Zach Miller is in Spain to represent the U.S. at the 2018 Trail World Championships. In the following interview, Zach talks about how his training has gone so far this year, how he trains for fast races while living at high altitude, how he matches up with two-time defending champ Luis Alberto Hernando, and what brought him back to racing for the U.S. for the first time since 2014.
Zach Miller Pre-2018 Trail World Championships Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell with Zach Miller before the 2018 World Trail Championships. How are you, Zach?
Zach Miller: I’m good. How are you, Bryon?
iRunFar: Doing all right. It’s a beautiful day here in Valencia.
Miller: Yeah, it is. It’s sunny, blue skies. It’s super nice.
iRunFar: And kind of temperate.
Miller: Yeah, I guess so. I mean, it has been raining some up in the mountains in the afternoon but I think it will be a good race climate.
iRunFar: Totally. How has your training been going leading up to this?
Miller: Good. I’ve been pleased. You know, it’s hard to have any training block that’s completely free of any glitches or whatever, but it actually went pretty smoothly. I’ve been training since January basically for this and just for the season in general but yeah, focusing on this right now. I did have a few little things here and there, I had a couple of weeks where my knees were pretty troublesome but I got that back under control and it never really hindered the training too much.
iRunFar: A little easier going than last winter and spring?
Miller: Yeah. Last winter and spring was kind of a wreck. I messed up my back and had to take a full six weeks off. Then when I came back, I was behind and even so, it still nagged me. With the knees this season, it was like, “Oh, they hurt all of a sudden.” I might have taken two days completely off and then I took about a week where my training volume was kind of high but I split it up between running and biking. So I’d do half my training as running, half as biking on the trainer. So that was good. Then, yeah, they came around and I’m feeling good going into this race.
iRunFar: It must feel good to be down at sea level.
Miller: Yeah, yeah it does [laughs]. Some people are like, “Oh, you must feel like Superman at sea level.” It’s like, I notice it in certain spots, like climbing feels a lot better at sea level than at altitude. And yes, some days you just feel pretty cruiser but it is nice to be down here with all the oxygen.
iRunFar: I mention that because you live up at Barr Camp on Pikes Peak, and what’s the altitude there?
Miller: Our cabin’s at 10,200 feet, or 3,109 meters–that’s on our cabin. That’s the only reason I know what it is in meters. So, yeah, pretty high and training is a mix of above the cabin and below the cabin but I always end up back at the cabin.
iRunFar: How does that work with intensity? There are some faster sections on this course. It’s not a particularly fast course overall, but how do you get that speed and intensity?
Miller: Everyone always wants to know that. You can get it by running downhill. Even if you’re at 10,000 feet, you can find a runnable trail downhill, which the Barr Trail is. It’s a 6.5-mile shot straight to town so I’ve got a runnable trail. I can run places like that. You can hop over to runnable steep downhill dirt roads that you can just totally bomb.
iRunFar: As fast as you want to go.
Miller: Yeah, pretty much. I honestly didn’t do as much of that stuff this training block as I did for stuff like The North Face Endurance Championships 50 Mile where I was specifically training for fast downhills. So there are ways to get intensity. But I don’t typically go down to town and crank mile repeats or anything. To be honest, a lot of my training and a lot of my workouts are at a relatively slower pace compared to folks training down at sea level. It’s just the effort and the taxing of the aerobic system are still there.
iRunFar: There’s a lot of great runners in this field. Luis Alberto Hernando has won twice in a row. As you know, he’s a fast dude. Are you excited to be racing him?
Miller: Yeah, I like racing Luis. We’ve raced a couple times. We raced at Transvulcania one year.
iRunFar: Who came out ahead there?
Miller: He by far. Let’s see, I think I got to the first major aid station first and then we ran across the volcano together to the top, but then I started to fall off somewhere in there. He had gapped me by about three minutes getting to the top of the volcano and then he just destroyed me on the downhill.
iRunFar: Where else have you matched up with Luis Alberto?
Miller: Well, the UTMB the first year I ran it. But I think he had issues with his ankles or some sort of injury really early on. I was probably running the whole race where he’s the one I’m fearing, chasing me from behind. I got into Courmayeur and Billy Yang was like, “Luis dropped, he’s out.” I was shocked, I was like, “Whoa, okay.” Since he dropped so early, we didn’t really have a full race there. I think those were the only two times but I definitely really respect him as a runner. He’s super strong and really, really good.
iRunFar: If I remember correctly, this is the first time you’ve run on a U.S. team since the IAU 100k World Championships, maybe four years ago?
Miller: Yeah, I guess so. I guess I did it three times in 2014 and haven’t done it since. So in 2014, I would have done the short-distance team in Italy, and then I did the long-distance team at Pikes Peak, and then I did the 100k road team. So I did all that in one year. I’ve made some teams since then because I would run some races that would end up being qualifiers. If I had a good race then I’d end up getting the spot. I turned my spot down for a few years.
iRunFar: What brings you back?
Miller: I’ve wanted to run one. I’ve basically run all the U.S. mountain and ultra teams that I feel aren’t quite my forte. The short distance is too short for me. The long distance is too short [laughs].
iRunFar: The World Mountain Running Association ones.
Miller: Yeah, the WMRA ones. And then the [International Association of Ultrarunners] road 100k, well, it’s road. You know, I don’t enjoy it quite as much and it’s kind of a niche spot for the guys that really crank on the roads.
iRunFar: But this race?
Miller: This distance and this style of race is, I guess you could say it’s what I specialize in. It’s kind of my sweet spot, especially this 80 to 100k distance. I’ve been waiting for a year when it would line up and fit my schedule and look like a race that I wanted to do. Finally, this seemed like the year. I’m excited to be here.
iRunFar: Have you toed the line anywhere yet this year?
Miller: I usually lay pretty low in the winter. I did [U.S.] Snowshoe Nationals up in Vermont over the winter, the 10k and half marathon. I did the Hyner Trail Challenge 25k back in Pennsylvania three weeks ago–on race day it will be three weeks ago–as my tune-up for this race. That was super fun and really, really cool. But that’s it. That’s all I’ve raced so far.
iRunFar: You and I have shared a really dear friend in Bill Dooper. He always called you his guy. He passed away not that long ago. Is it going to be a little odd, not getting that phone call before the race?
Miller: Yeah, it’s a little different–not making a phone call to him before leaving for Europe. When I go back there won’t be any phone call from him. Bill was a great guy and I was fortunate enough to get to know him a bit, and have a friendship there. It’s different without Bill. But it’s the same thing as when Bill was alive, you always knew Bill was there supporting you. Even if it had been a while since you talked to him, or if you were in another country or you weren’t getting calls from him. I think it will be the same now.
iRunFar: He’s still out there with you.
Miller: Yeah, he’s out there in spirit. That’ll be good. A little extra motivation to run a little harder. I mean, we’re always running for Bill, but even more so now.
iRunFar: Nice. Well, good luck running out there for Bill.
Miller: Thank you.