If you only knew Lauren Zimmer from her performance at XTERRA Trail Run Nationals last year, you might think she had been training specifically for that race for months. At the very least, you would assume she was a hard core runner.
“I don’t know about hard core,” Zimmer says, dubiously. “It’s hard to say you’re hard core when you live in Utah. There are some crazy people out here.”
The truth is, Zimmer is a perfect example of an athlete who excels because she loves her sport so much.
“The only reason I signed up for XTERRA Nationals was because my husband was doing the triathlon the day before and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool! It sounds fun to run 13 miles up in the mountains.'”
Zimmer's fun run turned into a top ten finish in the women's race - which would be impressive even if Olympian Liz Stephen wasn't one of her competitors.
However, Zimmer is quick to give credit to others, like her training partner - a long-legged lab mix named Vida who can run up to 30 miles at a time through the Utah mountains. And she says that her coach, Lisa Menninger, has taught her everything she knows about training.
"Lisa's been working with me, which is very helpful because I'm the kind of person that can't just go find something on my own and figure it out. I never even did a speed workout until last year. I didn't even know what that was. So Lisa has definitely helped me with that."
Despite Zimmer's lack of formal training, she has been an athlete all of her life. She has been doing gymnastics from the time she could walk and played soccer and lacrosse in high school. She continued playing lacrosse at Purdue, and ran for fun after college.
When she moved to Utah in 2012, she began working at a local running store.
"I was kind of encouraged to run when I worked there," says Zimmer, "So I could help the customers and help some of the new runners, like me. I really wasn't a fan of running on the roads because it's too loud, but I tried some of the local trails in Salt Lake City and it was super fun."
Soon, Zimmer discovered she loved climbing.
"I realized I wasn't half bad at it because I love hills. I was like, 'Well, OK. I guess I have a knack for this.'"
Zimmer's first XTERRA was a 10k at Wolf Mountain, near Ogden.
"It was so much fun. The XTERRA was one of my first races and it kind of guided me towards more trail running," she says. "Everyone was just so supportive, so nice, and so laid back. There just aren't any pretentious people who just want to beat you and run away. Everyone was just so welcoming, and that community spirit is why I just love trail running."
Since then, Zimmer has been loyal to the trails, skipping road racing altogether. The Mid Mountain Marathon in Park City - a trail race - was her first marathon.
"It was such a crazy mental and physical experience," says Zimmer of her first marathon. "It was awesome. And I knew this could be a thing for me, to be in the wilderness, away from cars and people."
Currently, Zimmer runs four to five days a week and mountain bikes two days a week. She also adds in strength training and yoga, which have been helpful in overcoming a recent achilles injury.
"Yoga is huge," says Zimmer. "It's been my life saver recently. The thing is, there are so many elite runners and all they do is run. I like to work other muscles in the body, especially with a sport like mountain biking, which is the perfect complement to trail running."
Zimmer's career as a buyer for a ski boot company called Surefoot, is also a good fit for her active lifestyle.
"It took me ten years to find something I love this much, but being in the outdoor industry is a perfect fit for me."
Next up for Zimmer is the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship in Utah next month. After that, she has a 50 miler on the books.
It's a good thing Zimmer is a climber because it looks like the only places she is going are onward and upward.