I think so. I think we’ll see, after this year, we’ll be able to see Max King’s North American record be put into perspective because what he did on that course comparatively was pretty amazing. Even to have a time like he had on a much faster course would be a pretty cool experience for me or for anyone in the field I think. It will be a fun day to go out and mix it up with some fast guys.
iRunFar: Do you have any goals for this weekend?
Bitter: Yeah, I think as a team, I’d love to see us get back on top of the podium again. I think we have a little bit of a different look this year than last year with no Max King and no Zach Miller, but we’ve got some guys who I think are capable of running some good times. It would be pretty fun to reclaim that. Personally, I’d like to get a PR in the 100k for sure. I think if I have a good day, and the course proves to be pretty quick, I think I can get under 6:30.
iRunFar: How do you balance the team component with your personal component? Do you think they can mesh together?
Bitter: Yes, I think actually last year that was one of the coolest parts of the race because you had the two dynamics going on—you had your race and the team race. I really hadn’t felt anything like that since cross country in college and high school. Just to be able to, when you’re maybe struggling a little bit thinking of your personal goals, maybe kind of switch your mind to, Well, if I slow down, maybe I’m affecting the team as well. Or if you speed up, you have two other motivational things to look at as opposed to just like, I’m letting myself down, or This isn’t going well for me. So I think it’s a really cool set-up the way they have that.
iRunFar: Do you think the U.S. squad has a realistic chance for another gold?
Bitter: Yeah, it’s always interesting in a race like this because if you look at last year’s field, there were a lot of guys who were top caliber that fell back and faded because of the way these 100k events work where the lead pack usually gets out fairly unsustainably quick. By nature of that, you’re going to have a couple guys survive and run really, really good races, and you’re going to have a bunch of guys that pay for it. If the right guys pay for it, then your team can move up and take advantage of that.
iRunFar: Now on the U.S. squad, you have a lot people who have maybe less experience at 100k. Is it going to be a race where you have to have everyone go out and just nail it knowing you’re going to have a blow-up, or could there be almost a conservative effort by the team? I mean, not conservative, but not having the A+ day?
Bitter: In the past, I think the winning team has had a lot of luck with just their third-place guy not falling too far back. On some of the other courses it’s that seven-hour mark that you want to get your three guys under seven hours and then you have a good look at things. I think we have the guys who can do that if we have some guys who have good performances. I’m sure there are a lot of other teams thinking the same thing. It will be fun to find out on Saturday.
iRunFar: Alright, well good luck out there and have fun.
Bitter: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.