Zac in his Altra office for our interview
D: How did you get into ultra running?
Z: I played football in high school and got a scholarship to play for the University of Utah at defensive end. I was fast, but needed to put on weight to compete at the D1 level. The university put me on a weight training regimen that caused my muscle strength and size compared to my frame, especially my pelvis, to stress my back, and I herniated two discs. It was the best thing that could have happened because it was then that I decided to serve an LDS mission.
D: And where did you serve?
Z: Guatemala City South. I loved it, and I could not trade that experience for anything. When I got home, I married almost right away. I was heavy and out of shape. I weighed 230 pounds. In 2009 I started running a mile long, out and back route in my neighborhood all the while believing that running was punishment. Football had conditioned me to go hard in everything physical, so I did. A friend told me that I should try a novice triathlon, so I signed up. I took second in my division and did well on the run. Before long I hit the magic four.
D: I'm not familiar with that.
Z: The Magic Four is when you can run four miles comfortably after about four to six months of training. Running became a ritual. I was running about six miles per day, five days per week.
D: What was your next organized event?
Z: A friend invited me to do Ragnar. I loved it. Two weeks later, I did a half marathon. I ran it in 1:32 and took first in my division. My next event was the St. George Marathon in 2011 that I ran in 3:17.
Zac running in Southern Utah
D: What was your body weight at the time?
Z: I had lost 85 pounds in one year. I like my race weight to be about 145 and my training weight to be 155.
D: My own weight loss has caused some people to be concerned, especially family members. The word anorexia has even come up and I am at 220. I can't imagine what people were saying about you.
Z: Yes. Some family members were worried and asked my wife if I was sick or something.
D: When did you do your first ultra?
Z: My first ultra was in 2012 at a 50K in Southern Utah called Red Mountain. I was working at Salt Lake Running Company at the time and got invited down to run it. I took third overall. The course was part pavement and part trails. The trails were so fun, I forgot it was a race. It was almost a spiritual experience for me. I got hooked on trails. Altra Embassador, Craig Lloyd passed me up to take second. After the race, we became good friends.
Zac with friend Craig Lloyd
D: Have you done any hundred milers?
Z: I did Leadville 100. During 100 mile races, every emotion you could ever feel is compressed into one race. You test yourself in ways that can't be duplicated in other races. You feel elation, despair, faith, hope, sorrow, everything in a 24 to 36 hour period. You want to quit. You want to take a short nap for a while. You want to sit by a campfire for a while. There is every temptation to stop and rest. If there were ever a parallel to 'endure the the end,' it is most adequately captured in a 100 mile race. You must have faith in your training and you have to keep pushing through.
Zac at Leadville. He's not dead yet.
D: You seem to me to be a purist. Of all the guys working here, Brian, Golden, Seth and everyone else, who is most purist about running?
Z: I am. Running is very spiritual for me. When I run, the only electronic anything I take with me is an altimeter watch. There is no music playing or anything else. Prayer is a big part of it. I am constantly thanking God for his creations and allowing me to be a part of them. I express gratitude for my body that allows me to enjoy the surroundings as much as I do. When I run I go out for hours and not miles.
D: How competitive are you compared to Seth, Brian and Golden?
Z: I am probably the least competitive of the four of us. If I have a goal of a sub three hour marathon, and I could easily come in at 2:45, if there is a person that I can help reach their goal of coming in under three hours and I can help them through it, I will slow down, help them, and maybe come in with them at 2:58 or 2:59. I get more satisfaction out of helping people than I do out of a PR.
D: Is anyone faster than Seth?
Z: No. No one is. He is competitive, but he is not elitist about it. If he gets beat at the line by someone to take second, he is the first to congratulate them, and it is sincere.
D: So you work with some pretty great people.
Z: Yes. I can't imagine working with better people.
D: Tell me about your Altra connection.
Z: I left New Balance to be with Altra.
D: Have you ever tried to go back to some other shoe, any shoe?
Z: I have tried and nothing compares. Altra has nailed it. I love the lone peaks. I like the Olympus' for recovery runs because they are softer, but they keep me from feeling the trail.
D: That's funny. I like my Olympus' precisely because my mind can be other places than to worry about every rock and root and how I am going to finesse each obstacle. It is pretty much grip and rip.
Z: That's true. That is what they are built for.
D: Talk to me about nutrition.
Z: My pre-race is horrible. It may include a burger, fries and a shake. I love shakes and have one several times a week. If I do eat a burger and fries, I balance it out with a lot of healthy stuff. You have to figure out what works for you and go with it. During a run I will eat one gel every two hours and 10 ounces of water. During a race, I do a gel every half hour and something solid every 50 miles. V-Fuel really works for me. Pop Tarts do too, but I try to avoid them because of all the bad stuff in them. The other things that really works is Justin's chocolate hazelnut packets. They really sit well with me and they have some fat. During a race or in hot weather, I take a salt tablet every hour or so. Generally I eat leafy green stuff and stuff from the ground up. Appetite has a lot to do with the amount of nutrients you consume. If there is a nutrient deficiency, your body will go into hunger mode until it gets its nutrient requirements. What you ate last is also important. It is the first thing your body goes to when it gets hungry.
Zac at Antelope Island
D: What are your top tips for people starting out?
Z: Be consistent in training. Even on a horrible day, go out and run one or two miles. Start slow. Have fun. Find your motivation and remind yourself of it.
D: What is your gauge as to whether you decide to rest or run through an injury?
Z: If it is annoying pain that does not affect my gait, I run through it. If it does affect my gait, I get it fixed.
D: What is your favorite trail?
Z: BSTF to Black Mountain. I also love Hope Pass.
Zac at Hope Pass
D: Could you summarize your running philosophy?
Z: Yes. Run Well - Do Glad. Make people happy.
Note: Zac exemplifies his motto. If you see him at an event or on the trail, make sure you say hello.