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The Bitters' running, living, loving life

Zach and Nicole Bitter have another trail runner to thank for bringing them together. While they met at an Altra athlete summit, their relationship took off after another encounter.

“We actually have Liza Howard and the Team Red, White and Blue Trail Running Camp to thank,” Nicole explains. “We reconnected while volunteering In October 2016 at this camp focused on getting veterans into trail running. From that point forward, we kept in touch, and Zach crewed for me at The North Face 50-miler in San Francisco in December 2016. The rest is history.”

Nicole briefly moved to Sacramento, before they decided to relocate to Phoenix and were married in 2018.

Both are elite ultra runners. Zach set the world record for 100 miles last year. In 2015, Nicole set the North American trail record for 100 miles with a 14:22.

‘The struggle for balance is real’

It’s challenging for partners of ultra runners to deal with the commitments to training and traveling to races. But the Bitters have a system for dealing with their commitments that works for them.

“The struggle for balance is definitely real,” Nicole says. “We are fortunate that we share a common passion in running, so we can generally make our training work and share a couple runs each week together. Running is definitely a way we share time together.”

Their approach factors in all aspects of running — training, racing and recovery, as well as their work obligations.

“It certainly helps to have all of those things be something you are genuinely interested in,” Zach says. “I tend to be fine with a lot of it revolving around a similar thing, which in my case is basically health and fitness. Nicole likes to have a bit more polarization. She loves being able to go back and forth between her training and racing and her work career. She does an incredible job being able to navigate two very different worlds seamlessly.”

While they have different professions, both Nicole and Zach work from home fairly regularly.

“It is pretty easy to stay out of each other’s way when things are busy, but it does help to be able to sneak out to lunch, a cafe, or the gym occasionally with each other to break up the day,” he says. “We both enjoy doing things outdoors and visiting new places, so when not at work we find plenty of things we are both excited to do and see.”

For couples with similar arrangements, Zach recommends having a mix of shared and separate interests.

“Nicole and I love being around each other, so having shared activities/interests we both authentically enjoy is important to feel fulfilled,” he says. “It is also good to have things that we can do separately when one is traveling or we need some alone time that doesn't make the other feel left out.”

The challenge of the racing calendar

When it comes to the racing calendar, Zach and Nicole generally favor different types of races. They select their individual races and then take turns crewing and pacing the other.

“We essentially plan things out with each other’s goals in mind. Nicole and I usually have variance in what types of races/courses we like to peak for, so now that we have gotten used to it, it is a bit easier switching roles of support versus compete.”

This week, however, is a bit different as both will be running the 100-miler in Tarawera in New Zealand. “We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do this bucket list race,” Nicole says. “Luckily we both have different strengths, so Zach typically focuses more on the road and track, while I favor the mountains races. It is definitely a challenge to coordinate our racing schedules!”

Right after Tarawera comes Valentine’s Day. What would be the perfect Valentine’s Day for the couple? Nothing grandiose, just finding joy with each other on the trails.

“Last year we drove to a new trail where we had never run and shared some miles before starting work,” Nicole says. “It was a nice start to the day, so hopefully we carry on the tradition again this year.”

While both are elite runners in their own right, they can also quickly point to what they have learned from their partner.

“Nicole is the hardest-working person I have ever met,” Zach says. “Having a front row seat to watch how she is able to do everything she does is incredibly valuable for me to see. When I get busy and catch myself wondering how I will fit everything in it is comforting to know it’s possible and I just have to take things one at a time.”

For Nicole, she sees the positivity that Zach exudes.

“Zach is definitely more optimistic about his training,” she says. “Even when things don’t go well during a race or training, he always believes in his plan and that his best races are ahead. I value his positive outlook and ability to dream big. He also has a better understanding of training methodology, so I look to him for workout help all the time.”

Rebounding from disappointment

That outlook paid off when Zach hit a rough patch toward the end of 2017, and then DNF'd at two races in February 2018. Afterward, he rebounded to finish that year strong and carried that over to a successful 2019 when he set the 100-mile world record.

Looking back, he knows those struggles paved the way for his successes, thanks to his mindset.

“It was a tough way to start the year, no doubt,” Zach says. “It can be a difficult thing to manage, especially if it happens in clusters like it did for me at the end of 2017 and start of 2018. To a degree, it backs you against the wall a bit, so when you get in a tough spot in a future race you have the added benefit of talking yourself out of falling short, since the disappointment of those outcomes are fresh in your mind.”

Dealing with setbacks also provides a lesson in patience.

“Endurance sport is often a waiting game,” he says. “If you keep doing the right things in training, stay positive and keep showing up, you will eventually break through with some solid performances.”

Perhaps more than anyone else Nicole sees that patience play out.

“Zach is really good about keeping things in perspective, and he knows that at the end of the day, life is so much bigger than running,” she says. “Nevertheless, I think it is always comforting to have someone who understands what it is like to have bad days.”

But when you have a partner who shares your passion for running and trails, there can’t be many bad days at all.

Speed drill: Zach

Name: Zach Bitter

Hometown: Phoenix

Number of years running: 20 years

How many miles a week do you typically run: I average 100 miles per week over a year.

Point of pride: Staying patient with the process and reaching a goal of mine to break the 100-mile world record.

Favorite race distance: 100 miles

Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Yerba Mate Tea

Favorite piece of gear: Altra Escalante Racer

Favorite or inspirational song to run to: For Those About To Rock by AC/DC

Favorite or inspirational phrase: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Where can other runners connect or follow you:


Instagram: @zachbitter

Twitter: @zbitter

Facebook: @zach.bitter

Speed drill: Nicole

Name: Nicole Bitter

Hometown: Phoenix

Number of years running: 26 years

How many miles a week do you typically run: Approximately 100

Point of pride: USATF 100 mile North American Trail Record in 14:22 in 2015 (subsequently beat in 2017).

Favorite race distance: 100 miles

Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Salmon

Favorite piece of gear: Altra Torins

Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Eye of the Tiger

Favorite or inspirational phrase: Do or do not; there is no try.

Where can other runners connect or follow you:

Instagram: nkbitter


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