The Zach Miller Method

Lessons in ultra endurance from trail’s answer to Prefontaine

In July 2024, CXP ambassador Zach Miller will take his first tilt at the Hardrock 100 – one of the crown jewels of ultra running. After placing second at the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) in 2023, many were surprised Zach chose the Colorado race over a return to Chamonix. But Zach is nothing if not surprising. A track-turned-trail runner busy earning cult status in the world of ultra, he cuts his own path with a unique approach to training, racing and life.

So what can mortal runners learn from the Miller Method? With a few weeks to race day, we caught up with Zach to find out how he’s preparing his mind and body for Hardrock. We also asked him why he likes to lead from the front and what keeps him going when he hits hard times on the trail.

Miller time

Zach exploded onto the ultra scene more than a decade ago with an all-guns-blazing win at the JFK 50 Mile. His go-from-the gun, sprint-to-the-line style was unlike anything seen in ultra before. A kind of Prefontaine of the Peaks. 

This fearless racing style – what Adharanand Finn describes in his book Rise of the Ultra Runners as a “swashbuckling attempt to destroy the field from the start” – was not only electric to watch but it worked. It earned Zach the third-fastest time in the 50-year history of the race and people were suddenly very interested in the new boy from Pennsylvania. 

Fast forward 10 years and he’s blasted his way to some of ultra’s biggest crowns. First at the UTMB CCC in 2015, first at the MIUT in 2016, two wins at The North Face California Endurance Challenge 50 Mile (2015 and 2016) and first at the Trail 100 Andorra 2022. 

More recently, in 2023, he topped the podium at the Tarawera Ultra 100. But perhaps his biggest performance came a few months later when he strode into Chamonix to take second place in a historic US one-two at the UTMB – just behind Jim Walmsley. 

That second place at the race dubbed the ‘World Cup of Trail Running’ rightly has people asking what heights Zach might scale next. But it’s not just Zach’s success on the trail that intrigues fans. He leads a somewhat enigmatic, alluring lifestyle, with a simple semi-nomadic existence in a camper van and a back-to-basics approach to training. He’s also shown a strong moral sense and leadership in the trail running community – an obligation to help keep trail ultra true to its roots. 

Training cycles

Zach splits his time between Oregon in the winter and Colorado in the summer with the odd excursion and stopover along the way. “I tend to move around seasonally,” says Zach. “The bus gives me the freedom to do some balancing.” 

When your home travels with you, it’s easier to switch up your training environment with the changing seasons. It’s a cyclical lifestyle that fits neatly with the ebb and flow of Zach’s racing rhythm. 

“After a big race I’ll take anywhere from two to four – maybe even six – weeks for more mellow training. I'm an active person, I like to be outside. So I still might be outside for a few hours each day. But the activities and the intensity are less and the volumes are smaller at first. 

“Maybe I'm running an hour to 90 minutes a day. If it's winter, I might be coupling that with another session like Nordic skiing adding an hour or two of that per day.” 

Coming into spring Zach keeps doing these ‘doubles’, building up the volume and progressing from there. He’s also known to throw in some strength-building manual tasks like chopping wood. But you get the feeling that’s driven by practicality and enjoying a mountain lifestyle rather than a desire to get all Rocky training montage. 

Then the serious work starts. In summer, Zach’s training focuses mainly on running with a bit of gravel biking thrown in. The time on feet extends. 

“Eventually I'm getting up to the point where I'm putting in 20 or 21 hour weeks of running. Then for a big race like Hardrock, those hours might be up to 28-30 hours a week. They don't go too much farther than that.” For context, most amateur runners training for a marathon might clock 7-10 hours a week. 

Over the course of his career, these training cycles have helped Zach build the mental and physical resilience to repeatedly compete at the top level. 

“If you give your body cycles of hard conditioning and rest, it does tend to get stronger and better. I think that resilience, that ability to bounce back and recover, probably does build up. 

Now I’m 10-11 years into my career, I've done those big things many times, so when I do a 100 mile, or a 20 hour race now it's somewhere my body's been before. So I think it kind of knows the drill

Zach attack

Zach doesn’t train differently to support his attack-from-the-front racing style. Running from the front comes naturally.

“I don't feel like there's a lot of adapting the training to suit that racing style,” explains Zach. It’s just how he runs. 

“For me, coming from running track, cross country and doing some road running, even if we open a race with miles that end up being much faster than our overall pace, those opening miles are still not absurdly fast paced. They’re fast considering you're going 100 miles but they're paces I run on a daily basis in training,”

“Ultimately you're just trying to get yourself as fit and strong – and your muscles as specifically conditioned – as possible for race day. 

“Whichever person does that the best probably has it in the cards to win the race. It's just kind of like the strongest man wins.”

Tuning into Hardrock

To get a sense of how strong he is going into Hardrock, in May and June, Zach plans to tackle some shorter distances. Exact race plans are TBC but you could look at this as the equivalent of mortal marathon runners knocking out a benchmark half marathon in the build up to a target marathon. It’s a similar story of 100 mile ultra runners.  

“I’ll do something for a tune up and check on how my fitness and training is going. Probably something 50k or shorter,” says Zach. 

Importantly, going shorter allows him to race without the brakes on. 

For me, it's hard to be in a race and not go all out. So that's also part of the idea of picking something shorter. Because you can probably go all out without being too worried about digging too much of a hole and sacrificing part of your performance at your goal race.

With Zach, going all out and running from the front isn’t about ego and bravado. There’s a strategy at play. Zach’s race experience and analysis tells him that to win races, you need to be in the lead pack early.

“I've been in a lot of races, I've seen a lot of races. Not always, but a lot of times in men's races, the winner comes from the lead group,” Zach explains. “It's only one person from that group, but they're usually from that group.”

Knowing he’s in contention feeds Zach’s motivation, it gives him the fire to keep battling when the hard times hit.  

“If you’re in a race and you kind of lose the opportunity for the win, or it's just kind of an off day, and then it starts to fall apart, that’s when it can be a lot harder to keep going with the same fire.

“But as long as that big motivating goal is still in sight, that usually drives me when it's really hard,” says Zach. 

The lesson: when the chips are down you’ve got to hold on to what you want. 

“Whether you want to win the race, or you want to run a certain time. For me, I think a lot of it is driven out of the competitive aspect.”

“If I'm on track to do whatever that is, say I’m at the front of the race when it gets really hard. Usually that in and of itself – as simple as that sounds – is a lot of motivation.”

Levelling up

Zach’s also keen to point out that while competitors want to win, they also want to just give it their best. 

What he calls ‘levelling up’ aka the constant pursuit of self improvement whether that’s in running or in life. 

“I'm really big on just improving, just getting better,” says Zach. “That drives me. Sure I try to win races but I also just try to become better, to grow as an athlete. If I can look back and be like, ‘Hey, I'm better!’ I've levelled up since last year or two years ago. That's like, that's the goal.” 

For now though Zach’s focus is 100 per cent on one of that epic triple crown. A win at Hardrock would do much to cement his place in ultra running’s Hall of Fame. 

Written by Kieran Alger