Everyone's running journey looks a little different. Some journeys are short (running isn't for everyone) and some get hooked and can't let it go. For one such runner, it wasn't love at first sight, but it was everlasting. We caught up with ultra-runner Zac Marion to talk about his epic 100-mile race in New Zealand and how he got his start in running. Here's what he had to say.
Your life as a runner has an interesting start. How did you first get into running?
I guess it’s easy to assume that an athlete who is running competitively has always had a knack for it or it was something they were “born to do”. It’s often mentioned that I must have always been a runner or assumed I ran collegiately. The truth is that my start in running wasn’t with the goal of running at all. I was in my mid 20’s and looking for a way to shed some weight after realizing that tipping the scales at just over 240lbs wasn’t doing my body any favors and I generally just felt terrible.
It started with a trip to the stop sign and back. Eventually, as my body adapted and the pounds slowly melted, the stop sign turned into the going around the block. Which eventually became a few blocks. A year later, I was consistently running a 7-mile route around my apartment and had lost 100lbs.
What started off as a means to lose some weight has spiraled into running hundreds of competitive miles around the world as a sponsored athlete. It wasn’t traditional, but it’s my story and I’m proud to own it.
You recently ran a 100-mile race in New Zealand. Tell us about it.
Tarawera Ultra Marathon is the 3rd largest ultra-marathon series in the world. Every February, runners from around the world have the amazing opportunity to run through native Maori lands, around sacred lakes and through redwood forests for 104 miles of the best trails New Zealand can muster up. All with the goal of crossing that finish-line to have a local Maori tribesman bestow upon them a jade pounamu necklace (a symbol of strength and perseverance that one can only earn as a gift from the Maori).
This race has everything I love about running; a tough but beautiful course through various terrain, local culture to connect with and a huge competitive field to test myself against.
The truth is that my race started a year earlier when I came to the race and pushed myself in first place for the first 50miles but eventually was pulled off the course for medical reasons. I came back this year for unfinished business. Obviously I wanted to compete, but crossing that finish-line was the primary goal. This was more about a race of redemption and unfinished business.
What made you decide to create a documentary about this particular race?
I was really lucky to have met Aaron Smart, the director, just before the event. He had released another short doco of the race a year before, Chasing Pounamu, about another runner who was a back of the pack runner and fighting just to make the finishing time cut-off. He proposed the idea of a juxtaposition doco about the competitive field of the race and really liked my backstory of my entry to running and coming back again after a failed attempt the year prior. It was literally the day before the race and my head was focused on the huge task I was about to take on. But really, I love to share my story in hopes that it lights a fire for at least one other person. Someone who doesn’t think they have it in them or needs the extra push into finding their own greatness. That’s why I coach and a huge part of what inspires me when I’m running. This community is amazing in it’s ability to all inspire one another.
What’s one piece of advice you have for someone who is interested in getting more competitive with running?
Consistency is king when it comes to principles of training. In order to be successful, you have to be consistent. In order to be consistent, you have to have dedication and respect the process. I’d much rather have my athletes run 3 miles a day instead of 6 miles every other day. Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Consistently train hard, recover hard and do the small things (rehab exercises, strength training, etc). It’s really a simple process that we can complicate as much as we want to. But as long as we are consistent in the process then the body will adapt and we can build the machine one day at a time. It’s a process, trust in it.
How has your background as a physical therapist helped with your success in running?
There’s no doubt that having a doctoral knowledge of the human body helps in a hobby that finds success in the nuances of how the body works and adapts down to a cellular level. Being able to self diagnose, literally on the run, makes a huge difference in my ability to stay healthy while training and pushing my body to it’s limits.
It’s also a double-edged sword because I find myself being more cautious and concerned about injury and always keep my mind turned on to thinking about my form and how my body is responding. Sometimes it’s hard to find that flow state connecting my body to the terrain while rhythmically moving through mountains and trails without overthinking it.
When you are training for a 100-mile race, how long are your typical training runs?
Most of my runs are about 10-15 miles during the week in 1-2 hours and then 20-30 miles on the weekends. I would say it’s probably averaging 75-85 miles a week during moderate training and as I’m ramping up for a race will reach about 100-115 miles a week for a couple weeks. It really isn’t much different than someone who runs marathons competitively, I just structure the miles a little differently.
What is your favorite race you’ve ever run?
I’ve run so many races all over the world so this is such a hard question to answer. Leadville will always have a soft spot in my heart because it’s the first 100-mile race I’d ever done. Bryce Canyon was beautiful and was the first 100-mile win of my career. SciaccheTrail through the Cinque Terre in Italy was so surreal. But, honestly, Tarawera has become my favorite memory for many reasons. It’ll probably make more sense after you watch the doco ;)
When you’re not running, what do you like to do with your time?
I’m a fan of research and a huge nerd, so I’m usually trying to learn something new. But I love to explore new ways of cooking while listening to good music. A few minutes every morning are spent meditating and enjoying some mindful sips of good coffee. And recovery after a long run ALWAYS includes ice cream and movies on the couch while I let the days work absorb into the muscles.
Favorite piece of Rhone Gear?
So unfair to choose just one! While I love the Swift Tank because of how comfortable and light it feels, it’s starting to be summer and I shirts don’t stay on for very long. So I’m going to go with the Swift 4” split short. After 10 years of running with many brands and trying just about everything out there, these are the shorts I would choose every single time. Nothing has ever felt this comfortable through the miles, whether fast or easy, on road or trail.
Favorite song to run to (if you listen to music when you run)?
I used to be a purist when it came to music and running. But ever since I found great headphones to wear, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts and music. It’s mostly Lord Huron Radio or T-Swift (no shame), but one song that can pick up my feet and slap a smile across my face anytime is Up, Up & Away by Kid Cuddi. It’s just one of those songs that really gets me going.