Giants

My grandparents have this cottage in Pennsylvania. Technically it belongs to my parents and my aunt and uncle, but when I was growing up it belonged to my grandparents, so I think in my mind it will kind of always be theirs. Plus, all the current owners have grandchildren of their own now, so it continues to be someone’s grandparents’ cottage. Something about that just seems right.

Ownership aside, the cottage is in the tiny town of Herndon. Lying a mere 41 miles north of Harrisburg, the capital of the great Keystone State, Herndon is a quiet place with a hardware store that closes at noon on Saturdays and a minute market that does not sell bacon. Should you have a real hankering for the stuff you can make the drive to Dalmatia, but you are best off planning ahead, because as my dad learned the hard way, they don’t open their store until 9 a.m. By nine, the day is well underway and by the time you get the stuff home you’ve got two options: to have a big ol’ brunch or wait a couple of hours, throw in some lettuce, tomatoes, and toast, and call it lunch.

Whichever you choose, you can cook up your meal, plop down on the old green couch that sits in the living room, and chow down. Should you have the time to look up from eating, you will likely notice a match-stick cross hanging on the wall in front of you. The cross is interesting in that it is made entirely out of, yep, matches. There could be 200 matches in that thing. Save for a few matches on the outer edges, all the rest are positioned with their flammable heads facing inward so as to form a match-head cross.

Staring at it I cannot help but think how cool it would be to light the thing on fire. Sure, doing so would destroy the artwork, but I can only imagine the amazing spectacle you would have for a few seconds. All these years that thing has hung there, all the mischievous people in my family, and yet no-one has set the flame. I think we are missing out.

Missing out, I think that happens a lot in life. Sometimes we miss out because of poor planning or dumb luck. Other times we just don’t try. We bow out before ever stepping in the ring. But why? I think sometimes we bow out because the giants are in the ring. Not Ivan Drago, Clubber Lang, or Apollo Creed, these aren’t physical giants we are dealing with here. These are internal ones.

For me, it’s like the song “Waking Up The Giants” by the band Grizfolk. In the opening line, the band tells us to be “Careful waking up the giants,” continuing on to state that, “He’s a bigger man and a better man than I am.” And later on they say:
“We’re the rhythm of the darkest nights
We’re the truth that’s been left unspoken
We’re the shadows far beyond the lights
We’re waking, waking, waking up the giants.”

Now, I cannot tell you what the songwriter meant by all of this, but I can tell you how it plays out in my head. For me, it is a reminder that the giants in life are the things that we have a tendency to stay away from. They are found in the dark nights, the shadows, and the parts left unspoken. The giants are the things we are scared to face, acknowledge, admit, and confront. They are the things we think we cannot do and the reactions we fear if we do.

I feel like I see this a lot, this fear of the giants, in running. We go into races with goals of smiling the whole way and staying happy. Now, I am not opposed to these things. I think they can be good. But if this is as far as our goals take us, well, then I would venture to say that we may be skirting some giants. If our real desire is to PR, win, set a course record, or beat our rival, then we should go for that. We should take on the challenge not just because we value the desired result, but also because facing the giant brings out the best in us.

As the song states, “He’s a bigger man and a better man than I am.” I don’t take that to mean that the giant will defeat us. I take it to mean that the giant is the best in us. He lurks in the shadowy places that we are fearful of. We must go into those places and wake him up so that we can become our best selves. I feel that far too often we succumb to our insecurities. We let our fears dictate our lives. We allow the giants to slumber simply because we are too chicken to wake them up. But, you know what? I say the heck with it. I say wake those giants up.

Because, when the giants wake up, life starts happening. Not this dumbed-down, cautious, play-it-safe life. Not this risk-averse, look-but-don’t-touch life. No, life with the giants is exciting. It’s a dare-devil glissade down a long, steep snowfield. Sure, it can be challenging, scary, and uncertain at times. But it’s worth it. It makes us better. It makes us who we are meant to be. Here in Herndon, Pennsylvania, it sets the artwork on fire.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

When was the last time you ‘woke the giant’ within you and challenged yourself to do something big?

The matchstick cross at Zach’s family cottage. Photo: Zach Miller

The author after bringing out the giant inside of himself at the 2016 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

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 10 comments

    1. Robert B.

      This past weekend I ran the Mason-Dixon Trail 100k Challenge. It starts at sunrise and the challenge is to finish 62 miles up the Susquehanna River by sunset. The finish is in Wrightsville, PA which coincidentally is just a little south of Herndon. This year that required a time of 15:03 or better. Last year I completed the event but missed the sunset challenge partially due to a broken hand that I sustained halfway through the event. Rather than playing it safe this year and settling for meeting the challenge and beating the sun I “woke the giant” and pushed my pace. Needless to say the giants won and I did not beat the sun. I did finish I am just not a “challenge” finisher, yet. Thanks for the article and inspiration.

  1. David Von Stroh

    Love this. Thanks for putting your thoughts down on paper and sharing. Inspiring and totally reflects your running style. What’s next for you racing-wise? Going for UTMB again this year? Hope to see you thrown down some more epic duels in the near future!

  2. Pedro

    So well written. I still remember the freezing November day in 2013 when Zach strolled off the boat, literally, and like a humble giant set the matches aflame and won the JFK 50 in 5:38:40 in super-windy conditions. Most exciting day ever in JFK 50 history IMHO.

  3. Brent Hollowell

    If you never understood why Zach Miller runs 100-milers, or eats bacon, with the same “all-in” strategy as a 5k, then just read this. Well said, sir.

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