Trail Chat with Nicole Hunt: Zach Miller

May’s MTC Trail Chat is with Zachariah Miller from Corvallis. Zach has placed in the top 6 on 2 occasions at the prestigious Western States 100, he's also won the Mountain Masochist 54-miler in Virginia, and won the Keystone Classic in 17:30 which is a 5k with a beer every ½ mile. Now that's some range!

Who is Zach Miller?
I’m a MSU professor in the College of Agriculture. I do research and farmer and consumer education on sustainable agriculture. Most of the work I do is on fruit and vegetable production. My family and I moved over to the Bitterroot last summer. What’s a MSU professor doing in Griz territory? Well, I run the MSU-Western Ag Research Center in Corvallis, MT. I’d been a professor over in Bozeman for a few years before the move. After a year, we’ve really grown to love the valley. I’m from Iowa originally. Mid-West represent!!! Ran track and cross country in high school and college (Luther College, a D-3 school). Now I’m married. My wife, Amanda, is an artist. We have twin girls who are now in 3rd grade.

What gravitates you to trail racing?                                                                       
I've always been drawn to trail ultras. I was pretty slow in middle school track. I was the kid who got put on the relay teams with all the lumbering throwers (you know the linemen who did shot put and discus). But I loved distance running. As a 13-year old, I’d go out for a run and see how far I could go before I had to stop. It was the challenge and adventure that really drew me in. The training paid off and I got reasonably fast. In college, every race was too short. After a 20 miler, I was just warming up. After college, I moved to Logan, Utah to work for the University there in the late nineties. I started running in the mountains a lot. I took the same approach and tried to see how far I could explore. I was running 5-8 hour routes, often stumbling back to the house in the middle of the night. My housemate thought I was nuts but they told me there were others like me and they got together for races. Ultra running was fairly new then and I had no idea that it existed. I started racing and winning. That was fun, but what keeps me motivated is still the training. It’s both adventure and meditation. Put another way, it’s both an external and internal exploration. Those things seem to draw a great community of folks.

What are you goals for the season?
Goals? I’m turning 40 this year and am busy with work and family. I don’t have time for goals, except making time for some great runs.

What are your top 5 running accomplishments?
Building enough endurance to run a 100 miler.

Learning how to pee while running.

Sharing the rewards of trail running with others.

A couple top 10 finishes at Western States.

Winning the Keystone Classic in 17:30- it’s the ultra-beer mile both in terms of distance and beers consumed. It’s a 5k with a beer every ½ mile.

Describe 2 favorite hard workouts:
By far my favorite workout is a 5-6 hour run through the mountains on a beautiful trail with good friends. For suffering and working on staying relaxed while working hard, I still like getting on the track for mile repeats at 5:30 pace.

Please describe a typical training week:
Out of necessity, I've started to do hard/easy weeks. Everything is based on time not mileage. Some of the time is on a bike. In a hard week- 10-15 hours of workout with two intense workouts. In an easy week, I get it what fits in.

What is your favorite trail race? 
It’s hard to pick. Each one has its special thing. It’s like picking a favorite kid. The Bighorn 100 is a great course (except the final 4 miles) and the scene is great. Back East, the Superior Trail and Mountain Masochist are spectacular courses. I guess if I had to pick, my favorite race is a one I haven’t done before. I don’t repeat races that often.

What is your favorite trail and why?
I’m new in the area and all my favorites are around Bozeman. My favorite is in the Spanish Peaks Wilderness. The route loops up from Indian ridge to beacon point and drops back down hell roaring and back to the Indian ridge parking lot. It’s a fairly big loop but all of it’s runnable. There’s drinkable water up high so I don’t need to carry anything more than a bottle. The views are incredible.

Who inspires you and why? 
Friends and family because we all get better by doing more and having fun together. Explorers of all kinds and Nature.

Describe the most difficult or memorable experience in a race and how did you overcome and what did you learn from it? 
At the North Face Championships in Marin a few years ago, I learned to read the back of the salt pill bottle. I’d forgot my S-caps at home and could only find Endurolytes before race started. I figured I take them at the same frequency not knowing that they have like a ¼ of the strength of S-caps. At 30 miles I was doing well when I got cramps in my quads, hamstrings, and calves all at once. That’s a hard one to stretch out. I ate a lot of bananas rolled in salt and walked it out and still ended up in the top 10.

What is something unique about you?
I've worked quite a bit in the jungles of Latin America. I even did a race down there. I swam in my tighty-whities, rode a rusty broken bike that I’d fixed with my leatherman, and placed 3rd in triathlon behind the Ecuadorian and Peruvian National champions.

Seth Swanson said you have a great "dead" elk story. Tell us more!
You never know what you’ll find out on the trail, so just get out the door. On a rainy Sunday morning this spring, I was struggling to get out the door for a long run. There was too much to do at home. The weather sucked. I may have been a bit hung over. With a last sip of coffee, I'd bolted figuring I just get out and see how bad it was. The roads and trails were pretty muddy so I took off cross country through the sage brush behind my place. The weather was still miserable but the run was turning out better than expected. Sage brush in spring has some of the best flowers and they change with elevation and on different sides of hills. It was also interesting because I could learn more about how animals move on the landscape by following game trials. Hey, I’m a nerd and like to combine botany and animal behavior with running. Cresting a ridge, I spied a small elk herd on a nearby mountain. I snuck over to get a closer look. I didn't know at the time how close that look would be. The wind was howling on the ridge and I came in with it in my face. I got within 30 yards of a group of nice sized bulls. Eventually, they got nervous and moved off. I followed, looking for shed antlers as I hurdled the sage brush. Suddenly, I saw an antler down the hill below me. As I got close I saw it was a dead bull. It was laying in an awkward position up on a big sage. I ran right up to its back and came around to the elks head. It was a nice 5x5. I was reached out to grab the antlers and give a shake to see if I could rip off the head. Just before I grabbed it, the elk’s eyes fluttered open. He must have had a hard night and was having the strangest wakeup call he’d ever had. I’m sure my eyes were at least as big as his. We both stumbled back clumsily and stared at one another. I was glad that he decided that flight was better than fighting. The whole run was amazing and I almost missed it by being lazy. Glad that I got out the door. I’ve got another story about when my friend and I run up on two grizzlies that where in the middle of mating, but that’s for another time.

Thank you Zach for taking the time in your busy life for an interview. Best wishes for a great 2015 racing season. Watch out for those wild animals. That mating Grizzly bear story sounds like a good one too!  

Dream-Believe- Train-Celebrate ~Nicole Hunt


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