|Ascending the final pass of the TMB between Italy and Switzerland.|
But that's not really the end. In fact, it's not even really the beginning. So if you're interested in the full story, sit down and hold on tight. But where do I begin? Do I start on October 30, 1988 (the day I was born) in Nairobi, Kenya (I was a missionary kid). Do I start on the soccer field or as a 5th/6th grader running the mile at Farmdale Elementary School? Do I start in middle school, high school, or college? Do I start with my job as a digital print shop manager on cruise ships? Do I start with my trip to the Alps or my race at the Bootlegger 50k in Boulder City, Nevada? Or do I just jump right to the JFK 50 Mile and give you the play-by-play of the race? Fortunately for you (and me) many of the aforementioned things have been covered in an interview that I did with Meghan Hicks of irunfar.com. And so, since you can all read the 8,500 word irunfar interview during your vacation at the beach this summer or your next trip to the ER waiting room (if your reason for being there involves running, blood, and a shiny new scar be sure to tell the story in the comments section), I'll (try to) focus on the race itself.
And so I will begin with a simple question...WHY IN THE WORLD DID I CHOOSE TO RUN 50 MILES? For the most part it was pretty simple. In fact, you could say that there were three primary reasons. ONE...my good friend and high school track coach Jeff Bradley said I should (best advice / peer pressure EVER!). TWO...I was curious. THREE...I wanted to run a high profile race and see what I could do. And with that my mind was made up. I was diving in head first and hoping I either sprouted gills or swam fast enough to surface before passing out. And if I blew up and died like a Ford Pinto, at least I would have four months on a cruise ship to recover. It seemed like pretty good logic for a guy who doesn't want to live his life on "What ifs".
|Cinnamon Bun Pancakes at the Silver Spring Restaurant!|
|Race day gear laid out and ready to go!|
Having found a purpose for the run, we proceeded to the pre-race meeting and then to the start line. It was about half cold that morning and as we made our way to the start line I contemplated wearing a long sleeve shirt for the beginning of the race. After mulling it over a bit I finally decided to just go without it. Hence, I stripped down to my Mizuno singlet, Adidas running shorts, Swiftwick socks, Nike Zoom Terra Kiger trail shoes, Amphipod hand bottle, and Saucony visor (can you say "un-sponsored"?) and hopped on the starting line. Not feeling a need to be on the front line, I tucked myself into the second row and waited for the gun.
At 7am the gun was fired and with that we were off! As we surged forward, Jason Wolfe and another runner, both of whom raced at Bootlegger, recognized me and struck up a conversation. Wolfe, who wasn't quite ready when the gun went off, was still pulling on his arm sleeves. "I didn't think they would start on time," he said. Knowing that Wolfe was a good runner, I opted to shadow him for a bit. I did not know that Rob Krar, Matt Flaherty, Mike Wardian, Josh Arthur, and Iain Ridgeway were in the race. Not that it would have mattered though, for I was so naive that I didn't even know who most of those guys were. No offense to them, I just didn't really know much. Of course, I did know who Rob Krar was, but I didn't really know what he looked like. And so I continued to shadow Jason. By the top of the first road hill Jason was in first and I was second. Iain hopped in front of me on the first small trail section but by the time we got to the top of South Mountain I was back in second, a few meters behind Jason. As soon as we stepped off the paved path and onto the dirt trail section of the AT, I was freight trained by a slew of runners. I think I dropped from second to sixth in about 45 seconds. I, however, wasn't too concerned. I knew that there would be plenty of miles left after the AT. Hence, I let the guys do there thing as I focused on trying not to turn an ankle. Eventually I started gaining on Wolfe and Krar. At an aid station part way across South Mountain some people asked me my name. "Zach Miller" I yelled back. At this point Wolfe and Krar were just a little bit in front of me. As we continued across the AT I gradually pulled them in. I passed Wolfe and soon after that Flaherty was hot on my heals. I'm not sure how he ended up behind me because I was pretty sure that he was somewhere in front of me. My guess is that he stopped at an aid station or for a bathroom break in the woods. Regardless of the reason, Flaherty and I descended the switchbacks and exited the AT in fourth and fifth, just a little bit behind Krar and about a minute behind the leaders. As I ran through the aid station I grabbed a banana and exchanged hand bottles with Kurvach. I fell a few steps behind Flaherty as I grabbed my nutrition, but quickly re-passed him as we exited the aid station.
As we ran the small section of trail between the aid station and the tow path Krar pulled off to make a pit-stop. I moved into third and hit the C&O Canal Towpath feeling good. I continued down the towpath, munching on my banana and looking ahead for the leaders. After a little while I caught Ridgeway. The two of us exchanged a few words and I learned that he is a British guy who lives in Germany. After chatting for a bit I surged on until I came upon Arthur. Once again, we exchanged greetings and chatted for a bit. Our conversation, however, was short lived as a charging Rob Krar caught up and threw down the hammer. At this point I still didn't know it was Rob Krar, all I knew was that this guy seemed to mean business! Although the pace fluctuated a bit, for the most part it was quite fast, so much so that I was afraid that I might blow up around mile twenty-five if it continued. I contemplated backing off, but for whatever reason I just stuck with it. Sometimes Krar lead, at other times Arthur took the reigns, and there was even a time or two when I found myself in the front. For all I knew we had just revved up a freight train bound for destruction, but nobody seemed to be stopping any time soon and so we pushed on. After a while Arthur stepped off the train, leaving Krar and I to journey into the great unknown.
So there I was, duking it out in the JFK 50 with some bearded mystery man. After a while the mystery or lack of introduction started to bug me, and so I decided to investigate. And with that I piped up and said "Hey, my name's Zach, what's yours?". "Rob", he responded. I wasn't expecting Rob Krar to be in the race so the name Rob didn't really mean anything to me. "What's your last name?", I asked. "Krar", he said. The minute he said it I was FLOORED. What in the World? I'm like 20+ miles into the JFK 50 mile and I'm going toe-to-toe with ROB KRAR! I quickly apologized to him but he was really cool about it. If I remember things correctly, he actually acted as if there was no real reason that I should know who he was. The other funny thing was that I didn't realize that he was Canadian. As we ran along fans kept saying "Go Canada!". I couldn't figure out why they kept saying that, but oh well, I just kept running. Looking back, it's pretty funny. Hopefully my naivety didn't offend Krar.
Once I figured out who the man behind the beard was, I could have freaked out and backed off. My response, however, was quite the opposite. Knowing that I was running with Krar just pumped me up! I thought to myself, if I get second to Krar, I'll be ecstatic, if I win, I might cry. And with that we pressed on. Mile after mile, aid station after aid station, we just kept going, and going, and going. Every now and then Krar would make a pit-stop, and then catch back up. That impressed me. And finally, probably around mile 34, it finally happened. I had to make a pit-stop. It wasn't that big of a deal because Krar had been doing it throughout the day. Nonetheless, it's a bit nerve wracking to let someone like Krar get a gap on you. I really needed to stop though, and so I did. What I didn't know was that we were about 200 meters from an aid station. Hence, Rob ran through the aid station with a 45 second lead. All of a sudden it looked like bib number 1019 had cracked.
|Running for the finish line!|
|The final strides of the race!|
|What the heck just happened?|
it was in Kurvach's truck. Being the great guy that he is, Kurvach went and got it for me. The first person I called was Jeff Bradley, my high school track coach who told me to do the race. He wasn't home, he was out riding his bike. So I told his wife Nancy and asked her to have him call me when he got in. A little while later he called me back and I told him what had happened. Believe it or not he told me that he wasn't surprised.
The next day we went to the Air and Space Museum in DC. Then we drove home to my parent's place in Pennsylvania. After a 7ish mile night run we turned on Kip Moore's "Comeback Kid" and drank a couple of celebratory root beers. Since that night a lot has changed. But no matter what happens from here on out, I want to stay true to myself and hold on to what I believe in.
In closing, I would like to thank everyone for all of the congratulatory messages, emails, phone calls, facebook posts/likes, etc. I would also like to thank all of the people who took the time to interview me and type up / record interviews. And finally, thanks to those who have given me help/guidance along the way, both before and after the race. A special thanks to the Kurvach family for hosting me the week before the race, to Kurvach's Grandma for feeding me so much good food in the days leading up to the race, to Coach Haldeman, Coach Hummel, Coach Newman, and Coach Warth for guiding me with my running, to my parents for showing me how to work hard, and to Coach Bradley for pushing me to run the race!
And oh yeah, I want to say one more thing. The local newspaper wrote an article on me after the race. In that article they stated that I didn't know where this talent of mine came from. In support of this statement they noted that my parents were not real big in sports when they were growing up. So in some respects they are correct. It's true that I am the odd-ball in my family. I'm the only real competitive runner in the herd. And yet I think they missed something (no complaints to them…they wrote a fantastic article and I am grateful for that). I think my parents and my family as a whole has a lot of the qualities that make for a good ultra-marathoner, even if running isn't one of them. I'm talking about things like a strong work ethic, dedication, passion, determination, and a bit of "crazy". If you don't understand work ethic just spend a Saturday splitting wood with my Dad and Uncle Gene or try to keep up with my Mom as she juggles a teaching job, college courses for her masters degree, and entertaining family over the holidays. If the thought of passion is perplexing to you, then sit down and talk to my sister Ashley about her decision to pursue a career in social work. If that doesn't clear things up have a talk with my sister Leah about her job as an occupational therapist. If dedication or determination is still unclear to you, then take a look at my sister Kayla's report card. Finally, if you want a lesson on crazy, ask my Grandpa Koller to tell you the story of how he and my Grandma met. I'm telling you man, that "crazy" factor might be more important than people realize! After all, it's kind of what got me (and my family) here in the first place!