Laying Eggs

[Editor’s Note: Welcome to ‘Finding Words,’ a new iRunFar Friday column by the one and only Zach Miller. Zach will ‘pen’ an article once a month to hopefully help send you off into an inspired weekend of running and just plain living well. Enjoy!]

His name is Kevin. I’ll admit, I’m not the greatest with names, but for whatever reason, his stuck in my head. It was probably one of the first names that I learned when I took the job as Barr Camp caretaker. The funny thing is, Kevin isn’t our most frequent visitor. A regular? Yes, but most frequent or longest standing, probably not. That award would have to go to someone like Nicole, Linda, Paper Boy Pete, or for a few months in the summer, our German friend Marco. Yet, on Super Bowl Sunday I found myself running down the Barr Trail to pay a visit not to Nicole, Linda, Pete, or Marco, but Kevin. Kevin, you see, is a pastor at a local church and on Super Bowl Sunday he was scheduled to deliver the sermon. Hence, the prospect of killing two birds with one stone (watching the Super Bowl and seeing Kevin preach) was enough to get me to leave my mountain hideaway for a few hours and treat myself to a bit of ‘town time.’

So, that morning I ate breakfast, washed the dishes, ran the six miles to my car, and drove to church. I parked in an out-of-the-way parking space, rummaged through my car for some suitable church clothes, rubbed on a generous amount of deodorant, and walked into the sanctuary. After singing a few songs the worship leader led us in prayer, saying something about the message that Matt was about to deliver. Uh oh, I thought! He was supposed to say Kevin, not Matt. Maybe he misspoke, I thought. I held out hope, but as the worship team exited and Matt took their place, I could see quite clearly that Matt was not Kevin.

Zach Miller - Pikes Peak high country winter

Zach Miller in the Pikes Peak high country. All photos courtesy of Zach Miller.

I thought, I’ve gone to the wrong campus. Kevin, you see, works for a church that has several different campuses and on this particular morning, I was at the wrong one. As I sat, I told myself not to ruin what lay before me. Sure, Kevin wasn’t speaking at this particular service, but that didn’t mean that all was lost. If I put my blunder behind me and focused on the present moment, perhaps I would find something worthwhile. By the end of the service I walked out the door feeling good. Sure, I was still chuckling about my mishap, but at the same time I felt blessed by the experience that I had.

Later that night the Broncos won the Super Bowl and I made the six-mile trek back to Barr Camp. Upon returning, I couldn’t help but think about my blunder. It wasn’t that my mishap bothered me, it was more that I was intrigued by its lesson: My snafu reminded me that sometimes the best thing we can do is focus on the opportunities that lie before us. While this concept can be applied to just about any part of life, it is especially relevant when it comes to training.

The past few months on the mountain have been quite snowy. In fact, I have been running in snow ever since my last few weeks of training leading into The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships in California. What this means is that I do a lot of slogging. Sure, I head out and run on the mountain every day, but oftentimes the pace is anything but fast. Whenever a snowstorm comes in it takes several days to get the trails tracked out. I stick to it, though, and bit by bit the trails get better. Eventually they get to be pretty runnable and for a short while I might get some decent running in before a new storm rolls in and I’m back to breaking trail.

Some people would go nuts in these conditions, but as the winter progresses, I am becoming more appreciative of them. To explain this, I’ll take you back a few weeks. This past Christmas I spent a lot of time hanging out with my running friends in Pennsylvania, many of whom are Amish. One day, while spending time with my friend Amos and his wife Liz, we got to talking about chickens. Why we were talking about them, I’m not sure, but it probably had something to do with the fact that they lay the delicious eggs that Liz so kindly cooks for Amos and I after our morning trail runs. Regardless of the reason, Amos and Liz informed me of two things. One, they taught me that in the winter, when there isn’t as much daylight, chickens won’t lay as many eggs. But you can turn a light on in the barn/chicken coop to keep the hens laying, they said. The second thing that they taught me was that hens won’t lay forever. Upon learning these two things, I posed a question, “I wonder if hens would lay longer if you didn’t use the lights in winter and allowed their bodies to follow their natural cycle?”

Zach Miller and Amish running friends

Zach and friends in Pennsylvania.

Fast forward a few weeks later to me slogging through snow, attending the wrong church service, and thinking about taking advantage of the present moment. Seeing a potential connection between the chickens, my winter training, and my church blunder, I turned to Google to do a bit of research. My suspicion was correct! According to my research, hens are not supposed to just stop laying. Yes, they do slow down in the winter, but if you resist putting them under lights, they will get their winter break and return to laying when the days get longer. Not only will they return to laying, but they will also continue laying. Sure, they will lay fewer, but larger eggs as they grow older, but they won’t burn out like they do when you force them to lay all winter long.

Naturally, I drew a parallel to my running. It reinforced the idea that we need to learn to not only appreciate, but also take advantage of each season of life. In a sport where we can race year round, it is tempting to be constantly hammering out hard training in preparation for the next race. While this strategy may work for a while, possibly even producing a few golden eggs, it will likely lead to burnout. So instead, be a chicken and go with the natural flow. Don’t force your body to lay eggs all year round or else you might not have any left. And as you grow older, you might not be able to lay as many, so be strategic and lay a nice big one every once in a while. Look at Meb Keflezighi: he just layed yet another golden egg at age 40.

While this applies very well to training, I think it also applies to everyday life. Within the infectious culture that is ultrarunning, people tend to get hyped about seizing the day and living life to the fullest. This is all well and good, but I think sometimes we miss the point. We interpret seizing the day as crushing a mountain at sunrise and running all night long. We want to have our #stokeonhigh twenty-four-seven and never miss a chance to do something epic. Sometimes, however, in our quest to live a carpe diem life, we miss the moment right in front of us. We ignore the season that we are in as we search for the one that we want. As I tell people at Barr Camp, it’s important to appreciate where you are, or else you’ll spend your whole life wishing you were somewhere else and you’ll never enjoy where you’re at.

As you move forward in life (and training), pay attention to the here and now. Don’t just seize the day, seize TODAY. Grab hold of the moment that you are currently in and live it as best you can. Some days that might mean a 3 a.m. alarm clock and a peak bagged before sunrise. Other days it could be waking up slowly, sipping tea by the fire, strapping on snowshoes, and taking 45 minutes to break one mile worth of trail. Or maybe it means putting in a hard day at the office and coming home to watch a movie with your kids. Whatever the day brings, pay attention to it and grab it. Just don’t turn on any artificial lights and force out an egg, because if you do, you might run yourself dry!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Okay, honest question, how sustainable do you think your running is right now?
  • How about life? Are you operating sustainably? Or are you going so hard that you may burn out on some aspect of it too early?
  • How do you negotiate our FOMO-heavy trail running culture, your own passion for our sport, and the needs of your body and mind in the longer term?
Zach Miller - snowshoeing

Zach doing some winter snowshoe slogging.

Zach Miller

is a mountain runner and full time caretaker at Barr Camp in Colorado. As caretaker, he lives year round in an off-the-grid cabin halfway up Pikes Peak. He competes for The North Face and Team Colorado. Additional sponsors/supporters include Clean-N-Jerky, GU Energy Labs, and Nathan Sports. Follow him on Instagram.

There are 21 comments

  1. Pat

    I’m always about to burn out. Between running, climbing, work and the rest of life, I sometimes crave burning out just so I can have a moment to reset. Still trying to find the balance, and I think I have improved a little bit the past couple of years, but still have a long way to go.

    It’s sometimes hard to deal with seeing people out running constantly, especially when I just can’t motivate myself to get out there, but then I remember that everyone’s got different methods and taking time off really allows me to refocus and recover. Just hoping I can refocus enough for a sub-24 100 this year !

    1. Amy

      The other Zach Miller isn’t that old, Bryon. He was 5th at WS as recently as 2010. And looks to still be racing in Montana. I believe he and Seth Swanson work and run together. Zach was a college teammate of mine–the original Zach Miller that is…

    2. Meghan Hicks

      Everyone,

      Oh dear, I’m sorry to have caused a raucous! There are actually a number of ‘Zach/Zachary Millers’ who trail run. Because it is a moderately common name among our tribe, I was joking around with my editorial comment about the ‘one and only’ because, well, there isn’t a one and only Zach Miller. It looks like I might be alone here in my humor. Sorry for any confusion, all.

    3. Michael Owen

      Remember when he was known as “the cruise ship Zach Miller”!? How far he’s come in a short time! Now its the “lives on the side of Pikes Peak Zach Miller.” He has some pretty cool stories and I’m looking forward to his column!

  2. Michael Wardian

    Hey Guys, great article and really loving the message and hearing from the the “one and only Zach Miller”…I had to laugh about that also because I have raced them both and run with them before for miles and they are pretty similar in the bad arseness…Anyhow, cool stuff and look forward to seeing more articles in the future. Cheers, Mike

  3. Steve P

    Great article, Zach…

    As someone who does raise chickens and turns their light on to get more eggs, I hope no one turns my light on, I’d like to be around for awhile ;-)

  4. Kevin

    Good read. Good advice. I’m not sure most ultra runners know how to “turn off the light” though. It takes a somewhat OCD personality to want to run for 5-plus hours in the mountains, for 31-plus miles, while sucking down salt and sugar, just for kicks.

    Perhaps another piece of advice is to have various other hobbies outside ultra running? As fun and addicting as the sport is, if you NEED to run ultras, you’re in a bad spot, because your body WILL break down — and probably sooner than you expect. Diversify the portfolio. Ultra running is a volatile stock.

  5. Talib Yaseen

    Having watched you in the Billy Yang’s Mont Blanc film I think your article makes complete sense. Great article and what a privilege to live on a mountain and run those trails whatever the weather. Look forward to the next article

  6. ScottS

    Great to see Zach putting stuff out there. Always seemed to keep to himself.

    Zach is one of the reasons I got into ultras. Watched an interview of his after JFK where he said his first ultra was the Music City Trail Ultra. I’m from Nashville and had no idea there were ultras right in my backyard (pretty naive, I know). So I signed up for Music City and a 12 hour by the same RD that night!

  7. Tess Hanson

    Excellent Zach! This piece really resonated with me. I’m currently an engineering masters student and also a dedicated trail runner. It’s hard to find balance between both and not get burned out. I learned this lesson the hard way, through an IT band injury this fall. I’m currently taking things a lot slower. I love the laying eggs analogy.

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