If These Shoes Could Talk

If my (running) shoes could talk, oh the things they would say. The tales they’d tell would be something of story books. They would speak of rugged peaks, rocky ridgelines, deep scree fields, lush meadows, thick forests, early morning sunrises, picturesque sunsets, and star-filled skies. They would tell of days spent kicking up dust and dirt, and others splashing through creeks and puddles. They would share tales of their battle scars, carefully explaining how they obtained each rip and tear. The stories would be shared with great enthusiasm. The places would be described in utmost detail. And the pain would be remembered, but not resented.

A cross-check with the runner inside the shoes would reveal some of the same, but not all. Finer details might be forgotten while the focus would be not so much on the sights, sounds, and smells, but on the task to be completed and the accompanying sensations of pain and discomfort. Runs would be viewed as a means to an end. They would be done to achieve a specific goal, not just for the sake of adventure and exploration. Sure, there would oftentimes be elements of such things, but sometimes, on some days, they would be overshadowed by a goal-oriented mindset. Now, it’s not bad to have a goal, to do hard workouts, to challenge the mind. Such things have great value, and sometimes, a strange sense of enjoyment. At the same time, however, it’s sad to think that these things can crowd out some of running’s most intrinsic elements.

Years ago, when I worked on cruise ships and ran wherever the ship happened to dock, exploration was the name of the game. Oftentimes I wouldn’t know very much about the places I was visiting, so I would just jump off the ship and start running. Up was my direction of choice and trails were preferred over roads. But still, no matter the surface or terrain, the aspect of adventure was almost always present. Sometimes I ran mostly roads. Other times, trails. And sometimes, when the trails ended, I just continued on, tagging peaks and making up my own routes. It was a wonderful way to train. When the climbs were steep, my heart pumped harder and my legs and lungs dug deeper. On fast descents my footwork quickened and my mental focus intensified. The only real pressure came from the fear of getting lost or messing up the timing and getting left in some random country as the ship sailed away. (It never happened, but I came close.)

Fast forward a few years and I now train in a mountain paradise. Living in a cabin that sits halfway up Colorado’s Pikes Peak, I can run miles and miles of beautiful trails right from my door. It’s a trail runner’s paradise, and yet even this can become a bit mundane. I was reminded of this lately when I went on a run with my buddy Landon Strain. A young up-and-comer in the trail world, Landon has been spending a lot of time on the mountain this year as he preps for the Pikes Peak Ascent and lends a hand at Barr Camp during the busy season. The first thing that caught my attention with Landon was how excited he was to go for a run on the mountain with me. The second was his reaction as we ventured into Pikes Peak’s bottomless pit for an afternoon run. Looking out into ‘The Pit,’ Landon excitedly expressed how great it was. Though he had been there before, he was in awe of the beauty that lay before us. He was a kid in a candy store. And although I appreciated it and also enjoyed the view, I couldn’t help but feel a bit like the old geezer for whom the view had long since become commonplace.

As I stood there in the cold rain, watching the look on Landon’s face and listening to the excitement in his voice, I couldn’t help but feel that I wanted a bit more of what he had. It wasn’t that I had never had it. At some point and time I too was that kid with his nose smooshed against the glass. But, somewhere along the way the nose smooshed a bit less and the things behind the glass seemed a bit less exciting. It wasn’t that the toys in the window became any less. It was more that I played with them so much that they lost their shine. This isn’t to say that running has become boring. Some days it’s as exciting as ever. But, in the day in, day out, repetitious nature of it all, sometimes the gumption fades.

Don’t get me wrong. I still love running in the mountains, even on trails that I’ve run many times over. However, in the midst of big training blocks set up to chase specific goals, it can be easy for one to fall a bit out of touch with the joys that drew them in in the first place. The same can happen in life. Schedules get busy. Deadlines come faster than we’d like. Alarm clocks get set earlier and earlier. Bedtimes get pushed later and later. Schedules grow hectic and before we know it we’re running around like a chicken with our head cut off, not really enjoying what we’re doing. Sure, tasks get completed and to-do lists get checked, but at the end of the day it feels a bit like a mind-numbing rat race with no real end in sight.

And so, the question becomes, how do we fix it? How do we get our mojo back? For some the answer may be to cut back, to do less. For others it may be to reorganize and come at things in a more balanced manner. And for others, the answer is to take a step back and revisit the things which brought so much joy in the first place. As I stood in the rain and listened to Landon’s excitement that day, I chose to do just that. Standing beneath the Rumdoodle Ridge, with thunder rumbling and lighting flashing high above, we decided to pull a one-eighty and head for the forest. But, instead of following the standard trail we simply flipped around and plunged into the trees below. Without a trail to follow we cut our own path. Scurrying down steep embankments, hopping through boulder fields, crossing creeks, and dodging trees, we ran where most don’t. Unconfined by a trail, we could travel as we pleased. And we did. Eventually we intersected with the lower-lying Elk Park Trail which we then took back to the cabin. Dropping Landon off, I headed down the mountain where I once more found myself exploring trail-less sections of the mountain that I had never been.

The views I encountered were really quite great. Though the mountain was the same, the intricacies of these places in which I had never set foot were really quite refreshing. I saw things in a whole new way. My perspective was fresh. Sure, it was the same mountain that I’ve been living on for two years now, but these off-trail spaces were new and refreshing. Refreshing not only for my mind, but also for my body. Without a trail to follow, I had the freedom to cut my own path. I could follow creeks and ridges. I could march straight up climbs and plunge straight down the other side. I could jump logs, tag random summits, and weave in and out of trees. It was both challenging and fun, a good change from the same old, same old.

So, when life starts to get a bit dull, don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Step off the trail. Abandon your daily routine. Try something new. Shake things up. Look at things from a different angle. Bag an unnamed peak. Find a lost creek. Swim in an alpine lake. Write a new story for your shoes to tell. Do that and you just might rekindle a love that you feared was long gone.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • If your running shoes could talk, what would they say?
  • Do you ever step out of your routine to try something a different way? Does a new angle or approach make your regular routine feel different and enlivened?

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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.