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(15-May) -- Zach Bitter, a 34 year-old ultramarathoner from Phoenix, Ariz., will attempt to set treadmill world records for both 100 miles and 12 hours of continuous running tomorrow (Saturday) at his home. The day-long ordeal, which is sure to be just as mentally as it will be physically challenging, will be streamed live with commentary and up to 250 other runners will be remotely joining him via a massive Zoom call.
"Physically speaking, I think I'm right where I want to be," Bitter told Race Results Weekly in a telephone interview yesterday. "I've got the right fitness to do what I'm trying to do on Saturday. You know, it's 100 miles. It's 12 hours. Anything can happen at that time. It will definitely be a case of pushing past some mental barriers at times."
Bitter, who will be running on a new, top-of-the line NordicTrack Commercial X22i treadmill, will try to cover more than 153.8 kilometers (95.5 miles) through the 12-hour mark, then hold on to get to 100 miles (161 kilometers) in under 12:32:26. He will need to run at an average pace slightly faster than 4:41 per kilometer (7:32 per mile) to achieve the existing records which were set by Canadian Dave Proctor on a treadmill at the Calgary Convention Center on May 25, 2019.
This will be Bitter's first record attempt on a treadmill, but he's already set ratified records* running both inside and outside on tracks and on the road. Last December, at the Desert Solstice Track Invitational in Phoenix, he ran a pending USATF record of 6:39:09 for 100 kilometers on a standard 400-meter track, and last August he ran 100 miles on an oversized, 443-meter indoor track at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee (the track rings a speed skating oval) in 11:19:13. Back in 2014 he ran 100 miles on the road in Anchorage in 12:08:24, a USATF-ratified record. He said yesterday that his longest run ever on a treadmill was 30 miles, but he thought that he could handle the longer distance, especially since he doesn't actually have to regulate his own pace. Once the machine is dialed in, he will quickly settle in to his rhythm.
"For me, one of the exciting things is that it's a little bit different," Bitter explained. "I've done a flat, 100 mile event. I've done 400 meter track so I really do know how to deal with a monotonous environment." He continued: "When you're on a treadmill you kind of set the pace, which can be nice because you don't necessarily have to burn too much mental energy about, OK, I'm hitting a specific pace."
Tomorrow's record attempt is actually a replacement race for Bitter who had built himself up for an ultramarathon on a track in London which was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He wanted to put what was a successful training block to good use.
"It became kind of clear that we probably wouldn't see any organized race events, not any big ones, for the fist half of the year," Bitter said. "I had been pretty far into a training cycle. I was going to do a 100-miler in London that got cancelled. So, I didn't want to necessarily throw away the fitness that I got in that cycle. So, the event I was training for was on a 400-meter track. So I thought, you know what? A treadmill wasn't that much different from a monotonous, flat standpoint. So, that's probably my best bet right now."
During the livestream which will be on YouTube beginning at 6:30 a.m. PST on Saturday (https://www.youtube.com/c/zachbitterultra), Bitter will be joined in the room only by his wife, Nicole, who will hand him food and drinks as needed. Bitter has prepared a careful fueling and hydration plan with sponsor SFuels, but he also plans to include an old-school component to his nutrition: boiled, salted potato slices.
"We're going to try to get the room as cool as possible from a heat standpoint, so I can minimize (fluid intake) as much as I can," Bitter said. "We're hoping to have 60 to 70 degrees (16 to 21C) in the room with the treadmill, and get some air circulation in there. At those temperatures I'm usually targeting somewhere right around 20 fluid ounces per hour, as much as up to 30 ounces. But, that's probably the peak." He added: "I'll probably have potatoes with salt to dip to kind of compliment that. Potatoes and salt are great for ultramarathon, if you want to go for a whole foods approach."
While most treadmills don't run continuously at 8 miles per hour for over 12 hours, Bitter doesn't need to worry about his NordicTrack breaking down, a company official said.
"It's known as one of our extreme treadmills," explained NordicTrack vice-president of marketing Colleen Logan in a phone interview yesterday. "It has our biggest motor and has our largest deck." She added: "We've tested it for 12 continuous hours. We were specifically testing for what our engineers call 'thermal test.' That particular treadmill actually has a powerful cooling fan and heat dissipation equipment."
While Bitter is excited by his record attempt tomorrow, he also misses what he really loves about ultrarunning: gathering together with other runners for races and for training. He longs to go back to that life after the pandemic has waned.
"Just to be honest, just a little bit of a return to normalcy, at least on the side of being able to go to races with groups," Bitter answered when asked what he was looking forward to after tomorrow's grueling run. "One of the calling cards for endurance sports, ultramarathon stuff is just kind of the socialization aspect of it. People meeting up at a trail, or going to an event for a run, then hanging out during and after. I think that's something that the community builds its foundation on. I'm looking forward to organized events coming back so we can get back to getting together and hang out."