Zach Miller returns to the UTMB family of races for the fifth time this weekend. In the following interview, Zach talks about why he’s not raced much this year, whether his fitness is back, whether he considers changing his UTMB race strategy, and how his excitement for running can change day by day.
Zach Miller Pre-2019 UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Zach Miller before the 2019 UTMB. How are you, Zach?
Zach Miller: I’m good. How are you, Bryon?
iRunFar: I’m all right. I missed you over at your home on Pikes Peak, but I get to see you over here.
Miller: Yeah, you did the real whirlwind flop in five-and-a-half days from Pikes Peak to here. I was hoping to be there for the race, but it was too tight. I had to come over here and rest.
iRunFar: You’re doing the right thing. And have you had a chance to rest over here a little bit?
Miller: Yeah, actually. I got here in the afternoon, I went for a run in the evening, and, then, I slept for like 13 hours, which was super great. So, I got some time to rest up before it gets busy, which it’s getting now.
iRunFar: Is this your fourth time at UTMB?
Miller: Yeah, my fourth time at UTMB, but my fifth time over. [Zach won the CCCin 2015.] I’ve been over here more times than that, actually, because of some training trips and stuff like that.
iRunFar: Ahead of these races, whether it’s CCC or UTMB, have you found a good routine or a good way to avoid getting carried away with all the hoopla and commitments?
Miller: Yeah, I feel like it’s been a bit more relaxed this year. Each year you know what to expect more and more. You get a little more used to it. The first year, it’s kind of like, “Wait, there’s a required kit?” Then, you rush around town at the last minute. This year, it’s like, “Oh yeah, the required kit. Let me pull around all of these random things from my bag that I have with me year-round now.”
iRunFar: That works a little better.
Miller: It’s good. I think also this year some of the sponsors didn’t do as much leading into the race, which has been nice – not having as many things to run around and do.
iRunFar: Not three different poster-signing sessions…
Miller: Yeah, I haven’t done that. I’ve signed some autographs, but just for kids and stuff. Nothing formal. So, it’s just been nice to have it a little more chill this year.
iRunFar: Speaking of chill, I don’t think you’ve raced anything since JFK last year. Is that correct?
Miller: I did one race. I did the Buff Epic Marathon, the skyrace, in Barruera when I was over there this summer in July.
iRunFar: How did that go?
Miller: It went well. I had been injured over the winter and in the spring, so that was my first race. I had actually only really been running like significantly for a couple of weeks before that. So, I was out there and I was there more for the brand, Buff, and they said I could race. I thought maybe I would do the 26k, and, then, when I got out there, I had done some longer runs in training. I thought, “Maybe I can do it.” I was like, “I don’t really have anything to lose, I’ll just test the fitness and see how it goes.”
So, I just kind of did it to test things out – and still to race, but I had to be realistic with where I was at. It went well. It was fun, it was technical. Yeah, it was good. My climbing was good. I suffered on the technical downhills, which was to be expected. I came out alive.
iRunFar: This sounds very different, coming into UTMB. You said that for that you were training only a couple of weeks at that point. How do you feel a month later, or six weeks later, coming into UTMB?
Miller: Yeah, I feel much different. There, it was kind of like, “If I think about this, this is kind of crazy. I only did my first significant run a week or two ago. Before that, I was still only running some of the days during the week and doing other stuff on the bike and whatnot.” So, yeah, now it’s definitely where I’ve been doing consistent training and getting up high – doing pretty much all the normal stuff I usually do to prepare. It feels like now I actually have a training block under me, whereas [at Buff Epic] it was kind of like, “A couple weeks, let’s go.”
iRunFar: Do you feel anywhere near as strong as you have for past UTMB races?
Miller: Yeah, I think I’m… I mean, training isn’t always the same year-to-year, so I don’t know exactly where I am for comparison. But I feel strong. I feel in the type of place that I should be in. That’s good. I don’t think I did quite as much as I did last year, but you know me. I’m thinking maybe that’s a good thing. You never know.
Yeah, it’s like my workouts went well. I did some speed workouts and I was actually kind of surprised at how they felt, and that’s a good sign. Even very early on in the training, I jumped onto the Manitou Incline and ran a fast time, and that was basically off of bike training. I was really surprised.
iRunFar: Do you think being fresh, or relatively fresh, could that be a benefit?
Miller: It could be. I tend to be a person that runs well when I’ve been training for quite a while and like, just when I have that deep strength of months and months. I think in a race like UTMB you have to be able to tap into the well and just like kind of have something left in the tank. So, yeah, I think it could be a benefit. But I always think I race super well in fall, after I’ve built my base in the winter and trained more specifically in the spring and summer, so when I get to fall, I have this huge engine. We’ll see. If I race super well on Friday and Saturday, then the answer is “yes.”
iRunFar: Well, with UTMB specifically, you’ve gone with a reasonably similar strategy each year. You’ve run sort of “Zach Miller style” – going out hard – and each year it’s worked out a little bit less.
iRunFar: Do you ever think about trying to go out a little more conservatively?
Miller: Yeah, I do. I mean, last year I felt like the race was going very well until it wasn’t. That’s certainly a part of 100 miles, and it can mean that your strategy wasn’t good. Yeah, I guess my best year was my first year [he took sixth in 2016], and then the next year I felt really off my game [when he finished ninth]. The next year I felt went much better than the second year, but I blew up at Champex-Lac [76 miles/123k] with fatigue and then some injury issues with my foot freaking out. Yeah, I certainly have thoughts of racing just completely differently.
iRunFar: What would that look like? Could you mentally do that?
Miller: I think I could. I just have to commit to it or whatever. You know, I obviously think about it. It’s not like I come in every year and think, “I’m going to do exactly what I did last year and blow up.” It’s a bit difficult for me, because my race strategy comes usually more similar to what my 50-mile strategy is. That just happens to be a distance that I seemed to dial in fairly quickly and the 100-mile, like I do one a year. I haven’t dialed it in very quickly. Maybe it’s because I need to race it differently than I do in a 50. I’m completely aware that I feel like the 100 is a distance I haven’t really sorted out yet. I keep trying, but it keeps kind of blowing up in my face.
iRunFar: But then you have other examples, like Jim Walmsley going to Western States the first few times – it didn’t work out. The last two times he dialed it in. He had a similarly aggressive strategy.
Miller: I think about that, too. Look at what Jim did. He basically did the same sort of thing the first two years, and then on the third year he got it. That’s how I sometimes approach things when I’m trying to decide what to do: “What would I tell someone else if they were in my shoes?” I would have told Jim – I like his aggressive style, but if your goal is to win the race – I would have said, “Look, you’re pretty much the fittest guy and the best runner in the race, you might as well just go easy and play your cards later, like halfway through or 60% of the way through and you’ll probably win. Just don’t beat yourself.” So, I think about that for myself. Is that what I would tell myself? It’s the complexity of head versus heart – do I run with my heart or my head? It’s fun to run with your heart, but sometimes it’s better to run with your head.
iRunFar: That kind of anticipates my next question. You’ve been to the UTMB races four times. You seem to be a person who runs well with passion and excitement. Are you just as excited this year as you have been in the past?
Miller: No, I would say I was probably the most excited my first year. It was new, it was uncharted territory. Life is just like that – after a while, you get kind of jaded. You still stay hungry, and when I’m out training I think about the race and get kind of amped. But, you know, things change over time and I think that’s okay. For me, maybe that’s better in terms of strategy and things if my mind relaxes a bit and isn’t so amped. So, yeah, I don’t know. In fact, the mental side of things is interesting. I was here six weeks ago training. I was like in a weird mental space. I was getting the training in, but, to be honest, I wasn’t having that much fun. I think I was kind of stressed out, maybe a bit homesick or something. I talked to Marcin Świerc about it a little – he was training there with me. I was like, “Right now, I don’t even feel like running UTMB. I don’t really have that desire to like go run all day for 24 hours around the mountain.”
But, you know, a lot of that stuff is temporary. Then I went home, got rested up a bit more and like got some sleep. I get like that when I get really tired. So, then I got home and I got back to Colorado and started doing some really cool runs. I went out and ran the Ponte Buchanan loop for training and it was just like full of wildflowers and I had a good day where I just felt like I could run forever. I was about to just like crawl into the back of my truck and fall asleep and then get up and run it back around the other way, but I didn’t because I had to get back to Barr Camp. So, then it was like, “Okay, that feeling I had in Chamonix is obviously a bit temporary.” You can’t judge your whole life or your whole year on one day. There’s going to a day where I’m like, “This is a dumb sport.” Then there’s gonna be other days when I think this is the greatest thing in the world.
iRunFar: Well, I look forward to seeing how you do out there, Zach. I hope you enjoy your day out there.
Miller: Yeah, I hope to. I want to get around the mountain and have a good day in the mountains.