LAKESIDE — Zachary “Zach” Bates announced to his family after graduation from Show Low High School this year that he was going to run a 100-mile race before his next birthday on March 2.

He is set to do just that on Jan. 15 at the Coldwater Rumble in Goodyear, Arizona.

His mother, Rana Bates, pointed out to him that the biggest race he had ever run was a 5K, and he might not be conditioned to do such a race by then. She said he got kind of mad and replied, “You can’t keep me from doing this.”

Normally this would not be something for a parent to be mildly concerned about but Zach is 19 years old and he is autistic.

Zach is a twin and when they were born Zach had some issues which his brother did not. As the boys developed, Rana and her husband noticed that Zach was about a month behind his brother. Later, Zach was diagnosed with autism.

“He has a hard time with communication and had a hard time in school,” said Rana. “He is slow processing before he speaks. If you asked him about a marathon or cross country, he would just say, ‘It sounds really cool.’”

Being his mom and his friend, Rana said she knows how to “get inside his head.” Zach does not have friends, nor does he socialize, but he is totally focused on running.

“He sees the world through different eyes. He just wants everything to be good. He does not bend the rules. He wants to be good and make good choices; he has no desire to do anything wrong. Zach is innocent,” said Rana.

Zach began hyper-focusing when he was little. He always loved competition and world records. He was interested in who could eat the most hot dogs in an hour; how many pogo jumps someone could do in an hour; or things like who could build the biggest snow man.

The family lived in Flagstaff and Zach went to school there through his freshman year.

“When Zach started running in the 5th grade he focused on world records. He knew statistics of the world runners and he had his favorites on his home school team. He can still give you those stats. But, he had a hard time with homework and organization. He had to have a lot of help with that,” said Rana.

She said he learned more from running than from any of his classes. He could calculate his paces and knew the math to calculate them and to calculate the speed. In a regular class, he did not have that same motivation.

When the family moved to Show Low, Zach was a sophomore. He was able to do track and cross country at Show Low. The teams were small and Coach Mike Hall was able to keep an eye on Zach and he encouraged him.

Rana said that Hall told her that Zach was just average but that he had never had a student with as much determination and heart.

Zach made it known at the beginning of his senior year that he wanted to run a marathon. He had always wanted to do longer and longer distances and pushed to go fast.

Since Zach said he was going to run that 100-mile race, Rana began to eat the elephant one bite at a time.

“We bought books and started small. We found a race for Sept. 11 that was 50 miles,” said Rana.

She suggested to him that they start a training program and they not sign up until Zach felt confident.

They signed up to do the High Mountain Half Marathon in Pinetop on August 7, keeping in mind that they had a 16-week training program before the Sept. 11 race. Zach had already been training after graduation.

He did the Aug. 7 half marathon and came in 9th place at 1:42 which is very good. He was also the first place male in his age group.

The next weekend, Aug. 14, Zach did a downhill marathon in Brewer, Utah. He ran the 25 miles in 3:52. It was good for his first marathon but was not as spectacular as the half marathon.

Zach continued to train for a 50-mile race and they read a book they had gotten with ultra marathon people who provided advice.

Rana began a TikTok account so she could document his progress and started posting videos and Zack started getting followers who cheered him on, along with some advice.

They met John Hendrix, a local marathon runner, who became Zach’s mentor.

The California 50-mile was cancelled due to wildfires so Rana searched and found a 50-mile run in Erick, Oklahoma for the same date. Due to the excessive heat there, the 12 runners were given the option of a lesser run. Six started the run and only three completed it. This was Zach’s first ultra marathon. Rana did not understand elevation profiles and said the trail was up/down and a lot harder. Still, Zach got 2nd place overall and was under 12 hours. He was also first place male finisher.

In order for Zach to do the 100-mile race, Rana said they needed 20 weeks to train. She found the Coldwater Rumble in Goodyear, Arizona which is Jan. 15.

Overwhelmed, Rana said they began following the training in the book written by ultra marathon runners on how to go from 50 to 100 miles.

Oct. 2, Zach ran a 26K at Flagstaff Sky Peaks, Arizona’s highest footrace. It was a hard climb but Zach came in 6th place at 2:56.

Zach did a 50K on Nov. 13 in Mesa, the Mountain Pass. He came in 10th at 4:58.

This proved his consistency of being able to stay in the top 10%.

Rana wanted Zach to be able to run the 100 miles so she began to search for a trainer. She got a recommendation from Flagstaff, Niodemus Hollon, a 31-year-old world-class runner who ran the Badwater 135 in Death Valley at 19, and was the youngest to compete in the famous 100-mile Barkley Marathon in Wartburg, Tennessee, which is limited to 60 hours. He didn’t do Barkley the first time but completed it at age 22 at 57:41. In 35 years only 15 have completed it.

Hollon is now Zach’s coach and has taken Zach to another level. He has slowed him down and increased his strength for injury prevention.

Aravaipa Running followed Zach on TikTok and granted him an interview which will be featured on Instagram on Nov. 12.

Rana is excited about Zach’s progress and what it will do for other autistic persons.

A long time friend of her’s who is a PhD, and is one of the world’s researchers on autism in an educational setting, spoke to educators in New York this month. She was on Facebook and her speech centered around Zach. She said, “If we change to do what they need instead of fitting them in our mold, they can soar.”

Rana says, “Yes this is what the world needs to see about people with autism. They do not have to fit into a mold.”

Zach said, “Mom, I need to do this.”

Rana said, “This is my life for a while. I am going to bend myself to do what you need. Go run and show all these people with autism how they can reach their dreams, too.”

“Zach is beautiful. I am so grateful I get to experience this with him. It is a blessing to watch his journey. Others that see it will say, If Zach can, I can.”

Author Mitch Albom said, “... there are no random acts, that we are all connected. That you can no more separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind.” That being the case, here in the White Mountains there are people you need to meet and places you need to know about it. And, on the last Friday of each month, I will connect you with some of those as I go ‘Round the Mountain.

Reach the reporter at bbruce@wmicentral.com

Barbara Bruce is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering arts and entertainment on the Mountain and the Pinetop-Lakeside town government.

(1) comment

paint27boy

Truly awesome things await this young and talented runner! Stay tuned...

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