Zac Barbiasz: Athlete
Zac Barbiasz is probably running right now. He might be alone, he might be in the woods, and he might be thinking about everything in this article. Or he’s thinking about planes, writing, ski mountaineering, or the meaning of athletics and life itself. No matter what he’s thinking about, he’ll be running for longer than it takes to read this. Much longer.
Ultrarunners and college football players don’t have much in common. One is about racing, alone, against 100s of other people, in the woods, for a long time. The other is about how many 1-10 second encounters you can win, on a field of 22 people, in well kempt stadiums for 4 hours on the outside. Zac has been both of these competitors.
Born in a small town in Western Massachusetts, he embodies a direct challenge to the duality of introvert/extrovert. He enjoyed playing in the woods near his home and observing the wildlife alone. A naturally gifted, focused athlete, he couldn’t resist playing team sports like baseball, basketball, and football. The natural charm of a “big man on campus” follows him, tempered by a natural curiosity and endearing earnestness. He is uplifting and personable, while maintaining thoughtful eloquence. These qualities follow him around, left over in abundance from playing on teams until he was 23.
When the time came to choose a sport, he focused on football, and followed in his brother’s footsteps by playing wide receiver and special teams for the Georgetown Hoyas (his brother played defensive back). He showed glimpses of the independence that would later come in ultrarunning. Skateboarding around campus, running miles after practice, and more. He chafed at the regimented life of a student athlete. After graduation, he knew he wanted more. Bigger vistas, complete freedom. The life of a ski bum.
Zac made his way to Steamboat Springs to work for Timbers Resorts. Ultrarunning was far from his radar until he saw a race beginning at the base of the resort. It was the Run Rabbit Run race. He began talking to some of the competitors pre-race, and ended up talking to Timothy Olson, an accomplished ultrarunner. It would be years until Zac became an ultrarunner, but the fire got its spark then and there.
He had begun to camp and hike more, keeping an Instagram about his adventures. This would blossom in 2015 into an opportunity to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, sponsored by Vasque footwear. He had always loved wilderness. The challenges, the solitude, the surprises across scorching deserts and snowy mountain peaks. After completion, he found that he wanted to do more.
His ski bum days had been filled with buddies and beer. Always an athlete, he took the challenge of running a hundred miles as a time to sharpen his athleticism. In 2016, Zac made a firm commitment to ultra running. First a 50k, then a 50 miler. He ended the 2016 season with a thru-hike of the 800 mile Arizona Trail starting just two weeks after finishing the Run Rabbit Run 50 miler.
Following the 2016 season, Zac unexpectedly found himself living in Los Angeles, guiding hikes at a wellness retreat, and dreaming of more time on trail alone. No more drinking, powered by a vegan diet, he built up to putting in 60-80 mile weeks. By winter of 2017, he had his eyes on loftier goals, and combined his experiences to pursue a fully Unsupported FKT of the Backbone Trail. An FKT is a “fastest known time”. It differs from a race in that it can be done any time, by anyone, without any race amenities or registration. It is a competition within a community, fluid and less defined. While some want to standardize FKTs, especially through the FKT website (recently bought by Outside), they remain beautifully free and unorganized in comparison to the now formal ultra running races. He completed the 69 mile FKT in 16 hours, covering almost 13,000 ft. of elevation gain. By the fall of 2018, Zac was ready for 100 miles.
With these experiences behind him, by fall of 2018, Zac was ready for a 100 mile race. He entered the Run Rabbit Run 100 mile race.The one that had inspired him in the first place. For the first time, Zac could express the creativity of the individual athlete in a race. He finished all 100 miles, and had his appetite wetted for more. He couldn’t wait for the next year.
Zac moved to Reno in 2019, and began ski mountaineering. He met up by chance with Conor Phelan, a dedicated ski mountaineer in Nevada. They became quick friends. Zac got swept up into a group that skied hard and pursued peaks relentlessly. By the time the snow had melted, Zac had begun bikepacking, going up to Tahoe most weekends, but venturing as far as the Arizona border to ride the Camino del Diablo. Training, life, it was all rolling along. Come fall, Zac was focused and having fun. He ran 20 miles, and the next day was headed to a bluegrass festival in California. He never made it.