|
Episode number 137

Zach Miller | Injury, Andorra, & UTMB

Share the trail love:

Zach Miller is one of the all-time legends of trail running. Unfortunately, he’s been dealing with injury for the past three years, which has prevented him from racing an ultramarathon since August 2019. After a nearly three year hiatus, Zach made his triumphant return to racing, winning the Andorra by UTMB 105k, punching his ticket to UTMB Mont Blanc.

Zach’s Andorra Strava file

Follow Zach on Instagram


We πŸ’œ our sponsors!


Dylan Bowman: Hello, free trail people. How's it going? Hope all is well. Thanks for tuning into the podcast today. Our guest is one of the all time legends, one of the greats of this era in trail running, and one of the most requested guests in podcast history. Mr. Zach Miller is finally here for fun interview all about what he's been up to recently. Zach will need no introduction to most of you, but for those newer to the sport, you may have never had the opportunity to see this incredible athlete. Take the start line race in his trademark, aggressive heroic style, often resulting in the most entertaining and impressive performances that have inspired trail runners around the world. Unfortunately, Zach has been off the racing circuit for the last few years due to injury. In fact, until running and winning the Endora by UT M B race at the end of June, Zach hadn't even started in ultra since U T M B of 2019, nearly three full years ago.

Dylan Bowman: Of course, Zach has done a bunch of interviews over the course of his career. So I wanted to orient our conversation around the injury cycle itself and sort of see how he's emerged. On the other side, with the new perspective, we talked all about the injury that he's been dealing with, the surgery that he had performed in 2020, the emotional toll of being on the shelf for so long as a pro athlete and how he's battled through never giving up on the belief that he'd be able to get back to competing and performing at his best. Like I said, Zach made his triumphant return to racing about a month ago at the end of June, by winning the super tough 105 kilometer race in Andora as part of the UT M B world series in doing so successfully punching his ticket back to the UTM B Mo blog, which he intends to do later this month, get your popcorn ready as usual.

Dylan Bowman: The free trail podcast is made possible by our presenting sponsor speed land. The startup footwear brand from Portland, Oregon founded by industry Titans, Dave Don brow, Kevin Fallon, specifically for the trail running world. These guys are doing incredible things, especially for basically just a two man startup speed land is quite simply making the highest quality trail equipment in the game. The SL HSV is out now. The super sleek black trail weapons are some of the best and most well designed shoes ever made. If you haven't tried speed land, yet you owe it to, to yourself to go grab a pair, visit run speed, land.com tell 'em free trail sent you. Okay. Zach Miller. Let's go. Zach Miller old buddy. How's it going, man? Welcome to the podcast.

Zach Miller: Uh, good. Thanks for having me done.

Dylan Bowman: I'm so excited to finally have you on the show. Of course. Uh, you're a fan favorite and I frequently requested guest and we're finally putting it together. You're broadcasting from the Zach shack, mobile home there. Where, where are you right now? I know you've been on the road for a bit.

Zach Miller: Um, yeah, I'm I kind of been all over. I'm in, I'm in Woodland park right now. Woodland park, Colorado. Oh, nice. Which is just above, just above Colorado Springs. So basically I'm in the Springs. We've just been doing some shooting, uh, today and tomorrow up, uh, today we're up near Rampart range reservoir. So I just popped down to town to do the pod.

Dylan Bowman: awesome, man. Yeah. Beautiful area there. Um, well cool. Well, you know, obviously you've done a lot of pods, but uh, you know, I think there's a lot of fun stuff for us to talk about and you've been on a bit of a journey with injury and now coming through that, it seems like with a fantastic victory at the Andora by UT M B race, a hundred 5k just a few weeks ago. And I want to talk all about that, but, uh, before we get to that, I want to tell this story of, uh, when I had to take you to the hospital at the north face athlete summit a few years ago, because I don't think we've ever really spoken about this publicly. And even though it was, uh, a little scary in real time, uh, you know, at least for me, it was a fairly entertaining episode. So maybe, uh, tell the story of what happened there.

Zach Miller: Uh, yeah, we were down in, um, where were we? We were in Moab, I think. Right. We were

Dylan Bowman: In

Zach Miller: Sedona or no, not Moab. We were in Sedona. Yeah. Yeah. We were down in Sedona, uh, Arizona for a athlete summit and I was, I was running and I was just like, I had all this like pain in my chest. So I was like really having trouble like breathing, like getting a full breath in, um, like it wasn't like, my heart was necessarily like, well maybe it was racing cuz I couldn't really get oxygen properly. Yeah. Um, but yeah, I just had like all this chest pain and like, I couldn't like every time I like took a breath and it was just like, it really hurt. Uh, so I probably happened on like one or two runs and then finally I like found you and I was like, Hey, can you, uh, take me to the ER, can you take

Dylan Bowman: Me to the ER hospital?

Zach Miller: Yeah. I gotta get like checked out. Like I can't breathe. Right. So we went in there and uh, yeah, they did like, they did some tests and, and it didn't really come out to be much. I think they basically just thought, like I had some inflammation in there that maybe I had taken a fall or something and inflamed something. And they gave me some meta, like some anti-inflammatory to take and it basically cleared it up. Well,

Dylan Bowman: I mean to add my color to it, I mean, we had gone on a run that afternoon, just a short one. I think it was like, yeah, 60, 90 minutes or something. And I had, we were talking just like about your training and all the stuff that you have going on. And from memory, I remember you saying something like, I've just been running like four or five hours a day. You'd been on the road sort of living in your truck and in true Zach Miller fashion, just going full gas and totally bought in and doing four or five hours of training every day. so, but when I dropped you up at the hospital, I remember they like checked you in and brought you into the back and you fell asleep in like two minutes. He was totally asleep in the back of the hospital. I was like, this is it. You know, you just need to sleep a little bit more train a little bit less, you know, I don't think it's a, a truly, uh, you know, life or health threatening issue. I think Zach Miller just goes full gas all the time. So

Zach Miller: Yeah, I, yeah. And I probably, yeah, I was training a lot. Um, but yeah, I, I still don't really, really know for sure what that was. I think the best I figured was when I ran down from bar camp to go to that athlete summit, some guy had like paid me money to carry a sleeping bag to town for . And so I like ran down with all my gear plus his sleeping bag on my back. And I remember I fell somewhere along the way, like real hard, but I was like fine Uhhuh. And then I, and then on the way out to Sedona, I stopped and did like, or to, uh, not, yeah, Sedona, I stopped and did like a really big run, um, out in lost Creek wilderness. And then I went and visited the Vagos and Flagstaff and it was smoky. And I remember it being painful there and I was like, well, maybe it was just like the smoke messing with me. Yeah. Um, but yeah, then it just kind of got really bad down in Sedona. And so yeah, but I, yeah, I would've been train anyway, but,

Dylan Bowman: Uh, it was all good, you know, but I think, uh,

Zach Miller: Yeah, it clear it cleared up and, uh,

Dylan Bowman: It was one of those things where I think, you know, the fans of the sport would get a little chuckle out of it because basically you, you ran yourself into the hospital because like you just go so hard all the time. And I actually wanted to talk about this and I think this is actually a fun place to start. And just like your work ethic, because like, just thinking about you personally, like I've always known that you're you train super hard. Everybody knows that you race with just this deep determination and courage. And then thinking about living and working up at bar camp it's long hours, it's physically strenuous, you're chopping wood, your cooking meals, you're fetching water. Where does your work ethic come from? Like if you look back at your childhood or the people that were influential upon the person that Zach Miller is, where, where do you think you get your work ethic from?

Zach Miller: Yeah, probably just like growing up, just like everybody in my family is a hard worker. Like, uh, there isn't really any, you know, there isn't really anyone lazy in my family. So, um, and I think my dad, my dad was always like working really hard, doing a lot of physical labor and you know, on a weekend we, we did fun. You know, we did fun things for sure. I played sports and we took the boat out and stuff like that. But then there were also weekends where, you know, the weekend was like splitting, you know, like, you know, like collecting firewood or something, you know, with like my dad and my uncle. And, you know, it'd be like Saturday. That's like just what you're doing. You're just out there, you know, or maybe, you know, or even like some it'll even be family oriented, like, um, that, you know, we might, maybe we're freezing corn.

Zach Miller: We do a lot, you know, we grew up in a very rural area and you're like freezing corn and it's just like a whole family activity. And it's like a Friday, you go by like all the corn you can, like, you can get basically not all the, but you a ton, you buy a ton of corn. And then we just spend like all day, like, you know, just, you know, Husing it and boiling it and cutting it off the cob, putting in bags, putting in the freezer, you know? And so just like all those activities were labor intensive. So I think, and that's just stuff that was normal growing up to do. Um, so yeah, I think it just came from like that, that type of stuff. Um, so yeah, and just like my sisters all got it and like everybody just kind of knew how to work hard.

Dylan Bowman: Yeah. Well, clearly it's made you a great athlete. Where are you right now in your life? I mean, obviously you sort of put the bar camp period of your life and career in the rear view mirror, I think like what a year and a half or two years ago now. And I know you've sort of been on the road back and forth between your home on the east coast, where you grew up and in the mountain west where you've spent a lot of time and you have this beautiful van where you're broadcasting from. So yeah, maybe that's, uh, at least a home much of the year, but what does life look like right now for you?

Zach Miller: Uh, yeah, I've been, I mean, lately I've been bouncing a lot. I've kind of just been on the road since like April. Um, I was, yeah, I'm just kind of wherever I wanna be. I was in Oregon for a good chunk of last year in, in bend. I spent, I base, you know, I, I got there in the summer and then I, I stayed for the fall and then in the winter I hunkered down there and just did a lot of like skiing, like a lot of, of really I didn't do it. I didn't

Dylan Bowman: Even realize that man. We were neighbors.

Zach Miller: Yeah. Yeah. I, I didn't do that. I didn't do nearly as much running in this winter. Um, I did a lot of, uh, Nordic skiing, like a lot of skate skiing. And then in the spring I did a bunch of splitboarding, um, just skiing laps on my splitboard mm-hmm . Um, I also, I did, I ran too and rode my gravel bike as well, but like the winter was a lot of skiing. Um, so yeah, I was there for a while. Um, and then in like April, I just kind of hit the road. Um, and I've just been bouncing. I was like, let's see, I, I, I helped di far at, uh, canyons a hundred K and then I went to Tahoe and did a, a photo shoot. And then I did a running camp in New Mexico and yeah. Then I went to Colorado and trained for like a week or two.

Zach Miller: Then I drove my bus to Pennsylvania and dropped it off at my parents' place, cuz it needed to get some inspections done. And I went to Europe while it got the inspections done. So I was, so I was over in Europe for like a month and then, then I popped back to Oregon for like a week. And then, uh, all then I went all the way back to Pennsylvania to see the family and do some vacation in, in Virginia. And then I just, uh, and then it just, uh, drove out to Silverton the other week and pace pasted, Maggie Gutar hard rock

Dylan Bowman: You're truly living the dream, man. You

Zach Miller: Just yeah. IM her all over. Yeah. Now I'm trying to kind of hunker down. I'm kind of trying to hunker down in Colorado now at least for like, at least to prep for UT M B. Yep. I've been hanging out in the Springs. I know this area really well. So, um, great

Dylan Bowman: Place to train for B especially. Well, awesome. Well, let's talk all about that stuff in a little bit, but I want to just kind of first rewind and talk about the last few years, cuz you've been on a journey bro. And I think much of the sport was so happy to see you pull off that victory at Anora punch your ticket back to UT M B and sort of hopefully start to put this process of injury behind you. And obviously I want to talk all about the race, but first I want to, you know, talk about the injury and I want to read a recent Instagram post of yours just to open the door to this conversation. And of course this comes from a post where there's a brilliant photo of you, you know, going 110% effort down the finishing shoot at the Endora by U T M B race and trademark Zach Miller fashion.

Dylan Bowman: You know, it's sort of like a twisted grimacing face. You can totally tell that you're fully selling out to secure this awesome victory. And I just wanna read this long caption and then use it as a way to just kind of like open up the door on the rest of this conversation, cuz I think it's okay. Beautifully written and uh, there's a lot of different angles that we could go from it. So anyway, what you say is at 7:00 PM on Friday, June 24th in the tiny town of Orino in the tiny country of Endora, I stepped to the start line of the trail, 100 Endora at 9:20 AM the following morning. I was the first runner to reach the finish line. That's what you see in this picture. What you don't see is what happened before this. You don't see me failing to finish my last attempted ultra at UTM B in 2019.

Dylan Bowman: You don't see the years of running with pain in my left foot. When the steps that were supposed to bring me joy brought a constant reminder of my brokenness. You don't see all of the mornings that I woke up, stepped out of bed and was immediately reminded of the pain in my foot that I was still hurt. You don't see the scar on my ankle from the Halan surgery that I finally got in December of 2020 and the long journey back to running. You don't see the moments of doubt after surgery, still having pain, not knowing if it would ever fully subside you don't see the creativity employed to keep the training going via bike, skis, swimming and the splitboard. You don't see the moment about a month ago when the pain shifted to the inside of my heel. And I wasn't sure that this race would happen.

Dylan Bowman: You don't see me visiting a physio in France and thinking about bailing on the plans to do this race. You don't see me traveling to Andora missed an eight day running break in which I spent many hours on the bike and many more worried about my foot. You don't see me getting so lonely, stressed and desperate that one night while praying, I simply asked for help, nothing very specific, just help. That's what that's what you don't see. But you know what? You also don't see a lot of good things. You don't see all of the helpers along the way. You don't see the prayers of my parents or the supporters of my families and friends. You don't see the sponsors who stood faithfully by my side, you don't see my surgeon, Brian CRI, who took such great care of me and told me I didn't have to pay him.

Dylan Bowman: If I wasn't able to return to racing. You don't see my PT Ryan bear, who is guided and encouraged me along the way. You don't see the kindness of Yoder performance as he has checked in on me over the years, always welcomed me to train with his amazing group of athletes. You don't see my awesome teammates who encouraged me, reached out to me and load me a bike and couch in France. You don't see my wonderful friends, Anne and Anthony who welcomed me into their home in Endora fed me in massage me crude for me during the race. And finally you don't see the foot that got better and better and better after that night I asked for help, but here I am looking at this picture and I see all of it. And you know what? It feels pretty amazing now time for some rest because thanks to the UT M B world series, this guy who lost all of his UT M B qualifications during the injury now has a ticket to a little show in late August. Let's see what we can do there. Grateful bro. I mean, that's like so goosebumps inducing and you're a great writer. You're fantastic with words. And I, uh, wanted to just read that all aloud. I realized it was quite loud, uh, long, but I think it's a great, uh, opportunity for us to talk about this whole journey that you've been on. So maybe first just introduce, uh, the injury that you have been dealing with for the last few years. You know, what, what was it just for the listening audience?

Zach Miller: Yeah. Um, I mean basically my feet were just a hot mess for the last few years. Um, I actually had a, I think in 2018, I actually developed a plantar fasciitis in my right foot. Um, and that hindered me for a while and my left foot was fine. And then somewhere along the lines, my left foot got bad. Um, kind of with like, I guess like kind with like some outside, like lateral foot pain that we thought was maybe Peral tendons. Um, but also some heel pain, um, that like most, that was probably more like Haglins, but like would kind of go away once it got warmed up. So we weren't real worried about mm-hmm um, and everything just kind of snowballed. Eventually the, the right foot got better. The plantar Fe, I just went awry and then my left foot, my left foot was a wreck.

Zach Miller: Um, and so basically I had super bad mobility, uh, like dorsal flexion in my left side. I could like, you know, barely push my knee forward. Um, and I just had a lot of pain and it wasn't just in my heel. It was like that. I think that's why it was also so difficult because it was hard to figure out what was wrong, cuz I just had like pain in areas. Um, and so we'd try like one thing and it wouldn't really work. And I basically just banged my head against the wall for a long time. Like still doing some running, still doing some racing, seeing different PTs and people trying different exercises, but like I would make progress, but I would always just kind of hit a wall. Like I could never like continue making progress. Um, so then after I left bar camp, I moved home to Pennsylvania, um, for that's like for a year actually and bought my bus and built my bus out. And during that time I, uh, I finally just went to get like second opinions basically. Yeah. Um, and I saw, um, my PT Ryan bear, who was helping me at the time recommended, um, my now surgeon, Brian Cripe. Um, they're both in the Philly area. Um, I know some people go like to the Steadman clinic or go overseas to like,

Dylan Bowman: Uh, a guy in Sweden,

Zach Miller: You know, Sweden or wherever for all this stuff. Um, and I just kind of stayed at home just in that Philly area, found some guys that, you know, I kind of, you know, liked and um, you know, just, you know, know, just trusted them to do the work. Um, so

Dylan Bowman: What was the moment like, that's why I did when you decided to stop banging your head against the wall, because I think this is an interesting thing to hear about in that you spent a lot of time doing the hard work of rehab and going back to how we started the conversation, I'm sure you took that rehab very, very seriously. At what point did you sort of like give to the fact that you needed to undergo the Haglins operation and maybe in answering that question, explain what the operation was?

Zach Miller: Yeah. Well I think, I mean, I think the pandemic helped, we were in the midst of the pandemic and nobody was really racing anyways and we didn't really know when we'd be racing again. So I think that really helped. It was like if there's ever a time to be on the sideline it's now. Um, and the other thing I think I was just so sick of the pain and like, we didn't even know for sure if the H ones was the issue, cuz some people have Alans and like they're asymptomatic. And like I said, like I did have Halan symptoms, but I also had pain elsewhere in my foot. That was like not, I would say probably not typical Haglins pain. Um, so, but, but with my surgeon, with Dr. Brian, he did the, he, we got all new imaging done, which, which I also learned that not all imaging is the same.

Zach Miller: Um, like you think an MRI is just an MRI, but you can actually get like, there's different like qualities of MRIs. Um, and so like he encouraged me to get like a real good MRI that he was familiar with. Um, so that's what we did so that we just made sure we got a real good look at it. And it was very evident that there was a significant bone spur growing out the back of my heel, pressing into my Achilles tendon. Um, and that's what a halos deformity is. Um, and so he basically, that was the only, like that was the biggest glaring error he could see in the MRI, I guess that I also had pain symptoms of so he just, you know, we just kind of said, well, that's the main thing we can see, so let's just take it out and if we take it out, maybe everything else will resolve too. Mm-hmm um, so then that's, that's what we did and you know, it's a little nervous, it's

Dylan Bowman: Sort of a shot in the dark, right. Cause it's not typical Haman's symptoms. And so you're like, well, we might as well try this. I mean, there probably a feeling of just like desperation and hopelessness of like please work type thing. Is that right?

Zach Miller: Yes. Yeah. Somewhat. I mean, there, it wasn't complete shot in the dark cuz I did have pain there. Um, but I had pain elsewhere as well. So it was like will taking that out, solve all the pain or just some of the pain. Right. You know? Um, so yeah, but we, yeah, but I was just kind of at the end of my rope, so I just, you know, nothing else was really working. So I just did that. I think I

Dylan Bowman: Busted all options. It was really one of the only things left on the table. Probably I'm just remembering this now, but both Rob car and Stephanie Howe have had this same operation. It's not uncommon. Did you reach out to them for advice or did they offer any, uh,

Zach Miller: Um, perspective? Yeah, I, I, I know that Steph has had it and we've talked uh, since, um, cuz we've kind of the, the recovery process is long. Like I, I mean, I would say, um, in some ways still going through it, even though like I'm back to racing and training and like doing way better than I was ever before, but it still, like if someone listening has had it and is like, well, my pain's not gone. It's like, well my pain's not a hundred percent gone either. Like I still have some irritation. If I do a big day, I can still feel something the day after the race, you know, I was definitely, it was definitely cranky, but then the next day it was pretty much normal. Um, so yeah, it's not like a magic light switch, but yeah. I talked to Rob, not so much Steph mostly since I've had it.

Zach Miller: Mm-hmm um, just kind of like sharing our experiences and you know, that's nice to hear someone else's like, oh, like, oh, you still have pain too. Like you have pain when you wake up in the morning, all the steps are bad. It's like, oh, okay. So I'm not the only one. And that's really helpful. Um, but Rob did talk to me, um, before we did, uh, I forget if we talked on the phone or exchanged texts, but um, yeah, we had, we had communicated beforehand and he had had it done on both of his heels at once. I think.

Dylan Bowman: So did Stephanie, I think, or maybe not at one time, but I think she had it on both feet too.

Zach Miller: Yeah. I think she did have both feet and I can't remember ti she might have one and then the other, um, yeah, either way you went over to

Dylan Bowman: Yeah,

Zach Miller: Yeah. Either way it's brutal. Cuz one way you have like twice the recovery, the other way you like have two bum feet at the same time. Yeah. So it's like, it's brutal either way. Um, but yeah, those guys were, it was great to have those guys to talk to about it.

Dylan Bowman: Yeah. Good. Yeah. And I recall like Galen Rupp just had this recently and I was just watching the track and field world championships and Donovan Bre, uh, said that he's about to go get the surgery like next week. I think he was in the hundred meter last night. So something that a lot of runners have had to confront, but yeah, complicated surgery, a hard recovery. And I want to talk a little bit more about what that recovery and rehab has looked like, but I'd also love to hear you talk about like the emotional side of this whole journey, because like this Instagram caption, it's a beautiful articulation of just like what has been going on internally for you. And I can't remember another time where you've truly like acknowledged that like the pain that comes from it, you know, on a personal, emotional level from injury. And I remember, you know, over the last couple years just thinking how well it seemed that you were dealing with this, you know, just like admirably at peace with this injury cycle. Because like, when I was heard in 2019, I was a total mess, you know, I was posting sob stories on Instagram and like totally depressed and in therapy and stuff. And I wondered if you'd talk about the emotional rollercoaster that you've been on with this injury cycle.

Zach Miller: Yeah. I, I don't think, uh, I don't, I wouldn't say I was at peace really at all during the process. Um, but I think I'm just not really, like, I'm not really the type of person to like talk about it all the time. Mm-hmm um, I, I mean, after a while I really just kind of get sick of talking about it like it after a while it seems like it's all anyone asks you about cuz it's like running is what people know you to do and know you for. And so then all they, the main thing they ask you about in life is like running. And so then when you're injured, they either ask you about running and then that leads to talking about being injured or they ask you about being injured because they know you're injured. Uh, and that relates to the running .

Zach Miller: Uh, and so you just end up talking about the injury all the time and after a while it's like, you're just sick of talking about the injury, which is like, and also because it's frustrating cuz you don't really have any hard set answers for people like right. You know, they wanna know like how long you'll be out or what you're racing next or you know, what or what the problem is. And sometimes you don't have any of those answers. Um, and so it's just kind of a hard place to be like I know with, uh, like with my family in particular, like my mom will always ask me, but like after a while I'm just like, I probably don't do a very good job of answering her because it's just like, I don't like want to talk about this anymore. Like it's just like, yeah. I'm like every morning I wake up, I'm reminded when I, as soon as I get outta bed, you know, you're foot hits the floor that I'm hurt and that's pretty crummy, you know? So I don't really need any additional reminders, you know? And then you can also feel guilty that, well, maybe I'm not doing all I should be doing to get better, you know? So you could be really hard on yourself. Um,

Dylan Bowman: But like an athlete like you though, Zach, I mean like you're one of the best in the world and like people love watching you race and you've done so many crazy, amazing things and you've had so many of these just sort of like historic victories that people like look back on with just deep inspiration and then to like come crashing down to not be able to race for a couple years. It's gotta be really tough for you. Right. Like did, did you, yeah. I mean, did you feel, feel like a loss of identity and stuff during this period?

Zach Miller: I mean, I think like I, I, so one thing that I picked up on that I learned in college from my college coach was he would always say like never too high, never too low mm-hmm um, so you know, like don't let your highs get too high. Don't let your lows get too low. You just kind of stay somewhere in the middle, which is in a sense maybe sort, sounds kind of like a crummy life philosophy cuz you're like, man, I wanna live on the high. Right. Um, but like I, that has really stuck with me, especially through my ultra running career is just because it's like a rollercoaster man. Like even just like wins and losses. Um, but like, especially with injury. So like, I feel like I kind of tried to adopt that during the process of just like never too high, never too low, just kinda somewhere in the middle and keep my head down mm-hmm um, but, but still like there was definitely a low side, um, you know, and probably not too many high sides, you know, maybe the occasional day where it's like, oh wow. I felt like really good today. Yeah. But that was pretty like few and far between. Um, so I think, I don't know. I think maybe in some way that helped me, I think in terms of identity, I, I mean, I was still always me. Um, but

Dylan Bowman: Like people are

Zach Miller: Asking you what's

Dylan Bowman: Next. Right. And

Zach Miller: When you are answering that question, it's rough. It's rough. When people start saying they think you've retired or they, or they start suggesting maybe you should pursue something else in life. That's kind of rough. Oh gosh. I think that mostly happened back home. Um, like in Lancaster it's very like it's, you know, it's a very like blue collar area, you know, I think kind of like a sense, you know, I, I feel it's kind of the area you grew up in where most parents would be like, oh, let's be sensible. And like, let's get a good job and not chase these crazy dreams, you know? Sure. Yeah. So like, you know, and I think most people, they didn't mean poorly, you know, you know, but it's just like, um, I think kind of like when I moved back home, when I was back in PA for a year and I was hurt, you know, I think maybe some people could just kind of thought I was sort of out of the sport mm-hmm um, I don't know that a to did, but you kind of got that vibe or, or I remember there was a guy, there was a, there was a guy over at my parents' house one day and he was like, he was like, oh, like maybe like he might have been asking me if I had like a plan B or he was like, oh, your brother-in-law could like use some help with his H HVAC business.

Zach Miller: Like , you know, it's like, oh, well, yeah, like I'm, I'm still kind of planning to keep doing my job here, but yeah. Wow. Yeah. It's but it's, uh, you know, it's so that, but you know, you just kinda like, you can't let those people live in your head too much. You just kind of gotta like, it'll be like, hold on to what you want. And like, you know, you know, go, I don't know, like if that's what you want and that's what you're committed to doing. You just kind of gotta hold on. Which is, I guess what I did. Um, I, I think one of the hardest things though, one of the hardest things though, I think was feeling like I, like, I couldn't really do my job if that makes sense. Oh yeah.

Dylan Bowman: Brutal, brutal. So when you're collecting a paycheck and being

Zach Miller: That's like the worst thing like that, that was where I was like, I would almost rather not be sponsored. I was like, because I was like, when I'm not sponsored is like, nobody cares. Like if I'm injured or if I'm racing next month, like you just, like, when you're injured, you take care, you can take care of the injury, take your time, getting back in shape and then race again. But when you're sponsored, even if you have a supportive sponsor, who's like, Hey, we get it. We don't want you to feel pressured to race or to rush through injury. Even if they say that it it's still, you still feel like you need to deliver. Yeah. Cause it's like, everybody else has like, you know, when you're any other job, it's like, you're, uh, expected to show up from like nine to five and do your job and perform well. Right. Right. But like with the way like we perform well, at least in my mind primarily is by performing well in races. Yeah. And you know, I know there's social media and there's like your past results and the following you've built and all that. But to me, that's all kind of like, that's, all's part of the like extra it's like that. That's great. But I don't wanna be the athletes. Who's just like riding my prior accomplishments. It's a company

Dylan Bowman: To yeah. Secondary to either the task at hand, which is continuing

Zach Miller: To perform. Yeah. If a company is paying me, um, then I feel like I should be performing. And so like, I was just like, and I think I might have said it to people during the process just like really stinks to feel like you're bad at your job. Cause it's just, it's like, I, you couldn't really, I couldn't really do my job. So that's pretty much the definition of being bad at my job is being unable to do my job. And that was like, that was the, that was really crummy . Yeah. Like I did not, I did not enjoy that. Like, um, and then there's like, and there's the side of me. That's like, well, if I ever get to the point where I feel like I don't deserve this support anymore, you know, I, I would kind of, I would like to think that I could graciously step aside and let some other upcoming athlete have that support and be like, Hey, look, don't pay me this anymore because I can't do it. Like I can't do it anymore. If you wanna send me free gear, that's fine. But like give this to somebody else. Um, but there's that side of me, you know, that's like, but I don't feel like I'm done yet. Like, I feel like I can still earn this paycheck. I just can't do it right now. But that's an awkward place to be where it's like, I don't wanna give this up yet. Cuz I don't feel like I'm done. Um, did you ever lose that? But at the moment I don't feel like I deserve it.

Dylan Bowman: Did you ever lose that glimmer in the back of your head? Like after being injured for like a few years on end, was there ever a moment where you contemplated? Maybe I should just get a job as an HVAC service then

Zach Miller: And yeah. And put this

Dylan Bowman: Part of my life in the rear view. Cause I'm sure there was some temptation or some moments of just like, God, is this ever gonna end?

Zach Miller: I not, not really. I think it was just always still there. Like mm-hmm I was just like, I think I can still do this. Like I think, you know, but, but then once I did get surgery and I did start to come back, um, there were some doubts like there, because there was a lot of fitness to be like relearn and regained, especially in the running format. Like I spent a lot of time on the bike and actually got like quite fit on the bike. I think I actually, before I, before I launched the bus, uh, I went on a hundred mile gravel ride with my surgeon. Actually he, he invited me to do this ride and we rode and there were like a lot of climbs and stuff that was in PA. And I remember he was like, Zach, you're like, you're strong.

Zach Miller: Like you're pretty fit. It's like, oh, well thanks. I've been working my butt off. Like I can't, I can't like, I can't like run as much, but like I've been working my butt off riding and stuff. Um, so, but like then you start to get back to running and like running just feels so hard and like I would be in races and it'd just be like, like shorter races too, because my bread and butter is the ultra, but I wasn't even doing ultra. I was just, I started out with shorter stuff. So, you know, I feel like there were some days where it's like, do I still have this? Like, am I still good at this? Um, so there was like this question, mark, but I did have a few perfor I had one really sort of important performance. Like there there's a, there's a race in my hometown, the conga trail round that I've raced. I raced pretty much every year. Um, and I've set the course record there. Like every year I've raced it. Mm-hmm and it's like, it it's a really, it's a hard race. It's like, it's like how I know if I'm fit. Yeah.

Zach Miller: Just and I raced it. Yeah. I raced it, I guess last year for the first time in several years. And I was like, I did not know if I had it to like get close to my old times. Um, and I, I didn't, I didn't get my, I didn't break my record, but I was within like 40 seconds, uh, of an race that takes like an hour and 22 minutes. Uh, so I was within like 40 seconds and I was just like, and that was a big moment. I was like, okay. I'm like, I haven't lost it. Like I've said, that was my second fastest time. Yeah. Uh, ever on that course and I I've run it during some really good years of my career. So, um, that was, that was helpful. But still like going to Endora and stuff, the, the whole ultra thing, it was all like still a bit of a question, mark. Um, cuz I just hadn't done it for so long.

Dylan Bowman: Yeah. Incredible man. Well, it's so good to have you back. We'll we'll get around to talking about Endora here shortly, but maybe just give us a glimpse into this rehab process so far since your surgery, because it's been since I think you said in your post December of 2020, so it's been a year and a half now and of course it has not been linear. Um, and there have been a lot of moments where you question, whether you can get back to the, the same Zach Miller type fitness. So maybe just paint the picture of what the last 18 months have looked like and uh, what that whole rehab process has entailed.

Zach Miller: Uh, yeah. I mean, yeah, like not linear is exactly right. Um, I mean you come out surgery and you know, you hope it'll be like, oh, wake up. And the pain will be gotta, you know, I mean, I'm, I know enough to not expect that entirely, but still it is slow, slow. Like first there's just all the pain from like, uh, just surgery, like, um, I mean, I that I didn't take the painkillers. They gave me after surgery, they gave my surgeon, gave 'em to me and he was like, don't be afraid to take 'em, you know, but I was like, I'm gonna see if I can not take 'em. And I was like, and I had to run an ultra tomorrow. So I was kind of due for a good dose of pain. So I just like, didn't take my brain.

Zach Miller: And the first like 20 hours were pretty excruciating. Um, it's amazing how much trauma, like the surgery sounds simple. Like, oh, we'll slice, open your heel. We'll go in there and like saw off this bone and we'll, it sounds easy. Yeah. There is so much pain that, that causes the body when they do that. Um, and so like those first few 24 hours were pretty brutal, but then I got over that. I was like doing stuff, but I mean, for a while, like I couldn't really do anything for a while, so it's kind of easy. Like I, I think I, I started doing like sit up like crunches, cause it couldn't really work out. So I just started doing like, I don't know, like 30 minutes of core or something each day, cuz I was like, I can't do anything else. And then I think it was like Christmas day, I got to like pedal the bike.

Zach Miller: Um, and so I Pedald the bike. Um, but I think before that actually what I did was before surgery, I wanted to be prepared to train. So I went on Facebook marketplace and I bought one of those like exercise bikes that has the arm things that also go, you know, like when you pedal all the arms also go, so if you don't pedal with your legs, you can just pump it with your arms. Yeah. Yeah. Uh, and so I bought one of those for, I don't know, like 25 bucks on Facebook marketplace. Like this lady probably wondered what the heck I wanted it for. Yeah. And I put it in my parents' basement and I would just go down in the basement. I would just pump my arms, you know, see this is the

Dylan Bowman: Work ethic, man. This is where we started. The, you just

Zach Miller: Don't stop. Yeah. I would just sit there and like, uh, put on like, I don't know, like I don't watch a lot of TV or movies, but I watched like a lot of stuff during that time I would just put something on and I would just sit there and do my arms and like, um, I was, I think that's when I got turned onto Ted lasso. I like blew through the whole first season of Ted lasso and

Dylan Bowman: Um, I still haven't gotten around to watching it. People tell me it's amazing, but oh, you know, I want, I, I mean, this is interesting, right? Because like this again is so illustrative of the type of person you are, you know, that you just like go and you work. And I wonder if in moments of introspection, if maybe that's one of the things that got you in trouble, like have you reflected on that as somebody who's always been a super hard worker, a high volume trainer, like, is that been something that contributed to the injury and like have you learned from that?

Zach Miller: Yeah. I mean, I think it contributed in the sense that I probably started having pain and I probably just kept going. Um, I don't know that like I, I'm not like necessarily of the opinion that just like doing like, just doing high volume will make you broken or just working hard will make you broken. But I think that type of like that doing the high volume and doing like all that work can get like addictive where that's like, that becomes like, I ha I've learned that I like, so over the years, I think I've noticed that I have to watch myself because as I train, as I get stronger and stronger, I'm fitter and fitter, I train more and more. And so I raise the bar of what I deem like product like successful. Oh, like what makes me feel like produ? Like, you know how, like if you run like say you run like every day, like two miles, three miles, and that makes you feel like, uh, accomplished for the day you go out and do your three miles.

Zach Miller: Okay. Now I feel accomplished, you know, while I, I feel like I got to the point where it was like, you know, it's like if, you know, running like three hours made me feel accomplished, but if I ran like an hour, an hour and a half, you know, like, unless it was like a schedule schedule schedule, like recovery day, you know, I might not, it, it was like, I needed my fix. Like I, it doesn't necessarily have to be three hours, but it's like, but I think that was the dangers that just kind of my level of like what was acceptable to feel accomplished kind of crept up over the years. Yeah. And then it's like, you know, and then, and then the other danger is when you don't win a race, uh, because when you win a race, you feel like you're doing enough.

Zach Miller: You're like, okay, what I'm doing is working. Yeah. So then you're more willing to like, you feel like you're okay, you have your confidence. So after race, you're more willing to rest mm-hmm . And then when you come back in, you're more willing to like maybe follow like a sensible progression back into training, but like when you start losing or missing your goals, then you're always like, well now I gotta catch up. Like I gotta catch up to this guy. I gotta do. I gotta work harder. And I think, and, and sometimes that might be true, but I think a lot, but what you have to be careful of is it's not necessarily the case and you can work yourself into a problem. I think, um, both like mentally and physically, cuz you're just kind of like forcing things rather than following, like rather than following the process and, and you get too caught up on like metrics and paces and like, I gotta do this many miles or this many hours or this, this, when I run, I just gotta be at this pace and it just gets very dangerous. Um, yeah.

Dylan Bowman: It's just one of those things where like your greatest strength is your work ethic probably, but also sometimes our greatest strengths sort of like put us in a corner sometimes are lead to negative consequences, don't they?

Zach Miller: Yeah. So, yeah. So for me, like I think back to the injury, I think, yeah, that work ethic probably got me in trouble. Uh, largely in that there were warning signs that I just kept pushing past mm-hmm now had I had, I been like seen a warning sign and backed off, let things recover for like a week, a couple weeks or a month, you know, and then went back to the working hard, I think I might have been okay. But yeah, I think probably like there were things that weren't right. And I just didn't really like, you know, I just did, I didn't really know how to fix 'em and they didn't necessarily stop me in my tracks. So I just kind of kept going, but then eventually that's just a crummy thing and eventually you are stopped doing your tracks so

Dylan Bowman: Well, we all learn lessons, man. Well, maybe last question on this period before we transition and talk about this fantastic triumphant victory and coming through this dark period in the post, it's fairly powerful when you mention that night of prayer. I don't know if this is a weird thing to ask, but I've always known that you've been, you know, a man of faith and I'm not a religious person myself per se, but definitely appreciate the mystery and serendipity of life and the universe. And I wonder if you could talk about that moment and maybe how just like your spiritual life has had maybe evolved through this dark period.

Zach Miller: Um, yeah. Yeah. I can talk about it. Um, my, yeah, definitely faith is, is a, is a part of my life and it's something that has been a part of my life pretty much all my life, I guess. Um, it has definitely, it is definitely like sort of, I don't know, maybe you'd say changed or the way I think about it has maybe changed, uh, over the years. Like I look back to my high school or college self and I'm like, whoa, I am not, I do not see things the same way. Um, I have a lot more, I ask a lot more questions. I read books. I like, you know, I was like, you know, I maybe wrestle with things more, um, have maybe a lot more like uncertainties now where it's like in the past, it'd be like, well, no, this is what I believe.

Zach Miller: And now I'm like, well, I don't know, man. I don't know about that. Like, you know, that seems kind of whack, like, you know, um, or I can't prove that. So like where am I with that? But I think, uh, specifically to this, in the injury process, the one big thing for me was like, I was just like hurt for so long. And like growing up, it was been like that would've always been something you would've prayed about. Yeah. And like, I think even through the process, my mom and dad were probably praying like the whole time, like, oh, we're praying for, you know, that your foot gets better. And I think I just got like, I can have actually a pretty cynical side sometimes. And I think I got to this point where I, I was just kind of like, well, why I, I kind of felt funny praying about my injury because I was like, why? I was like, there are so many problems in the world. I'm like, there's people that are starving. There's wars. There's like pandemics. There's like, there's so many big problems. And I'm like, I'm just a runner who can't really run. Like, yeah. What's like, I'm not saying that like, there's not a God that cares about me, but I'm just saying like of all the things in the world to fix, like that can't be very high on the turn it's

Dylan Bowman: Down

Zach Miller: The list. Yeah. Like I, I kind of felt selfish, like asking, you know, for help with that. Yeah. Um, and so, so that was one part of it. And then, um, but at the same time, I just like, I, you know, I just like, I don't know. I just like, I still, like, I never like walked, like I may have like questioned things, but the faith was still always part of things and you know, I didn't necessarily feel fully, you know, I, I, I had those doubts about like, is this something I should be praying for? You know? Um, but like, I don't know. I think I still did. I don't know. But it about it's

Dylan Bowman: Illustrative of like, sometimes you just have to sort of like surrender, like the control, you know, and just like ask for help from the universe. Like I think, yeah. Every person who listens to this, whether they're religious or not can identify with that feeling, you

Zach Miller: Know? Yeah. I, and I think to that moment in Endora it was just like, I, I was like, I was very stressed cuz I had like, I, I, I mean I was trying to get into UT M B this year, cuz I had ran out of all qualifications. Yeah. Um, and I was just like L like, you know, and I was like, look like, I just want a, like I've been emailing with the organization. And I was just like, look like, what do I need to do to get in? Like, I just need a way, like, I don't need, like, I don't need like, or I don't need a way. It's just like, I'm hope there's a way. And uh, I don't need like a free pass. I just like, tell me what I need to do and I'll try and do that. And so, you know, they were like, okay, well there's these races on the circuit.

Zach Miller: And if you place, you know, top three at this one or top 10 at that one, or you can get in. And I was like, okay. I was like, good, that's all I need. Like I just, I need a shot. And so my shot was gonna be, uh, canyons hundred K and then I messed up my hip. And so that didn't happen. So then I was like, okay, plan B and went to end and picked Endora instead. Um, and yeah, so there was kind of a lot riding on. It was pretty much my only shot cuz everything else after that is kind of getting too close to U G M B or it's too long or whatever. Um, and I had flew to France to do stuff with the north face, um, for like a week. And when I went over my foot was like really cranky and I ran on it for like a few days. Um, and uh, like I could run well, but I just like, it was painful. And I was just like, I was supposed, my plan was to go there and then go to Endora yeah. Train and then race. And then my foot was, I'm like, I'm basically injured now and I'm in Europe. And like what, like what am I gonna do? I thought about just getting on a plane and going home. Um, but

Dylan Bowman: Yeah, but instead you surrendered to the universe and you asked for

Zach Miller: No, no, I, I, I got to Endora and I was alone. I went, I went from being with my teammates to being all alone, uh, in a Jeep Renegade with a rooftop tent, just like driving around the country of Endora like camping up high at altitude. And I, yeah, I got super stressed and like, yeah, one night I was like, cuz I had actually started trying to run again. I had taken days off, started to run again. I did one or two runs and the pain was like still like I was still had pain and I was like, what the hell? Like I was just so stressed. And I finally was just like, yeah, I was just praying one night and I was just like, I was just like help basically, like help. Like I didn't even say, like, I wasn't even like, you know, I was just basically just help. Um, I, it was pretty low, low moment. Um, but also a very like real moment and a very, yeah, like I I'll maybe like I might remember that for the rest of my life. No. I mean, you can

Dylan Bowman: Feel that in this Instagram post, so you can totally just feel just the, I don't know, authenticity of that desperation, right. Of just like, I just need some help here. Like I'm at the doorstep of having my opportunity to come back. I've put in years of rehab and work, I've got the surgery, like this is who I am, what I want to be doing. And I just need some help. Free trail is grateful for the support of JBO eyewear, the best sunglass brand in the game. I've been fortunate to work with these guys for probably seven or eight years. At this point, JBO was born in the mountains of France way back in 1888, and they have been a leader in mountain sport. I wear ever since Joel Bo's special sauce lies in the photochromic reactive lenses that adjusts to lighting conditions, getting lighter or darker, depending on the intensity of the natural light.

Dylan Bowman: It's really just an amazing product you put 'em on and you keep 'em on. No matter if you're in the shade in variable lights or full on Bluebird conditions, the glasses adjust for you. So you don't have to. My two favorite models are the ultimate and the fury. So go check these out. The ultimate is more of an exposed lens. Athletic look where the fury is more of a shield design, but both are under 27 grams. So extremely lightweights and high performance best sunnys in the trail is go check out the products@jbo.com. Use code free trail 10 for 10% off your purchase. jbo.com code free trail. 10 important note. This discount does apply to prescription shades, but does not apply for those outside. The us apologies to our international listeners, but big, thanks to Joel Bo. The free trail podcast is brought to you by gnarly nutrition.

Dylan Bowman: The first brand to believe in our fledgling operation gnarly makes the best nutrition products on the market for outdoor and mountain sport athletes. Top to bottom. Everything is first class, much like the people that work for the company. You've heard me talk about the fuel two, oh, drink mix the BCAs, the performance greens. Well, today I want to tell you about the gnarly hydrate electrolyte mix harmony. My wife will tell you I am obnoxious and annoying about hydration. I suspect most athletes walk around at least moderately dehydrated day to day. And I think improving hydration status is the simplest thing that you can do to improve your performance. Of course, improving hydration is not just about drinking more water. You also need minerals and electrolytes, which the gnarly hydration mix has in spades loaded with electrolytes and B vitamins, gnarly hydrate has everything you need to keep your muscles and brain fully engaged to power through your time on the trails and in your daily life.

Dylan Bowman: As usual, you can get 15% off your purchase of gnarly hydrate and any of their other amazing products by visiting go gnarly.com use code free trail 15 back to the show. So let's talk about the race now, because help arrived in some form, whether it was, you know, the cosmos or, you know, some spiritual being, but you won the damn race and it was so awesome. You know, when I saw the update, of course, this is Western state's weekend too. So I was sort of occupied with other things. Not really. Yeah. There was a lot going on that. Yeah, there was, but, um, I guess, you know, you mentioned how the race ended up on your radar and it was, you went with the express purpose of punching that ticket to UT M B, but maybe just, uh, set the context of what the race is. Just maybe provide some stats or description of the character of the event for the audience.

Zach Miller: Yeah. The, the race is fantastic. I mean, Endora, you know, for American listeners, like probably most of us don't even know that it's a country. Um, but Endora is a tiny little country wedge between France and Spain. I think it's about 26 miles across. Um, and it's just nothing, it's nothing but mountains. It's just, it's the Pese. Um, and so in, and, or there's basically two directions there's up and there's down and that's about it. um, the, the 65 mile race had TW my, my watch said 22,000 feet of climbing. Um, so if you do the math, it's, it's more per mile than UT M B. I don't know. It's a ton more, but it is more, um, and yeah, it's, it's, uh, the course is magnificent. Like, I, I, I spent, I spent time there when my foot did, you know, start to come around and stuff.

Zach Miller: I, I reconned the whole course I saw the whole course. Um, and I, by the time racing came, I was like, I just wanna go run this course, like all in one go, like, I mean, usually it's like, you know, you're competitive and all that, but it's like, part of it was just like, I wanna get out there and run through all of this beautiful train in one shot. Um, and yeah, it's, it was fantastic course. It's technical, there's some cruiser sections. Um, but yeah, there's definitely some technical stuff. Um, and yeah, really, really great, uh, first for, and they don't waste time. Like first you start in Orino at 4,000 feet and the first climb takes you to the highest point in, in Endora at over 9,000 feet. I'm looking

Dylan Bowman: Right now,

Zach Miller: Like 5,000 feet out the gate. And then, and then you drop to 3000. So you basically drop 6,000 feet. Although they do make you do a climb in the midst of that somewhere, you like go down, come back up. And then after that that's like mile 20 ish, 21 ish, I think it's like 23. It looks like, and then you do a 6,000 foot climb out of there, silly,

Dylan Bowman: Silly,

Zach Miller: Silly, and then that, and then that's fit that. And that's about halfway when you get the top of that 6,000 foot climb.

Dylan Bowman: Um, yeah. So I'm looking at your Strava now, and I'll post this in the show notes. So I'll provide a link to our listening audience, but about 66 miles, about 22,000 feet of climbing. And just like thinking off the top of my head here. So it's about 15 K shorter than the Laredo course, but I think takes about two and a half hours longer for the winter. Yeah. So it's, it's shorter, but much, much slower than Laredo. So it definitely looks like it's a, a brutal but spectacular race.

Zach Miller: Yeah. It's, it's an a, it's an awesome, definitely awesome race. I highly recommend it. Like I put it up there similar to like Madeira, Madeira island, ultra trail. I think it's, it's a similar style to that. Um, minus the stairs. It's not really stairs. This is all basically like, not like, yeah, like rocks and stuff like boulders and stuff like that. So,

Dylan Bowman: So I, we have to know though, man, so like you're on the start line. Your foot feels well enough, you know, you've got at least some confidence, but I'm sure there was still some doubts in the back of your head. The last time you had stood at the start line of an ultra-marathon was 2019, UT M B. Did you have a balance of feelings of excitement and insecurity because we all know that you race with like such a courageous style typically. And I, I wondered if like maybe some of that courage or confidence was tempered by a feeling of insecurity or, uh, you know, maybe lack of confidence based on everything you'd been through.

Zach Miller: Um, yeah, I think there was a mix of excitement and like nervousness. Um, again, I, there were question marks. I didn't know, I hadn't pushed my foot, you know, for that long, uh, yet. So I didn't know if the foot would hold up. Um, I, I actually had a, I actually had a little hamstring tweet too, very minor, very minor, but it's like on when everything perfect. And I had, like, I injured my hamstring back in JFK one year and ever since it, like, it kind of, it kind of tweaks easier than the right side. And so like, that was actually on my mind. I was like, cuz I was like, man, if that thing goes it, like, it's gonna be like, it's not gonna be ideal for like climbing and descending. And then I was like, if I run, if it goes and I continue running on it, I know it's gonna potentially be really bad for it by the end. Yeah. Um, so I was just like wanting it to help hold up, but it, it, it did. I was. Okay. So

Dylan Bowman: Did you race in typical Zach Miller fashion where you put pressure on the field early, you know, pre of Walter

Zach Miller: Running? I would say not strictly. So, um, um, Sebastian Crok was on the line next to me. Um, and he, he had won TDS, um,

Dylan Bowman: Great Norwegian.

Zach Miller: Yeah. And yeah. And, uh, and Christopher Clemente was in there and he's really good at coming from behind. So I was scared of him cuz I was like, oh, he has just like sit back there and reel you in after you've like foolishly gone out too fast. Cuz he's done that to me before. Um, and now Sebastian, uh, was B next to me on the start line. He was like, so he is like, he's like usual plan, like, you know, like I'm really like sprint from the gun. And I was like, or like hard right away or whatever. I was like, I was like, well I was like, eventually I was like, I thought like, like, like, you know that I didn't plan to go, you know, super hard right away. Um, cuz I did kind of, you know, I wanted that UT M B spot and mm-hmm I think my approach was a little different.

Zach Miller: Um, I had seen all the course I knew what was coming and yeah, no, I didn't really, I, I kind of sat back in the, in the first stretch. I kind of just sat behind the first three guys. I mean, we're talking like the first mile and just kind of like watched them. And then when we got to the climb, we, you know, we got the, the poles came out and like I also knew that though, maybe I would just climb faster and I don't necessarily wanna climb slow just to climb slow. Yeah. Um, so Sebastian and I just kind of naturally, uh, pulled away on the climb. Uh, but not, I wasn't like, I wasn't trying to, I think I pretty much hiked that whole climb. Like I basically just tried to stay Ryan Sebastian and go like as easy as I could without like losing him. Yeah. Uh, you know, so like he would sometimes run and I would just keep hiking cuz I was like, well I can, you know, I can cover this same pace at a hike. It seems my legs.

Dylan Bowman: It seems like you guys spent much of the race together. Where did you ultimately establish the separation and the gap that you held

Zach Miller: In the car? Yeah. So my friend who was grooming me, we had talked some strategy before the race. Um, and he wanted, he definitely wanted me to be controlled, like to indoor lave, which was like around mile 20 or so right before that 6,000 foot climb. And then we were like, maybe you can push, like maybe push some on that 6,000 foot climb. Cause if you can, if you can pull away there, that's a good chance to get some, some, some breathing room. So when we, so Sebastian and I ran together to indoor lave and then at Endora lave, I decided I, I pushed the gas pedal a little and see what happened. Um, and I did get like an initial gap, like initial gap, but not much. Um, and then he was like, he was like right behind, he came up right behind me and I was like, okay, he hasn't really, he hasn't shaken off.

Zach Miller: So then we just kind of, so then we just climbed together basically all the way up. Mm-hmm um, he got me a little on the technical ascent, um, to, uh, groceries. Uh, but like he got, but then, um, I'm trying to think, but then I, I reeled him back in on the wi uh, like basically kind of up the next climb. And then we ran together again until about mile, I think about mile 40. And then that was where the natural break happened. Mm-hmm I liked that in a race. I, so I often probably try to force it, but I do like when the separation just comes naturally. Yeah. Um, as if like you didn't really change much and the break just the, you know, there just became separation. Yeah. So, um, around mile 40, I sensed that he was struggling a bit and I was feeling like I could go a bit and um, there was a steep climb and I went and I got, um, I didn't go like crazy hard. Yeah. I just kind of went steady and I, but a little

Dylan Bowman: Bit of a move and he

Zach Miller: Just got slow down. Yeah. And then I pulled away and I kind of got that natural separation. And then he near, he basically reeled me in at the last aid station. I, I didn't know he was so close. Um, no way I was real. Yeah. So like I, there's a really big climb at the end of the race that takes you back up to like 8,000 feet, you know, one last dagger in your heart and uh, when going up you can see way back behind you. So I was looking back and I couldn't see anybody behind me. So I was like, okay, I think I have a big lead. But when I got up to the top, it was like a ghost town. There's nobody up there basically. Except maybe a couple hikers. Yeah. And, uh, I, my legs were just like trash. They did not wanna run downhill. And yeah, I had to run down 4,500

Dylan Bowman: Foot descent. I'm

Zach Miller: Looking at, I had to run downhill and I was like, and I was just running and I was looking back. I was like, I still couldn't see anybody. So I was like, okay, I'm just gonna try and like, keep, keep moving as well as I can. And I got the aid station and like, my legs were just like, they, they were really struggling to run downhill. Yeah. And I got the aid station. I was standing there. I was like, sort of taking my time. Like I wasn't really being like foolishly and efficient, but I was just like, I was not like racing, racing through the aid. And um, I started chatting with the people that I was like, I was like, how am I doing? And the girl was like, oh, you're doing wonderful. And then the other guy goes, he's like, yeah. And second is right there.

Zach Miller: And he points across the way, you know? And I'm thinking I have maybe like a 20, I don't know what I thought, but maybe like a 20 minute gap or so. And he points across the way. And Sebastian's like coming down through the grass, like across the river, into the eighth station. And I was like, I thought, maybe they're joking. I was like, I was like, I was like, no, I was like, you're serious. And they're like, yeah, we're serious. I was like, no, I was like, you're are you joking? And they're like, no. And I was like, you're serious. And then you're serious. And then like, right before I left, I was like, shoot, I gotta go. And right before I left, I like looked at the guy one more time. And I was like, you're not joking. And he's like, no. And I just took off and I couldn't believe it. It was like night and day. I like, I think it was the address, like ju I think it was just like a mental thing and I just took off and all of a sudden I was running. Like, I remember looking down at my watch and I think I was running like six 30 pace or something. . And I was like, and I was like, Zach

Dylan Bowman: Filler is back, dude. This witch has flipped. The competitive instincts. The juices are flowing again.

Zach Miller: Yeah. I was like, I'm not just running. Well, I was like, I, my legs actually feel good. Like I'm running downhill and they feel good. And we went into a technical downhill and I was like, well, I don't cuz we were on like gravel road. And I was like, well, I don't know how they'll film the technical though. So went in there and I ran, I felt like I ran through the whole technical section faster than I did it training. Yeah. And then I was back to like the bike path and then I just kind, and then it was just kind of cruised home, but like, it was amazing,

Dylan Bowman: Amazing. It was like 16 minutes at the end or something like that. Yeah.

Zach Miller: But it was like three minutes at that aid station. Yeah. Like I, and that was like 10 or 11 K out.

Dylan Bowman: I mean it's again, it's just like a perfect illustration of just like class exact Miller man. Just like never give up. So what does it feel like then Zach, after this three years of just like absolute uncertainty, misery sadness, hard rehab surgery, et cetera, to then close this massive loop, sprint down the finish line and classic Zach Miller fashion, securing a victory again on an international stage. Like when you reflect on the journey in these last few weeks, like what does it feel like to, to be back competing at the highest level again?

Zach Miller: Yeah. It, it, it feels good. Uh, you know, again, it was one race, so I think I'm, I'm maybe I'll always a little prone to be like, okay, can I, can I repeat it? You know, cause to me that's kind of like, like that's when I entered the sport winning JFK, it was like, okay, I won run race, but like, can I do it again? And then once I did again, it was like, okay. Yeah, I guess I'm like, I'm like, I'm good at this or whatever. Yeah. You know what I mean? Yeah. So, um, yeah, but no, it feels good. Like it's a big release. Uh, it helps my confidence. It helps, I think in the training of, of not feeling quite so much pressure of like, oh, I God like work harder and work harder and work hard. I mean, I'm still working hard.

Zach Miller: Like that's what I like to do, but I think there's a little more like, you know, like I can be a little more, um, I don't know, maybe things a little, little smarter, a little more confidently, you know? Um, so that feels really good, but you know, honestly the thing that feels really, really good is to basically just be able to go out and run and train and not be in so much pain anymore now. I mean, granted, I do still have like, it's, it's a process and I do still have some pain. Uh, and I, you know, I do still like, ha you know, it's not like it's just like over, over, but like I'm, but it's like I'm moving forward and like finding my way through it. And that feels real. Like it used to just be like kind of dreaded. I wanted to run, but I kind of dreaded running because the first step always hurt so much.

Zach Miller: Ah, and now it's like, or even just like getting up out of a chair and walking across the room, like, I didn't wanna do that. Like, because it just hurt to, you know, and I knew it was gonna hurt. So, um, like, and just to not have as much of that or to have that to a much lesser degree is great. Like, like LA like last night I like, um, yesterday was kind of busy and I was like, just kind of like jumping into my runs without like, you know, you know, doing my, all my usual warm up stuff. But it was like, wow, I actually did that. And actually went well. Like I didn't have to spend like 30 minutes getting, getting

Dylan Bowman: Warm

Zach Miller: Up things, warm, warmed up, you know? And then, and like I did a morning actually, it was like, I slept in, so I did like an afternoon run, like a shorter afternoon run. And then I did an evening run and it was like, oh, they were both good. Like, I wasn't like my feet, my foot wasn't all cranky from the afternoon run. You know, when it got to the evening, it was like, no, it actually felt good on both of them. So, yeah. Um, that's just really nice. Just be able to go out and enjoy a run. I talked to John Alvin, uh, I, I hung out with someone. I

Dylan Bowman: Just had him on the show we talked about. Yeah. We talked about you on, on the,

Zach Miller: On the episode, we talked a lot, uh, when we were in Ansy together, just like, I don't know, maybe our teammates were sick of us. Like we talked so much training and stuff. Like my Mike foot found us like at, I don't know, nine o'clock at night in the kitchen or something of there be, be just talking about training. Um and, uh, anyways though, he's he is, he's a great guy and I really like listening to like his brain and, you know, he seems very intelligent and very thoughtful about how he trains. And he told me about his foot injury that he had, um, with the bones in his foot. And one thing he mentioned was that just like running is fun again, because like, I think before his surgery, it was just like running was just painful. Yeah. And he was just like training. So like, everything was just like training, but it wasn't necessarily fun. It was like a, it was like workouts on the bike, you know, or some other cross training activity.

Dylan Bowman: Yeah. You know, now that you say this too, he said that he got his operation during COVID also, so you both

Zach Miller: Sort

Dylan Bowman: Of, yeah, he did took advantage of that lull and the competitive season. Yeah. Uh, to yeah. Get the, the work done. And now you're, you're both sort of at the top of your game, it seems like anyway, I didn't mean to cut you off there if you're

Zach Miller: No, it's good. It was just like, it sounded like he had a similar experience basically, just that like running wasn't fun anymore. Yeah. Because it was so painful. Like, you know, if he was running, it was like just to get a workout in, you know, and it was just like pushed through the pain.

Dylan Bowman: Yeah. He said that basically, he just like spent all winter on skis because of the fact that his foot was at a point where he could basically not run anymore after the summer running season. So yeah.

Zach Miller: That

Dylan Bowman: He finally got that operation and now he's able to enjoy running a little bit more. And

Zach Miller: Yeah. Also just like

Dylan Bowman: Coming back around at like trusting your body again, after these injuries and having confidence in your feet, especially has gotta be just such a big feeling of relief. Looking ahead towards a U T M B. Now you did successfully capture that ticket into the race. What are your goals and what does training look like? And where's your head at, as you look ahead towards the, the most important race of the season.

Zach Miller: Yeah. I mean, I'm, you know, I'm, you know, I, I wanna finish as high as I can there. Um, I mean I'm a head of person, so, you know, I, you know, when you watch a race, you want there to be a group of guys all up there, you know, trying to beat each other, you know, trying to go for the win. So like, and that's what I like to do. And, you know, that's, you know, that's like, you know, I guess ultimately that's what I wanna try and do is, you know, be in that fight for, you know, just to be in that battle for, for the win. I, you know, it's, anybody's day out there. Um, so yeah, you, you don't know what's gonna happen, but I wanna prep myself to like, be in that battle. Um, and yeah, and I think I'd like to like, hopefully really enjoy the race. Um, although at some point it's probably not gonna be very enjoyable after a while. I mean, like even Endora, which went really well after a while was just not, you know, really enjoyable. Yeah. Like that was one of my primary thoughts during that race is I just kept thinking like, why is the thing I'm so good at have to hurt so bad

Dylan Bowman: Or like, why did I want to get through injury just to do this to myself again? Like

Zach Miller: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's yeah. It's, it's really kind of, wow. Like, I mean,

Dylan Bowman: What does press look like then for you? Like, if you thinking about, you know, putting yourself in that mix to beat fight, and now coming off this big 14 hour effort, I'm sure you had a little bit of recovery and you're now like dead based in, in Colorado, again for at least the next few weeks or whatever. What is, what does prep look like with as much detail as you can provide?

Zach Miller: Yeah. I mean, I, it it's different for me because usually I would've raised much earlier in the year. I would've, I usually to race around the time of like Madeira, uh, you know, that like April may time period, and then have a nice build up to U T M B. Um, but this is kind of, this is a little tight, this is tight for me. It is tight. This is tight for me. I mean, mm-hmm, big effort at the end of June, same weekend Western states. And then you try and turn it around for UT M B. Um, so yeah, it's a, it's di it's different. It's a bit nerve-wracking I like a long build up and this is kind of like a, a recover and then, uh, like sort of a speed build and then, and then punch it. Um, so we'll see how it works. I mean, I've really, haven't gotten UT M B right. Any other year anyways. So like maybe what you mean speed build, like, uh, just kind of like, um, well just kind of like, you're gonna have like four, like you're gonna have like four-ish quality weeks to like, work with. Okay. And like what you wanna get done. Okay. You just get done in that chunk and yeah.

Dylan Bowman: You have like a 12 week block. You've got an abbreviated block is what you, yeah.

Zach Miller: Like you, I

Dylan Bowman: Thought you meant like you you're working on your speed or something like that.

Zach Miller: Oh, no, no. I just mean this. Like, it's kind of like, you wanna get this good, solid UTM B training in, but you gotta do it in like four weeks. Yep. And you know, it's like, you know, I don't have all the training answers. It's like, okay, do you start? Do you start slow and just gradually build it and get like one big week at the end and hope that's enough. Or do you try and put in like four big weeks? Cause you kind of already have your fitness. Like, I, you know, like I skied all winter, I build a big engine, you know, I went in, I did end or so, like, that's the thing, like once you do your first race, then you're kind of like hopping from one to the next. You already have this big base of fitness, so you recover and then it's almost like, you know, it's almost like you can jump.

Zach Miller: I don't know if you, it, it it's trial and error, like yeah. Testing things with training, but it's like, the temptation is like, okay, can I jump in at a bit higher volume because I already kind of have all this strength and fitness and then just kind of go rather than starting down at like a really low volume and building back up against, um, you know, like sometimes, you know, maybe you can kind of just like, um, you know, kind of like ramp it a little quicker, which is like, it's, it's nervewracking, cuz you're like, I don't wanna get hurt. I don't wanna break the training rules. Yeah. But again, like there's all, you know, there's all you just kind of like try stuff and you know, see what works and what doesn't. And like I know that like, I, I think I've felt I don't really study other people's training really or not too much, but I have gotten the impression that like, from my like that like Fran squad, Fran wall will have these like big swings. Like he'll like, if you look at his training, he'll have these moments where it's like, I'm so

Dylan Bowman: Fascinated by

Zach Miller: His dreading. You're barely doing anything and you're supposed to rate a hundred miles in like six weeks and then boom, like you just starts doing stuff. And then he, and then he does a big race or he does a big there's

Dylan Bowman: Three, seven hour runs in a week's like it's five weeks in a row. And then he

Zach Miller: Is ready it's yeah. And it's like, whoa. It's like, how do you do that? Because that breaks, like all the rules of what I'm taught

Dylan Bowman: Fascinated. I'm fascinated

Zach Miller: By his difference approach.

Dylan Bowman: I totally resonate with his approach too, but this is interesting Zach and yeah, you're right. Like, especially in ultra running there isn't a rubric or a template that you can just copy paste because then I, I listened to, I run Farr's interview with killing JNE before hard rock too. And what killing was saying was that he was doing big volume, but he was doing short and faster intervals so that he had the volume to get through hard rock, but he still had the speed to then do Sears and all between hard rock and UT M B. Yeah. So he's like thinking about all three races in context and, and training almost for all three at the same time, which I thought was just totally fascinating.

Zach Miller: Yeah. And our sport is fascinating like that because the races we do are so varied and it's like, how do you, how do you get ready for all of them? You know? And it's just like, it's a very, it's not like we're just running 10 K or we're just running road marathon, you know? And, and the athletes who do that, aren't necessary just doing that either. But like, I feel like sometimes maybe there's, there's more of maybe a bit more of a, like a, a focus, lasered focus where ours is like, it can be quite dynamic. Yeah. Um, and yeah, just trying to figure that out, but I it's like, yeah. It's like, I, I guess in, in this little like shorter build, it's like, I, I, I kind of like maybe cast some hope in that maybe that friend SW method, maybe there's something to it. Cause it's like, there is, you know, and, and so it's like, maybe you don't need, maybe, maybe my problem in the past was a too long of a build and I was just tired by the end, you know, and maybe it's just like, it can get there and just kind of like P you know, get to peak quickly, but then like be at peak rather than past peak.

Dylan Bowman: I think what he always does is he leaves his best effort for race day, you know? Yeah. And I think we can all learn from that because I even at hard rock, and maybe we can use this as our sort of closing discussion, cuz I know you were there, but at hard rock, you know, we were getting reports that Franco's stomach had turned in Ure, which is about halfway in this direction. And so I was thinking like, oh my goodness, like Fransua is sick halfway through like, he's finally gonna have a hundred mile race where it goes sideways and he's gonna have to dig and it's not gonna be easy for him. and then fast forward, he still finishes in 2151 under 22 hours. He battles through 90 miles against Killian. And he is still just like, even when it goes wrong halfway, he still is just so good.

Dylan Bowman: And I think a lot of it has to do do with the fact that he just like his consistency can be attributed to the fact that he always leaves that, that special effort for when it matters most. And I think, yeah, a lot of people miss that when they train for a super long period of time and they just like, you know, go full gas all the time in training is like, it's hard to then have that deep energy that you need at the end. So maybe, maybe in closing, you can, you can expand on my thought there, but also any, uh, highlights from your week at hard rock. I know that you guys were serving pancakes out of, uh, the Zach shack, uh, there.

Zach Miller: Yeah, the, yeah, we, we always, we almost got shut down by the police, but uh, uh,

Dylan Bowman: Criminal paid, paid distributors in town.

Zach Miller: No, we, we were like, we, we slung, uh, I, but I wasn't there in my defense. I wasn't there for the pancakes. I was pacing Maggie for 14 hour hours. I was like, uh, but um, yeah, we slung quesadillas at Ure. Um, the bus was set up like right on the course. We didn't give 'em to the runners of course, but like the fans and people and uh, then, uh, yeah, and then I went to pace Maggie. Um, I was like, she picked me up at like, I, I at like 7:30 AM and she's not having good day. And she's like, are you sure you wanna do this? She's like, you don't have to do this. It's gonna take all day. Yeah. And I was like, no, I was like, I'm gonna do it. And then like 14 hours later, we rolled it into, into Silverton. I was about dead. Um, but anyways they, yeah. Then my buddies had, they had the keys to the bus and they just flung pancakes in, uh, Silverton. Um, and yeah, I guess the cops showed up cuz they were like, oh, we got some complaints about like an unauthorized food truck. Uh, and they were like, well, do you want a free pancake?

Dylan Bowman:

Zach Miller: Were like, they were

Dylan Bowman: Like some FLA jacket.

Zach Miller: Yeah. They were like, well we're really just making these pancakes and giving them out to, for free to people. And he was like, oh, so you're not, uh, selling anything. And they were like, no, which we weren't. And they were like, he was like, oh, okay then you're cool. and so they left us away.

Dylan Bowman: What about, uh, on the competitive side? Like being there, it was a historic race, obviously killing Fran SW yeah. OTA, Courtney, any, any inspiration taken from being at hard rock to spirit? I was so bummed to

Zach Miller: Out. It was great to see Dakota up there crushing a hundred mile race. Like I feel like I remember hearing him back in the day being like maybe a hundred miles. Aren't just aren't for me, you know, like he crushed 50 miles of stuff, phenomenal athlete. Um, but he just, you know, like I, the hundreds, you know, I, I like, I don't even know if he was really enjoying them, you know? Yeah. Uh, maybe he was, uh, but so to see him up there just like toe to toe with Fran SW and kill in. And like, I think they, he was only like 15 minutes back of Fran SW and he was like 15. I

Dylan Bowman: Mean he had a 12 minute lead at one point. I'm talking to him. Yeah. Like he tomorrow. So we're gonna do it podcast too. So I get to hear about it.

Zach Miller: Yeah. It was good to see him up there. It was great to see Kelly and Fran while doing their thing. Um, I think, uh, it was fun to see John Kelly rip down, uh, grant swamp pass, cuz he ran down like probably the fastest of anyone that I saw I heard. Yeah. Um, and then, uh, yeah, the lady's race, it was, you know, it was Courtney out front and it was awesome to see her having to, to get it done and crush that record. Um, but then behind her, you know, it was, it was a big gap until second, but it was a great race going for second for a while. Um, and yeah, I mean Dar with Darcy and Stephanie Case and uh, Maggie was in there for like halfway and then she, and then she had trouble, but, but Hannah Green, it was really cool to see her work her way up, uh, with her. Apparently she got a police escort,

Dylan Bowman: She got a police

Zach Miller: Escort when

Dylan Bowman: She came into town as Silverton.

Zach Miller: I heard that

Dylan Bowman: Anyway. Super fun, man. I, I mean, I, you know, I think, uh, this sport is better with you in it and it's fun to just, you know, kind of chop it up about hard rock a little bit, but it's even more fun to just kind of like see you back man. And it's like, I think we're all. So looking forward to seeing you race at UT M B and it's always just so entertaining knowing that you always put your full self, your full spirit, your full body on the line and it's something that we all aspire to. So congratulations on your recent run at Endora and uh, yeah, thanks for being open about this last, you know, few years of trials and tribulations. And I think, you know, when you look back at the end of your days, you'll be really proud with how you, you know, dealt with that, that tough moment. And, uh, even though it doesn't feel like it's totally over yet, hopefully it'll be something that, that just builds character for you and that yeah. And over the course of time, you look back on as the, uh, a massive learning experience and a, and a growth period in your life too. So thanks so much for coming on the podcast. Yeah.

Zach Miller: Thanks for having me Debo

Dylan Bowman: There, you have it folks more than 130 episodes deep, and we finally got Zach Miller on the podcast. What'd you think? Super grateful to Zach for his time. So great to have him back in the game, back on top of podiums where he belongs. Can't wait to see him race. UT M B in just a few weeks. I can't believe it. It's already August it's U T M B month, right around the corner. Speaking of which, make sure you start thinking about your fantasy teams for UT M B we'll play OCC CCC and U T M B itself. And we intend to have great prize packages on the line like we did for broken arrow and Western states. So start thinking about your fantasy team and if you are a brand and you wanna be part of it, if you wanna do some giveaways, hit me up dylan@freetrail.com.

Dylan Bowman: Also like I mentioned, in the episode, I put Zach's Strava file from Anora in the show notes. So go check that performance and that beast of a course, when you have time, I kind of want to go do that one next year. A big thank you also is due to our sponsors speed land run speed, land.com. Grab a pair of the S SL HSV Joel Bo jbo.com. Use code of free trail 10 for 10% off these amazing sunglasses, gnarly nutrition go gnarly.com. Use code free trail 15 for 15% off this great sports nutrition brand. If you enjoy the show, it would mean a lot. If you could share it with your friends IRL or on social media, or if you're feeling especially inspired, please go leave us a review on apple podcast. It takes 30 seconds, but it's massively helpful for the show. Okay? That's it for this Swan more news coming from free trail, soon exciting things in the hopper. And we're so grateful that you are along for the ride. As we try to turn this thing into something special. Appreciate love you all talk soon. Bye-bye.

Become a Freetrail Pro

Get exclusive access to premium content, our private trail community, and more. Just $10/month or $96/year.