Pick Your Battles

Zach Miller imparts some advice about racing selectively and sustainably.

By on May 19, 2023 | Comments

Lately I have been giving some thought to stepping away from writing this column. I’ve been at it since 2016, meaning I’m coming up on nearly seven years of putting pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard, or thumbs to phone.

Yes, I tap out many of my articles on my phone. If only my middle-school typing teacher could see me now! My thumbs know their way around a smartphone keyboard so well it’s kind of scary. Never mind the thumbs though, this article isn’t about them.

Now, before you panic, or rejoice — I don’t want to assume — please know that this is not my last article. However, as I give thought to the possibility of that, I’m drawn to thinking about what I might like to say before I go.

In nearly seven years I’ve thumbed around 80 articles here on iRunFar. For a guy who likes math more than writing, that’s a lot! I’ve said many things over the years, or perhaps I’ve said a few things many different ways.

So, after roughly seven years of writing, 10 years of ultrarunning, and many more years of running in general, here is what I’ve got:

Pick. Your. Battles.

A group posing on the trail with a sign that reads 'Leaving NC.'

Zach Miller (center) at the 2022 North Carolina Trail Camp. Photo: Brendan Thrower

Early on in my ultrarunning career, a veteran of the sport gave me some wise advice. He recommended not running more than three races a year that were 26.2 miles or longer. Fortunately, I was young and impressionable, and I followed suit. In a sport filled with serial racers, even at the elite level, I resisted.

But, if I think about it, this wasn’t the first time I learned to do this. Even as a collegiate runner my coach taught me to pick my shots. We especially did this in outdoor track season. I was a 10-kilometer specialist, and my coach had some idea about only having so many good 10k races in your body. Was he correct? I can’t say for sure. What I do know is that under his direction I only ran a few 10k races each spring, but I had a lot of success in those races. Long story short, we made those suckers count.

Unfortunately, I feel like this is something that often gets neglected in the world of ultrarunning and mountain running. In fact, years ago it seemed like it was a badge of honor to be able to run and win lots of ultras throughout the year. Nowadays this trend seems to be less popular, and for that I am glad.

Zach Miller racing in Team USA kit.

The author racing at the 2022 Trail Running World Championships. Photo: Eric Finan

Still, I feel like there continues to be a lack of self-control within the sport. Too many times it seems we fail to set ourselves up for success. Perhaps there are just too many big objectives on the calendar to allow for proper rest and training to occur in between. Or maybe it’s the classic DNF or sub-par race that gives way to a rushed second race as we attempt to redeem ourselves and/or make use of our fitness.

I understand these habits. Races are enticing and we hate to waste fitness or miss an opportunity. But, if you truly want to perform at your best, you need to be willing to let some things be. Sometimes there is an injury that needs to heal before you can train properly. Other times there are races, be they successful or not, that you need to recover from before running off to the next thing. And sometimes the body just needs a bit of downtime.

Sure, this isn’t any sort of revolutionary advice. Deep down many of us probably already know the importance of this. But, time and time again, we seem to neglect it. So, no matter if you have been here for years or are just getting started, remember, don’t chase your goals around like a chicken in the farmyard.

Pick your battle, shoot your shot, and make it count.

Call for Comments

  • Do you pick your battles when it comes to racing?
  • Or does fear of missing out get the better of you?
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.