With his second place this year, that makes four finishes for Zach Miller at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. In the following interview, Zach talks about how the race played out from his perspective and if he think this year’s or last year’s race was more painful, if he’s going to take an off-season now despite a shorter 2017 racing season, and how UTMB remains in his sights for 2018.
For more on the race, check out our in-depth results article.
Zach Miller Post-2017 The North Face 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: We’re not doing it live, but this is Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Zach Miller after the 2017 TNF 50 Mile. How are you doing, Zach?
Zach Miller: I’m doing good, Bryon.
iRunFar: I’m not as tired as you, but I’m tired. But you seem to maybe bring it on yourself. You have these races that are epically intense and competitive. This year did not disappoint.
Miller: If you’re going to do it, you might as well as go all out, I guess.
iRunFar: Yeah, you do, but you bring these other guys along with you for the ride.
Miller: You just rev up the freight train, and whoever wants to hop on, it’s up to them, but it’s fun having them go along.
iRunFar: How was the freight train today?
Miller: It was fast and very painful.
iRunFar: Did you get run over by the freight train in the end?
Miller: No… I wouldn’t say… well, maybe. I feel like it. It was good because we all stayed on the freight train. Blake Hose and I were talking before the race and we were saying, basically there’s probably going to be a stupid group—which would be me, he said, and anyone who went—and, then, there would be a smart group, and he’s more of the smart style. I said, usually what happens is somebody in the stupid group survives, somebody falls off, and somebody from the smart group ends up on the podium. Today, the whole stupid group was the podium.
iRunFar: You’re telling me we’re in the new stupid era of ultrarunning.
iRunFar: You have ushered it in.
Miller: I’m kind of out there running thinking… well, there are a lot of guys running fast, but it’s kind of like, “What have we done?!” I commented to somebody like, “I used to run ultras chatting with Alex Varner in the first miles of the race. At Lake Sonoma we did that. I feel like those days are over. We don’t really chat anymore.”
iRunFar: You hardly even know Hayden [Hawks].
Miller: Yeah, there was very little talking out there.
iRunFar: But it seems like camaraderie builds even with the lack of chatter.
Miller: Oh, yeah. Those guys are great. Hayden and Tim [Freriks], it was fun running with them. It was brutal. I felt like I was battling double. Early on, it felt like Hayden would come up and push the pace, so I’d fight him. Then, he’d move back and Tim would come up and push the pace, and I’d fight him. It was like I was always fighting, but I like to fight.
iRunFar: You had plenty of that. You said you felt better than the last two years, is that true?
Miller: At moments, yeah. I felt really good this morning at the line, warming up. I slept well last night—not very long—but I slept well. When the race started, I felt good, really good. The downhills felt really good. I worked on my downhills a lot in training, so I think it paid off.
iRunFar: You said it used to be a weakness?
Miller: Yeah, it used to be I’d hang on downhills or get dropped and, then, catch up or move ahead on the uphills. Today, it was the opposite. I was getting small gaps on downhills, they were right there, and, then, getting caught on climbs at least in the early stages of the race. Downhills felt really good. Climbing on Muir Beach felt better this year. Even though I was really beat, I felt like I was stronger climbing out of Muir Beach. I’d have to look at data to see…
iRunFar: On your…?
Miller: Not on my Casio, but if somebody took splits. There were just a lot of points in the race where I felt better than I did last year. Was I going faster? I don’t know, but I felt better with one exception. Out of Stinson, I felt awful. That was my one low point of the day, and I felt like the rest was really solid.
iRunFar: I could see that because both you and Hayden didn’t look… Tim just looked…
Miller: Oh, yeah, I could tell basically all day that Tim was really strong. You could listen to how he was breathing and how he looked, and he just seemed really solid. We got into Stinson altogether, and we left and I just like… it was hard to go. Usually, I love to climb out of there real strong and get a little gap, but no, that wasn’t happening today. I didn’t necessarily bonk, but I had a low there. Tim ran off. Hayden ran off on me. Then, I rebounded going into Muir Woods and, then, turned it back on.
iRunFar: Did it feel like a cross country race at all?
Miller: Well, there’s a lot less people than a cross country race, but yeah, back and forth surging and fighting each other, trying to cover moves… in some senses…
iRunFar: More so than where you just go out there and have a good race by yourself much of the way.
Miller: Yeah, I love when you can pull away and be alone, but there was no pulling away today.
iRunFar: When did you get pulled away from?
Miller: At Stinson was where they both pulled away from me. I was able to catch Hayden in Muir Woods and, then, pull away myself. I hit this groove and felt like I was just hammering. I couldn’t catch Tim. He was gone. Maybe I gained a little at some point, I don’t even know, but for the most part, he just kept getting farther and farther away.
iRunFar: Are you glad you entered this at the last minute?
Miller: Yeah, I’m happy with today. It was fun. I was looking for something… my year has been weird. I was looking to kind of punch it and be like, Okay, this was a good year. I did something good this year. Yeah, I’m glad I was here. I built some confidence.
iRunFar: You feel like you could say that? You punched it here?
Miller: Yeah, for the most part. I would have loved to get the “W,” but Tim is a phenomenal runner. I figured he’d be one of the toughest guys to beat, but I’m happy with today. I basically couldn’t lose to a better person.
iRunFar: You had a weird season in starting late… are you going to do a normal winter?
Miller: I think I’m going to do a normal winter. I was talking to Magda [Boulet] the other day, and I was like, “I started my season late. I was kind of thinking I’m kind of getting rolling now. I could extend and go run Transgrancanaria.” But then we were thinking, it doesn’t align with my goals for next year. If I do that, then I go to a spring race and, then, go to a summer race, I’m basically going a whole year without a break. I don’t think that’s wise. I think I finally got through the bulk of my injury. I think now my body would really benefit from some rest and time to let everything completely catch up.
iRunFar: Time to chop some wood?
Miller: We’ve already chopped most of it, but we can shovel snow and do other things.
iRunFar: Me thinking about your timeline for next year, and you talking about UTMB, it popped in my mind that Kilian [Jornet] said eight out of the top-10 men from UTMB this year are entered in the Hardrock lottery. I guess that would include you?
Miller: No, I’m not entered. No, I decided that after last year, I didn’t want to enter the Hardrock lottery unless I knew for sure I wanted to do Hardrock. It’s not fair to play that game. Last year, I didn’t really fully think it through, and I kind of got myself in a pickle. I didn’t want to do that again. No, I didn’t put in for Hardrock.
iRunFar: So, it’s UTMB?
Miller: Pretty much. I haven’t officially announced the schedule, but that’s what I’m thinking.
iRunFar: You now officially announce your schedule?
Miller: Yeah, my mom wrote to me the other day or talked to me, “Are you going to announce your schedule?” I’m like, “Mom, I’m going to finish this year first.” Yeah, I already have a rough schedule in mind for next year.
iRunFar: Rough meaning draft?
Miller: Yeah, up here. I would like to set one up and be like, “This is what I’m doing.” Hopefully, I’ll be healthy, so I can do that.
iRunFar: So you can plan it and stick to the plan.
Miller: Yeah, because last year it was like, “Well, I’m injured, and I have to play things by ear.” That’s stressful and just kind of crummy. Hopefully, it will be smoother next year.
iRunFar: I hope so. Hopefully your mom is out here next year.
Miller: Yeah, I don’t know if I’ll be here next year. It’s hard not to be. I still want to go back and do JFK. One of these years I have to do it. Maybe I’ll be here; maybe I’ll be at JFK. That’s the biggest question mark on my season next year.
iRunFar: As a spectator of the sport, it would be fun to have a year where even with just one or two people who could just really go for a fast time.
Miller: It would be fun to have a year and just stack the field at JFK, because I think we could go so incredibly fast. Basically, if we took The North Face field and put it at JFK. That doesn’t need to happen, but if we could get a year with Patrick Reagan and Tim and Hayden and Jim Walmsley or just a couple, it would be really cool because I think the JFK course could go so fast if we had the competition.
iRunFar: How fast?
Miller: I still kind of think it could go under five hours. I’m not… no disrespect to Walmsley’s course record. It’s stinking fast. It’s way faster than I ran there, but his time… a lot of the fast times, or quite a few of them, were probably pretty much run solo.
iRunFar: And there’s been real jumps in the times. You’d think when you’re getting close to the limit, you’re starting to shave seconds or minutes.
Miller: Yeah, but there has been big jumps taken off. JFK just happened today.
iRunFar: We’ve got to check and see who won. I know Eric Senseman was leading early in the race.
Miller: I don’t know. I had a buddy running, and I know he came in seventh, and he’s run 6:14. It must have been decently fast. Mike Spindler is the race director; he’s a great guy. The race is really historical. It would be cool to see an absolute throw down there one year, but I don’t know when that’s going to be.
iRunFar: We’ve got to thank you and the rest of the guys out here for a couple years of throw downs at The North Face 50.
Miller: We’ll probably have more throw downs here. I’d love to be a part of some more throw downs here.
iRunFar: How did you like the course change?
Miller: It was good. A course is a course—there are better ones and worse ones, but I thought it was good.
iRunFar: Things went smoothly at the end?
Miller: Yeah, there was just a little bobbing and weaving at the end.
iRunFar: It wasn’t like there was a wall of people?
Miller: No, it was good. People were like, “How did you like the bridge?” “Well, at that point I just wanted to stop running, so it kind of stunk.” But the bridge itself, it was a cool way to finish. It’s pretty epic to run across the Golden Gate Bridge to finish your race.
iRunFar: It might not be what you want to do your mid-afternoon run on every day.
Miller: Plus there was a speed sign on the Golden Gate Bridge.
iRunFar: Did you speed up to break 15 miles per hour?
Miller: Not 15. It was at 10, then I sped up to hit 11, and then it went right back down to 10. But 10 is six-minute-mile pace, and 11 is…
iRunFar: Was that on the uphill side or the down?
Miller: I’m not sure. I think it might have been on the downhill side. The new course was great, well, it stinking hurt, but the trail that descends down to the bridge was really cool. From Alta to the bridge was a really cool section, but at that point you just want to be done. You should run it on a day when it’s not the last few miles of a 50 miler.
iRunFar: Congrats again, Zach. Great race.
Miller: Thank you.
iRunFar: We just got a little anecdote from the finish line. Who kissed who?
Hayden Hawks: I kissed Zach on the cheek.
iRunFar: Were you uncomfortable with this?
Miller: No, he was probably really tired. I don’t know if I realized it. Then he was like, “Oh, I’m sorry I kissed you.”
iRunFar: Did you think he was a baby or something?
Hawks: I had my baby, right, and I was kissing him, and, then, my head was just like, “Ughhh,” and Zach gave me a hug, and I just kissed him on the cheek. I don’t know why.
iRunFar: You love the guy!
Hawks: I love him, exactly. Very European.
Miller: Yeah, we’re practicing for UTMB. You kiss babies and men at the finish.
iRunFar: I do look forward to seeing that at UTMB next year.
Hawks: I do love the guy. He’s a good guy.
iRunFar: You guys have had two epic races here the last two years. How does that feel? What is that like being a part of it?
Hawks: It’s amazing.
iRunFar: It’s amazing it’s the same people. You can race hard against other people at different times, but to come into this year knowing that this happened last year…
Hawks: Yeah, we push each other the whole way. Zach passed me through the Muir Woods, and he’s yelling at me, “Let’s go get him! Let’s go get him!”
Miller: I was coming up behind him, and I was thinking I should say, “Two are better than one. Let’s go run him down.” I didn’t say that. I just said, “Let’s get him!” It was cool. We were both getting beat. We might as well work together.
iRunFar: Those last miles, were you thinking about him and you thinking about him?
Hawks: Yeah, I’d heard he might be hurting a little bit, so I was like, Maybe I can get him! Maybe I can get him! I was hurting just as bad if not worse than him probably.
iRunFar: And you?
Hawks: I was hurting for sure, but I kept looking back and didn’t see him. I shouldn’t do it, but I kind of felt like I maybe could ease up, but I don’t want to ease up. Then, I stopped to poo, and, then, I looked back and he’s up there. I got really nervous. So then I cranked it up which was great because then it makes me run faster. Then I just ran really scared across the bridge.
iRunFar: I look forward to seeing you two race again sometime soon. You guys can hug it out.
Hawks: Yeah, he’s gotten me twice. I’ll get him someday.