enduraLAB Member Spotlight: Going the Distance with Ultra Runner Zach Allen
Congratulations on finishing the 2017 Dinosaur Valley Endurance Run. Tell us about it, I know it's a newer race held in Dinosaur Valley State Park. The 100k event consists of four 16.67 mile loops on a gravel, limestone rock and dirt trail. There are also two river crossings per race loop. I finished second overall and first place in the Men's category. I was completely shocked to have finished so well. When they told me, I didn't really believe the race organizers. I remember that race day was unseasonably warm, and I do think I endured the heat better than others. While other runners were recovering from the heat at aid stations I was able to keep moving. I'm not sure I'll ever finish that high at a race again.
How did you prepare for a race of this magnitude? I trained for the race similar to how most would train for a marathon with a few exceptions. I added back-to-back long runs most weeks. I also ran on trails when possible so I could build strength in my feet and ankles. On race day once the sun went down and I realized I was going to finish, I started moving faster. I was pretty excited towards the end of the race. Of course, when I did finish, I was more relieved and tired, and just wanted a shower and a bed.
What are your perceived limitations as a long distance runner? How do you overcome these obstacles? Perceived limitations are exactly why I am addicted to this sport. Each of us is capable of so much. I don't know what my limits are: that's my motivation. This is why I keep signing up for bigger and harder races. I believe if I prepare well enough, I can be successful in any race. In-race issues are always short-term, in my mind, because I can usually resolve them during the race. During training, my main obstacle is staying healthy. When I'm smart and listen to my body, I can usually manage minor aches and pains. When I'm hard headed, that's when I get injured.
How did you get started running ultra long distances? I've wanted to run an ultra race since I first heard about a 100 mile race in the mountains when I was 10 years old. I've always wondered if I could do that. My first ultra was a 50k race on beautiful trails through the East Texas tall pines. Where I finished was irrelevant. I had run two marathons, and I didn't think adding another five miles was too big of a deal.
What achievement in running are you most proud of and why? I'm mentally tougher than I've ever been in my life. Training for long hours on the trails when you are tired and beat-up probably has something to do with that.
How does the LAB prepare you for long-distance running? I've increased my conditioning and I've also added a lot of strength where I was previously weak. I show up to races confident I can stay on my feet for an entire day without my back or my core giving out. I think my risk of DNF'ing a race is much lower because I work out at the LAB.
When running, is there anything specific that keeps you going or does it vary? I usually don't listen to music. This is my time to let me mind wander, and I enjoy that. While I do have my usual places where I run, I do like to mix it up. Dallas-Fort Worth has a number of pretty good trails in the area where you can leave the pavement behind. That's fun!
What does your diet look like when preparing for a race? I've really been trying to cut down on all the sugar. I'm starting to believe in the ketogenic diet. Teaching my body to burn fat make sense for me, especially since I am trying to run pretty slow most of the time. I don't need the rocket fuel. In the mornings, I rarely eat before a run. If I run in the evenings, I will run regardless of whether I've eaten dinner or not. I can run right after eating a big steak. In races, I try to eat mostly real foods and stay out of the gels unless I feel like I'm crashing. That rarely happens.
What's your next race/fitness goal? I'll run the Brazos Bend 100 in December, just outside of Houston. I'd like to finish that race in under 24 hours.