Digging Holes and Stopping Trains: The Need For Regular Recovery During Training

Words of wisdom from Zach Miller on the need to incorporate rest and recovery in training periods.

By on February 16, 2024 | Comments

A few weeks ago, I fired up my bus in Colorado, and pointed it northwest for Oregon. Roughly two hours into the drive, I made a stop in Boulder to see some friends. Amongst them was my friend and teammate Moisés Jiménez.

Moi had just recently moved to Boulder from France. I had hoped to share run with him when I arrived, but I got in too late for the scheduled run. Fortunately, I parked the bus in Boulder for the night and managed to meet up with him for a run the following day.

As we ran, we found ourselves chatting our way through the miles, wandering from one topic to another. And as often happens, along the way we happened upon a conversation about training.

The night before, I rad run from about 12:30 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. Moi asked me how much that sort of training was intentional for me, versus a byproduct of how my day ended up. I explained that it was mostly the latter, acknowledging that the silver lining of a run getting pushed to the middle of the night is that it makes for some good night training.

Our conversation went on to cover things such as training volumes and the million-dollar topic of how to manage the stress/rest equation. For these, I had no hard-set answers. I spoke from my experiences. I weighed in with my thoughts and opinions.

I shared my ideas, but claimed no absolute knowledge or full proof methods. I like to think that I made it clear that I too am a student of this sport.

Zach Miller - Night run - Grandeur Peak in Salt Lake City, Utah

The author’s view on a night run on Grandeur Peak in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo: Zach Miller

The Need For Regular Recovery

While discussing the idea of incorporating regular recovery days in an effort to avoid overdoing it, I found myself stumbling upon what seemed like a helpful couple analogies, digging holes and stopping trains.

I pointed out that if all you do is dig is hole, you run the risk of burning out. However, if every now and then you take a moment to rest, to throw a little dirt back in the hole, you’ll not only avoid burning out, but also enable yourself to dig even deeper when you start up again.

Fast forward a few weeks and I found myself in the midst of a lot of digging. Though most things were feeling good — energy levels, motivation to train, and more — I found myself with one big concern. My heels and Achilles tendons were having trouble keeping up. The obvious solution was to do what I had discussed with Moi and backfill the hole a bit.

The only problem was, I didn’t want to. Sure, I knew that backing off was the smart thing to do, but I didn’t want to stop the train. Hitting the brakes, or even just easing up on the gas, is one of the hardest things for me. The forward momentum of training is simply so addictive. I just love grabbing that shovel every day and going to work, watching the hole get deeper and the train picking up steam.

And yet, rest is vital. So, with a train full of steam, I tapped the brakes. This initial tap is the hardest. Once I break the cycle, things seem to get much easier. In fact, I may even enjoy the change in pace, but it’s the initial shift that feels so difficult. Fortunately, the slowdown did the trick. After a few easy days and some extra TLC, I was back on track.

Decalibron Loop in Colorado

One of Zach’s training routes, the Decalibron Loop in Colorado. Photo: Zach Miller

Avoiding the Runaway Train

My experiences in these areas make me think about how we do the same thing in so many other scenarios. How many times in life do we dig an unsafe hole or get caught on a runaway train? Sure, when we start out our intentions are often good. In training, we want to get stronger, fitter, and faster. In life we want to have a successful career, run a business, campaign for a cause, and so much more.

But, how many times do we go charging after our goals, only to find ourselves barreling down a track to somewhere we don’t want to go?

Sure, ambition is good, but as in training, we need to remember to take the time to check in with ourselves. We should be careful not to get so caught up in moving forward that we become blind to all that is going on around us. We have to pause and reassess every once in a while. Otherwise, we may end up aboard a train we no longer want to be on, or at the bottom of a hole that’s caving in.

Steam Train - Strasburg Rail Road, Strasburg, Pennsylvania

A steam train that’s part of the Strasburg Rail Road in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. Photo: Zach Miller

Call for Comments

  • Do you find yourself sucked along on a runaway train sometimes with your running?
  • Or are you disciplined about incorporating rest and recovery?
Zach Miller
Zach Miller lives in a school bus he outfitted himself. 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.