Categories: Finding Words

There is Time

After this year’s UTMB, I did something I don’t usually do. I stayed. I have been to Chamonix, France for the UTMB festival of races five times now, but this was the first time that I didn’t rush back to the United States afterward. This year, however, I had some friends in Europe who were doing some traveling, so I joined them. Hanging around was something I was leery to do. My hope was that I would have a good race and therefore be in a good mood and pumped to stay for a bit. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, but I didn’t want to be a flake, so I resisted the urge to jump ship.

To be honest, it was great! Traveling distracted me, keeping me busy and engaged. Going back home to Colorado straightaway might have meant slipping back into my routines, where it would have been easy to dwell on my race and reflect similarly to years past. Sure, I could have busied myself with chores at Barr Camp: chopping wood, cooking meals, and more. But these are familiar things which are often not so great for attaining a differing perspective.

It’s like running the same loop over and over again, the one that you’ve done a million times over. Perhaps you do it out of love, or maybe out of convenience. Whatever the reason, I bet you have developed some tendencies and habits with it that are both enabling and inhibiting.

Let’s take one of my favorite routes on Pikes Peak, the Manitou Reservoir/Hurricane Canyon loop. From Barr Camp, it runs as a lollipop about 10 miles in length. The trails are mostly smooth singletrack. There are creeks, wildflowers, evergreens, and some really awesome aspen groves. The route is also a hotspot for wildlife. It’s the only place that I have (for sure) seen a mountain lion. I’ve also spotted the elusive Pikes Peak elk from this route and Hurricane Canyon is prime bear country. It’s no wonder why I return to it so often.

I’ve run it so many times, though, that I do the same things in the same places. The opening miles on the Barr Trail serve as an assessment of how tired I am and how much flow I’ve got in my legs. I take note of how nimbly I dance across the rocks in the opening half mile, how easy or hard the short climb up to Lightning Point feels, and whether or not I have any ‘pop’ on the brief uphill before the 7.8-mile sign. I can tell you how I try to float through the steep washout leading to the first creek crossing, how I dance across the logs, and how I check to see if I feel sluggish on the climb back out. And I always grind out the rest of the climb, anxiously awaiting the rolling descent that follows.

I really start to hit my stride where I once saw the mountain lion. Not because of that memory, but because this section is smooth and downhill. Zipping around the corner, the view opens up. I gaze out across the mountains as I bound my way across a bit of loose gravel. Descending to the creek, I make an awkward leap to clear the creek and round the corner all in one go. Over the next few miles I tend to surge in the same uphill sections and cruise on the same downhills as I have done many times before.

The familiarity is nice. Yet, I wouldn’t want it all of the time. I would fail to reach my full potential as a runner if I refused to branch out. Sure, I might get really good at running this loop, but I would likely plateau elsewhere in my running. This is exactly why it was good for me to change things up after UTMB, to not rush home to those safe and familiar spaces.

Staying in Europe gave me space to think. It granted me hours with people who I don’t see on a daily basis and who have interesting thoughts and fresh perspectives. The hours gave way to conversations and the conversations resulted in new ideas. Amongst the ideas shared, three in particular stood out. None of these have to be viewed as absolutes. That isn’t the point. They are simply ideas.

The first was that it doesn’t really matter what you do in life (save for a few things that should be avoided), what matters is that you pick something and do it well. That one really hit home for me. I feel like people spend a lot of time trying to figure out what they should be doing in life. We have a tendency to approach it as if we have just one true calling and doing anything else is inadequate. For me to think of it in this way was refreshing.

The second was the idea that there is time. There are a lot of moments when we feel like we don’t have enough time, or sometimes, like when we are waiting for something, that we have too much. In the end, however, we simply have time. Time that can be used, but need not be rushed. Time that should be enjoyed and utilized. It is something that we should feel grateful for, not something to stress us out.

The third and final thought was that for me personally, one of the greatest riches I have is my worldwide network of friends and acquaintances. All of the people that I spent time with during my travels were different–different backgrounds, jobs, and ideas. They had different ways of spending their time and different things that they did well.

As I transition back into life at home, a place of familiar tasks, trails, and people, I want to remember the lessons learned abroad. I want to keep my perspective open. I want to make space for new ideas, people, and experiences. I want to be less worried about what I’m doing, and more concerned with how I’m doing it. I want to take my time. So, here we go! Here’s to taking time with good people and doing it well, regardless of what trail we may find ourselves on.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • When did you last give yourself the time to sit with your thoughts, get out of your routine, and expose yourself to new places and ideas?
  • What benefits does maintaining a habit afford, though? And when do you see it as important to maintain a routine?

All photos courtesy of Zach Miller.

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.

View Comments

  • Zack, a lot of your essay resonated with me bud! The decision "not to be a flake" is underrated in its difficulty; I hope you found abstaining from the creature comforts you detailed is a mark of maturity and evidence of personal growth.

    In 2018, I made a big move to leave my comfort zone was when I got on the plane to start my Peace Corps assignment here in Peru. Replacing my Midwest post-collegiate, 20-something runner routine would be a given.. (conducive training environments or public health standards aren't quite as available developing world!) But taking these 27 months to work with, learn from, and exchange ideas with those living in an entirely different culture, has forced me to challenge my perspective on not only time, but the importance of personal well-being, goal-setting, interpersonal relationships, mental toughness, patience, etc. on a daily basis. Mostly because those living in Peru's rural Sierra, value those things in a completely different manner...or have different values, worries, goals all together.

    Being planted outside of our borders has allowed me to apply some of those perspective-shifts to the relationship I have with my favorite habit, distance running: How are you going to deal with scrapping your 1/2 marathon training because the only semi-paved road washed out during rainy season?! Would I have ever have discovered that sweet mountain pass or developed my trail endurance I hadn't sacrificed time to work in a neighboring village? Can I deal with the pain of this tempo run if I can put up with giardia? Am I running because I really think I'm gonna be the next Scott Jurek or do I need to do it because it keeps me sane?

    Eventually I'll return home to MN and run those same old trails too. They'll make great measuring sticks as to how I've grown over the last 2 years. But I imagine I won't be quite as tempted to remain loyal given an fresh, intimate knowlege of the benfits of leaving them.

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  • I really enjoyed this perspective. Thanks for writing.

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  • Change of perspective is really it! So exhilarating! Can't wait to visit the camp!

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    • Yes, change is good. Thanks for reading!

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  • Great read.

    You were in Fort William? :)

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    • Haha. Yes. Very briefly! Nice place.

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  • Expanding on your second idea is my recently adopted thought process-"time to purpose and purpose to time."

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    • Awesome! Run with that!

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  • Gracias Zach, excelentes ideas!!

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    • Thanks Daniel!

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  • Excellent reflection. I really enjoyed this article and find meaning for me in it too. Thank you!

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    • Thank you Kaci!

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  • Really appreciated this this morning. Thanks, Zach.

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    • Thank you! Glad you liked it!

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Zach Miller

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