Zach Bitter is an endurance athlete and coach. He helps people achieve their endurance goals, from beginners to advanced. Zach is a USATF Certified Coach and also does public speaking upon request.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in a few places. My dad was an elementary school principal. He was just starting his career when I was really young, so that placed us in Grand Island Nebraska until I was eight years old. We then moved to Baraboo Wisconsin until right before I started high school. Manitowoc Wisconsin where I spent my high school years. I believe what shaped my life the most was the balance my parents provided when it came to experiences. They really didn’t force anything on me, but the expectation was certainly that I was trying things out and finding what I enjoyed and was passionate about. This certainly helped make me a curious person and allowed me to explore a variety of different sports, activities, subjects, etc… which is something I believe allowed me to gradually tease out exactly what it was I wanted to do.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Being an ultramarathon runner, there is a lot left to learn, so it is a bit harsh to judge anything too heavily in my opinion. One thing that has stuck out to me is any singular approach as being absolute. Perhaps one day we will be more certain about the best training practice, nutritional approach, mindset, and all the other variables that are part of ultramarathon running, but for now, I believe starting with what works for most, but being open to thinking outside the box if the standard isn’t producing results is the open-minded approach.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I have only had one significant injury in my ultramarathon running career. It was in early 2017. I acquired a stress fracture on my right sacral ala, which resulted in me having to withdraw from the Western States 100 Mile Race. I got things going again by the second half of the year, but didn’t quite hit my stride for the Javelina 100 that Fall, and dropped out of a 100 mile WR attempt later that year. That all spiraled a bit into 2018, where I dropped out of Hong Kong 100 km after falling early and hurting my knee. I followed that up with a couple of races where I went way off course. That stretch was tough to swallow, but I was able to get things back on track for a few races in 2018, which set me up to have the best racing season of my life in 2019. I think you need to look at these types of things as learning opportunities. If you do that, there is a much better chance of finding success later.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
If I had to pick one thing, I would say the gradual introduction to running. I didn’t really start taking it too seriously until later in high school, and even then, I was training at a very low volume throughout high school and didn’t run year-round until my final year of high school. In college, I began to dig into the sport a bit deeper, and over the following few years, I gradually built a big base. After college, when I started targeting ultramarathons, I had a very long slow gradual build-up to the high volume training I now lean on to prepare for races.
What is your morning routine?
I usually wake up at about 5:30 am. I have a cup of coffee and if my training is structured at the time I’ll eat something very light, like an SFuels Life Bar, or maybe just some cream or milk in my coffee. I like to give myself 45-60 minutes before heading out for my morning workout, which is usually my biggest session for the day. I’ll usually check and answer some emails before heading out. From there, it really depends where I am in my training plan. It could be an easy run of 60-90 minutes, short intervals, long intervals or a tempo run, or even a long run of 3+ hours.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I have never been too interested in doing just one thing, so I have always kept a variety of interests/projects in my life outside of training and racing. I like the balance this creates. I have been fortunate that I control them all for the most part, so when I need to really put a lot of time and energy into training I can. With that said, there is only so much running one can do, so I really do like to coach, podcast, and read about a variety of different topics from training approaches of various sports, nutrition protocols, and current events.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
Getting organized around timelines has been a big one for me. Since I like to stay busy and do a variety of things, it is important to know how to budget my time for each. This took some learning and making mistakes, but I like to think I have a pretty good process now when planning out the coming weeks, months, and for some things year. Once I have an idea of what things I want to prioritize, I begin blocking off the time required for them on a calendar. Once I have it organized, I give it an honest review to make sure it is actually sustainable and doesn’t introduce more stress than I can manage, or that my main priorities are not too crowded.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
A few that really got me excited about running, and most specifically the workload required to reach for my potential was Running With The Buffalos by Chris Lear, Once A Runner by John L. Parker, Jr., and for what I like to think really nudged me towards digging into specifics of training and why Daniels’ Running Formula. Specifically towards ultramarathon, the first two books that put the sport on my radar were Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes and Born To Run by Christopher McDougall.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“Face your fear, except your war, it is what it is.” It is a line from a Black Label Society song called, Fire It Up, by Zakk Wyldes. I like it because it is simple, direct, and when it comes to mentally processing running 100-mile races, eventually you have to face the uncertainty of a goal you have not achieved, except that it is part of the process, and will not be going away, so you may as well embrace it and see what you can do.