Travis Ziehl: Bodyguard Turned Distance Runner

Courtesy of Travis Ziehl
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“On trails, the right of way is horses, hikers, bikers,” says Travis Ziehl. “But really, here it’s moose at the top. They’re the rulers of the trails. They’re scarier than bears.” Few Jackson locals would dispute Travis’ assessment. Given that, it’s understandable Ziehl took up running four years ago so his wife, an avid runner, wouldn’t have to hit Jackson Hole’s trails on her own. “Knowing all the wild animals in this area, I didn’t want her out there alone. I knew running was important to her, and I wanted to show my support.”

Travis started running on a treadmill that winter. Previously, his running had been limited to his high school gym class. “Coach gave us the option of running or lifting weights,” Travis says. “I’d spend the entire period running laps on the indoor track.” Still, that was over a decade ago. Starting a running regime as an adult required a reboot of his old running habits. “It wasn’t quite torture, but I did have to have music or something to keep me going,” Travis says.

By the time spring rolled around and Jackson Hole’s trails began to melt out, Travis was ready to run with Monika … except she had started graduate school and no longer had the time to run.

“She stopped when I started,” he says, laughing. “By that time, I was hooked.”

Courtesy of Travis Ziehl

Travis joined the  Teton Trail Runners so that he would have other people to run with. Just as he didn’t like the idea of Monika running in the woods alone, he didn’t like the idea of himself running in the woods alone either. Two years ago when the group’s founder moved away from town, he became co-president of the organization. Teton Trail Runners’ other co-president? Monika Ziehl. “Once she finished with grad school, she had time to go running again,” Travis says. “So it all worked out like I planned, it just took a couple of years.”

Today their runs together aren’t quite what Travis imagined. When he and Monika hit the trail, it’s often with about a dozen other runners. This summer, Travis missed only a handful of Teton Trail Runners' weekly Tuesday night runs. As the Assistant Supervisor at Teton County Weed & Pest, Travis often works 60-80 hour weeks in the summer, spending most of his time outside tromping about the hills and mountains around Jackson Hole.

“However busy I am, if I’m at home, I go on our run. It’s great for me to know that I always have a run to do Tuesday nights,” Travis says. “I’m so busy with work all summer long, it ensures I always find at least some time to run and have some friends to run with.” Travis says he’s made friends with many people through the club. “And I’m friends with a lot of different people I would not have met outside of a running club.”

Travis says he and Monika invest time in the club. “I don’t think people get how much work it is organizing, getting sponsors, and responding to emails,” he says. “It is a time commitment and a lot of work on the front end, but it is super rewarding. People are thankful for the effort and that makes it worth it.”

While Travis has run outdoors in Wyoming’s frigid winter (donning his ugliest sweater) his more usual winter running is inside on a treadmill. “Wintertime it’s pretty much Travis on the treadmill with the PlayStation on,” Travis says.

Running up through Paintbrush Canyon
Running up through Paintbrush Canyon Jake Wheeler

To keep himself motivated, he often sets monthly mileage targets. “I might try and run 100 miles on the treadmill in December,” he says. This winter he’ll be on the treadmill training for his first 50k race. He’ll either be running the Afton Trail Run, which is in early July, or the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run in late June. This past June, Travis ran the 30k at the latter. (The event has a 30k, 50k, 50-mile, and 100-mile race.) That was his longest race to date.

“I was low energy at the end, but that was because I didn’t conserve enough energy at the start,” Travis says. The second-to-last aid station helped significantly though. “There was a tray of sautéed shrimp,” Travis says. “I thought I was imagining things. But I wasn’t. The guy told me it was all-you-can-eat shrimp. I was powered through the finish by shrimp.”

While Travis continues to push himself in terms of longer and longer races, he says he doesn’t really care about results. “I don’t really even keep track of my PRs,” he says. “I’ve got an idea of my times at finishes, but for me, it’s more about doing it. To me, running in itself is an accomplishment.”

  Especially when he manages to avoid unexpected encounters with area wildlife. “I still haven’t run into any bears, but I have had some moose stand their ground,” Travis says. “I wasn’t going to push it with them. I gave them a wide berth.”

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