Get Possessed

Zach's Top 5 Career Highlights

Selecting five highlights from Zach’s athletic career was like trying to choose the five best raisins in a box of Raisin Bran: pretty difficult. You could do it for sure, but what if you just contacted the guy who puts the raisins in the Raisin Bran at the Raisin Bran factory? He’d know. He’s an expert. You could just ask him. So that’s what we did. We dialed the Raisin Bran factory to speak to him and quickly hung up when we remembered it was just an analogy. Then we hit up Zach and asked him what he considered to be the top 5 moments in his career as an elite athlete, and after a thoughtful pause, he listed the following.

The JFK 50, 2013

The first time Zach made it known that he was an absolute beast was at the 2013 JFK 50 Mile Memorial Ultramarathon. It was his first attempt at a 50-miler (80.5km), and it might not have happened were it not for race director Mike Spinnler granting Zach entry a week before the starting gun. The JFK 50 is a point-to-point horse-shoe-shaped race held in Washington County, Maryland, every November, and Zach surprised himself and the ultrarunning community by finishing the race way ahead of the field. 5:38:40—the third-fastest time in the race’s 50-year history. ‘I was shocked,' said Zach, following the win. 'I had no way of knowing what I could do. All I could do was believe I might [win] and give it my best effort.' Which he did, and then he turned pro, weeks later aboard a cruise ship. You can't make this stuff up.

TNF 50 Mile, 2015 / 2016

If you Google ‘Zach Miller TNF 50, 2016’ you’ll find a video shot by Jamil Coury featuring a Pennsylvanian man channeling the spirit of a charging rhinoceros. We all know ultra-athletes push themselves to the limits and beyond, but when you see Zach hurtling towards the finish line like a cannonball with a mustache (he didn’t have a mo’ at the time, but that’s a terrific visual), you know you’re witnessing greatness. Zach won The North Face Endurance Challenge California in 2015 (6:12:37), but then he returned the following year to win it again AND shave nearly 20 minutes of his previous time and set a new course record with 5:56:03. In Zach's own words, approaching the 2016 finish line, he gave the impression of an 'out-of-practice runner trying to fulfill a New Year’s resolution,' but nothing could be further from the truth. He'd trained hard and was surging like a son of a biscuit to get across the line in record time.

The 2015 CCC

When Zach snapped the ribbon at the UTMB CCC 100k in 2015, it was one of the most electrifying moments in sporting history. And not just because of the French commentators screaming themselves hoarse (Formidaaaaaaaaaable!), but also because, in that moment, Zach became the first American athlete to win the legendary race. The CCC has an elevation of 6,100 meters and travels from Courmayeur, Italy, through Champex, Switzerland, and finishes in Chamonix, France. It’s an absolute monster, and Zach ran it in 11:53:32. Madness. ‘It was awesome,’ said Zach, speaking of his approach to the finish line. ‘The last quarter mile was just wall-to-wall spectators, and it was so loud. And they were all trying to get a high-five, but I’m not so much a high fiver in the finish chute because I’m so focused on getting there. Once I crossed the finish line, I went back and gave everyone a high-five.’ Later that day, Zach was also awarded the ‘2015 Nicest Dude Ever’ trophy by the Mayor of Chamonix, Éric Fournier.

The 2023 Tarawera 100-Mile

New Zealand’s Tarawera Ultramarathon by UTMB is one of the most supernaturally beautiful courses in the world. It’s also supernaturally difficult. 165.2 kilometers long and with an elevation over 5470 meters, the TUMMiler will dust your ass off and hand it to you if you’re not ready. And Zach was ready—however, at mile 20, something went wrong. ‘I actually tweaked my calf or my soleus,’ he said. ‘I could feel it for the entire 80 miles. I mean, it wasn't the worst pain, but it was pretty uncomfortable, and I think for a while it affected my pace...’ Despite the injury, he finished in 14:41:4, a full thirty minutes ahead of second-placer Hajime Mamba. So, just to recap, he busted his leg and had to hike for a bit, but he still came in first, a half hour in front of the guy behind him. Insane.

The 2023 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc 

If you’re just pulling a chair up to ultrarunning, UTMB is a 171-kilometer race that goes through the Alps and has an elevation of 10,040 meters. It is widely considered the most challenging foot race in the world, and last September, Zach did it in 19:58:58, coming close second to Jim Walmsley. 19:58:58 is an absolutely bonkers time for that course (to put it in perspective, the majority of competitors take between 30 and 40 hours to complete it), and sub-20 has only been recorded a handful of times in the race’s twenty-year history. We don’t have room here to give a full play-by-play of how the race went down, but it was a dog fight, with Jim and Zach building space, pulling away, and passing one another for hours. In a post-race interview with Freetrail’s Dylan Bowman, Zach reflected on the competition in terms that perfectly encapsulate the spirit of sport:

‘I think there’s this unspoken comradery, like “Okay, we’re both here for the millionth time at this race, we’re both obviously chasing the same white whale, and maybe you get it this year, maybe I get it, maybe we both blow-up like [we do] pretty much most years and neither of us gets it.” But to run out front together and then hang on to finish one / two was very special. It’s a great sign of respect to race someone with everything you’ve got because that brings out the best in everybody.’